The weapon of openness, or how open email benefits productivity and security


“The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy”, said the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr. “The best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.”

It’s a principle that goes far beyond politics. The rapid advance of technology has led to a significant increase in the amount of data companies are collecting, and this, in turn, has effectively created two kinds of corporate environment: those where knowledge and information are shared freely in the spirit of collaboration and interdepartmental understanding – and those where it is jealously guarded to the point of paranoia.

The latter kind is more common than the former, and it’s a shame. When you work to create a culture of radical transparency, you reject the idea that your company should be a collection of exclusive, inward-looking silos, and you embrace a vision of accountability, visibility, and productivity.

Open email (behind closed doors)

If you’re looking to create this kind of culture, start by introducing “open email”: making electronic messages available to every employee wherever possible. This approach has many advantages, chief among them being the benefit to security. You certainly don’t need to make all communication accessible to the public, but with open email, your staff are encouraged to write all communication as if it were composed for public consumption. This has the dual effect of preventing incidents of career-ending indiscretion (for example, the 2014 Sony Pictures hack) and making your company a less alluring target for would-be hackers – who aren’t going to bother stealing information that isn’t really secret in any meaningful sense.

This obviously doesn’t apply to information that should remain confidential – contracts, financial data, medical data, and more – but there’s an argument that these things shouldn’t be shared via email anyway. Besides, for customer-obsessed businesses, there is far more to be gained from the open approach than bolstered security.

Superior insights

When you make emails available to the entire workforce, you’re also creating an opportunity to broaden your staff’s knowledge and understanding. How? Simple: when you share your emails, you also share all the insights contained within them. Correspondence between prospects and salespeople, customers and customer service reps, internal dialogue between HR and various other departments – every interaction, available with a few keystrokes and clicks.

This means that everybody who needs to know something can conceivably know it. All stakeholders develop a stronger internal rapport, and profitable opportunities that arrive in the inbox of an employee on sick leave aren’t wasted or subject to delays.

Superior teamwork

Companies that choose Bohr’s ‘weapon of secrecy’ would do well to remember that their blade is apt to cut its owner. It’s a basic left hand/right hand principle. When two members of the sales team don’t have visibility into which list of prospects each one is working from, they will often overlap in their pursuit of leads. When PR and marketing juniors are submitting content ideas to multiple publications, they may well double pitch the same outlet – leading to the detriment of this working relationship.

By contrast, the weapon of openness is rather foolproof. Opening emails up for internal use makes it easier for every employee across every department to know what everyone else is doing. When the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, it’s much easier to avoid inconvenience, confusion, and doubling up on work – saving your company time and wasted resources.

Where secrecy inhibits productivity, open email fully and unapologetically encourages it. 

Superior performance

Open email also shines a light on the performance of your organisation and its employees – for better and worse. Secretive organisations encourage cultures of confusion and obfuscation: where if staff are underperforming, if bad news is expected, and if targets aren’t being met, this information is hidden from the company. This isn’t good practice for several reasons, but the most obvious is that when the business doesn’t know where it’s going wrong, it can’t make improvements or corrections.

When you make all internal correspondence available, you’re giving yourself the fullest possible picture of your company’s performance. If your relationship with a key account is deteriorating, you’ll know why – putting you in a position to right the ship. It means that if a certain salesperson is performing better than the rest, their profit-generating behaviours can be identified and duplicated across the department. Above all, it means having a greater understanding of your business and of how it’s doing.

The weapon of openness is a Swiss army knife: it empowers your business in several essential respects. It doesn’t take away privacy, it simply ensures that that which is private remains private – and that information that might be useful to the wider business is available to anyone who needs it. A democratic and transparent company is always preferable to a secretive, insular, and ultimately more vulnerable organisation.  

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