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Beyond Transparency

By: Joe James

Pensive diverse group of young people dressed in formal wear writing notes on colorful stickers glued on wall during collaborative process in office

When looking for meaning behind a process or decision, how often have you heard: “That’s just always the way we’ve done it” and have the conversation end right there?  After hearing this, you’ll probably go through the following stages of “Business as Usual”: anger at the easy response, confusion as you try to probe for a more meaningful answer, and finally acceptance when you decide that no one really knows why a particular action or process is done.  This vagueness and complacency around even the most frequent or critical actions was something I’d come to accept as a norm in almost every organization.  That is until I was introduced to SEI.

As I entered “The Gauntlet”, each interview delivered a consistent message of the collaboration and ownership that each team member was expected to engage in.  What surprised me was that each interviewer didn’t describe it as an expectation or additional work, but rather as a perk of working at SEI.  In several of the companies I interviewed with previously, I heard that collaboration was critical to success.  What I found was that this collaboration was usually limited in scope; often times to specific projects or a few employee implemented processes.  However, at SEI collaboration wasn’t just a marketing bullet point that was pitched to potential candidates; it was how SEI functioned day to day.  The full implications of this didn’t quite hit me until I attended orientation.

During the SEI orientation, my pledge class sat with the CEO and COO as they walked us through the reasoning behind each corporate decision and every minute detail of the processes we’d participate in as SEI consultants.  I’ve heard this touted as “transparency” in other organizations, but at SEI “transparency” isn’t the right word because it implies that the viewer can only see without interaction.  As the two-day orientation progressed, I realized that I was being given every detail.  Not for the sake of disclosure, but because as an SEI employee I have to understand the reasoning behind something before I can improve upon it. At SEI, it’s beyond the concept to transparency, it’s about collaboration.

Similar to an open collaboration model, each individual at SEI is given equal power to contribute and improve on the SEI model. True of any collaboration: those individuals will be challenged, supported, and empowered to implement.  This aspect is fundamental in every action the consultant makes, both internally within SEI and externally with clients: understand the problem and work together to deliver something meaningful.

Breaking through the “look, but don’t touch” idea of transparency and stepping into the realm of collaboration has changed my outlook on how I contribute, both inside and outside of SEI.  Gone are the stages of “Business as Usual” and replacing them are the stages of “Understanding”: the comfort of comprehension, the exhilaration of accepting a challenge to improve, and the feeling of fulfillment from knowing you are working for a company, not at a company.

Joe James


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