Wordcount: 723 Time to read: 4 minutes
According to Martin Uzochukwu Ugwu, “Confidentiality is a delicate bargain of trust.”
The world is a cauldron of information, hot and bubbling with juicy details from all corners of the planet. More so now in the information age than ever before in the history of humankind. Access to all that information is one of the most potent drivers of society and the economies that keep it moving forward.
And yet, the safety and security of information are more suspect and fragile than ever before.
As part of my efforts to keep my confidential information confidential, I avoid most social media platforms, Facebook being the most pervasive and dominant. My identity protection monitoring software made necessary (and free) by the theft of data from retailers too numerous to count provides toothless protection to atone for their data confidentiality sins.
The depth and breadth of business-related data and efforts to maintain confidentiality are limitless and dynamic. Businesses are particularly vulnerable when major change or transition is about to occur. Constantly changing in form, content, and need for privacy, failure to maintain confidentiality can be costly and destructive.
When a client decided to explore their valuation and potential for a win-win-win sale, they interviewed several brokers familiar with their industry and size; professionals who would, or should, know the market. To find a qualified appraiser, one of the broker-candidates called a local competitor asking if they had ever had themselves appraised and if so, who it was.
That simple query triggered a series of calls and speculation that quickly spread like wildfire with no concern for truth or boundaries. Two days after initial interviews, all hope for confidentiality was blown away. A competitor called asking if the business was up or sale. 😖 While no facts had been disclosed by this broker-candidate, curiosity had been raised and the cat had been let out of the bag.
The confidentiality conundrum bleeds into many areas of business. From an employer perspective, maintaining wage confidentiality is a virtual impossibility. According to Kim Silvers, President of Silvers HR in Granite Bay, “… employers are not permitted to prohibit employees from talking about their earnings with others.” She offers ideas that may help and cautions “… be prepared to explain why it differs from others.” Over the decades, I’ve seen the perception of unfair privileges or compensation practices sour employee/employer relationships.
A few days ago, during the last round of triple-digit heat, our air conditioning started to act up. At that point, my work and personal plans were superseded by the obvious need to attend to the issue at hand.
Nineteen hours later as I greeted Ben, the A/C repairman, my life had been focused on heat-related troubleshooting.
I was looking for a quick return to cold air blasting out of our house vents when I welcomed Ben into the house. He wasn’t wearing a mask, nor was I, and one more moment of discomfort quickly erupted.
“Would you like me to put a mask on?” I asked. “We’re both fully vaccinated and gestated!”
With a look of worry and surprise, kind of what I suspect I’ve looked like many times since March last year, he fumbled for words. And a mask.
“Have you been vaccinated?” I asked.
“We’re not supposed to talk about that. It’s confidential,” said Ben with apology. “I’ll put a mask on.”
Ah, you may be thinking, confidentiality. compensation. COVID, what do they have to do with business growth?
In business, sustainability cannot be realized without growth. Growth cannot be achieved without collaboration. Collaboration cannot be real without understanding. Understanding cannot be grasped without transparency. Transparency is the opposite of confidentiality and its only true prophylactic.
I believe we tend to overvalue most of our information. Avoid labeling things as confidential unless there’s a true, measurable need, such as health records, social security numbers, driver’s license details, etc. By removing the shield of confidentiality, the value in stealing them evaporates. The most powerful and valuable side-effect of minimizing confidentiality is the reduction of desire to defy it.
There are many time-tested strategies for safely and effectively increasing transparency. They require willingness, understanding, and commitment from leadership, and have been proven effective in good times and bad. Most include documented clarity of goals, responsibilities, systems and structure, and robust communications planning.
If you’re interested in a no-charge conversation about transparency as it relates to your specific situation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include transparency in your subject line for a faster response.
Another helpful resource can be found in one of my older, yet still relevant Sacramento Business Journal columns titled There’s no ‘usual’ in business today from May 8, 2009, where I talk about embracing innovative ideas.
 Mandelberg, Larry. “There’s no ‘usual’ in business today,” News – Eyes on Business, Sacramento Business Journal, 8 May 2009, https://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2009/05/11/smallb2.html