ASK YOUR CAREER COACH: Confidentiality And Transparency

CONFIDENTIALITY, according to, has been defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in ISO-17799 as “ensuring that information is accessible only to those authorized to have access.” It is one of the cornerstones of information security.

Transparency, on the other hand, according to the book, “Transparency: Creating a Culture of Candor” by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, James O’Toole, is the free flow of information within an organization and between the organization and its many stakeholders. This means crucial information gets to the right person, the right time and for the right reason.

Though apparently contradictory, both are deemed necessary in an organization for its best interest. The following career dilemmas illustrate the difference between the two.

Q. I own a marketing company and we have a fairly large database of clients accumulated over several years of conducting training programs and events. One of our account executives resigned and joined another company that’s also organizing events. One day, she came back to our office and asked our IT administrator to allow her to copy our client database. She offered payment to our IT administrator for the information and advised him not to report the matter to me. Fortunately, our IT staff declined her offer and advised me immediately of what happened. How can I prevent such incidences from occurring again?

A. Your IT administrator certainly knows the importance of keeping important information confidential and he seems to be loyal to your company. However, guarding confidential information is not merely a matter of having loyal employees. You also have to have a system that will protect confidential information and ensure that employees are not tempted to breach confidentiality should an opportunity arises. First of all, you need to place your client database in a secure location that’s password protected and where usage can be recorded and tracked. Second, you have to limit the access to this database to only those who need to know. If you need to give access to someone for a temporary period, you have to make sure the passwords are changed immediately after the temporary usage. Physically, your office should also be secured such that visitors are identified and tracked and not allowed access to areas where documents and computers are unsecured. However, no system can be a hundred foolproof if a disgruntled employee wants to get back at the company. So developing and maintaining the loyalty of your employees is still a big deal.

Q. I am the Comptroller of a medium-sized company which is owned by three stockholder blocks. I report to the President who holds one-third of the stocks of the company. We buy most of our raw materials from companies that are owned by the President. The problem is the amount that we pay these companies are much higher than the prevailing prices in the industry. This is detrimental to the interests of the other stockholders. Should I keep quiet about this or should I inform the other owners of these anomalies? I am sure to lose my job if I do the latter.

A. You better start looking for another job then. In the long run, it does not pay to work for a dishonest executive especially if you are the Comptroller of the company. Bloated purchases can so easily be discovered by an internal auditor worth his salt. You are exposing yourself to administrative, if not legal, cases. Think Enron and Worldcom.

Another issue is if the CEO of a company is himself engaged in unethical practices, there can be no true transparency in the workplace because he will make sure that the other stockholders and the rest of the organization will not have access to information on what’s happening in the company. According to author James O’Toole, transparency can be likened to a central nervous system which ensures that the organization has the capacity to compete, solve problems, meet challenges and achieve goals. Without transparency, the organization will not be able to compete in the marketplace. If transparency is blocked by the CEO himself, then unethical behavior and practices will proliferate in that organization and make it so diseased that it will be in no shape to survive competition.

Your situation reminds me of a company who had always been number two in its industry. Its CEO had a practice of awarding contracts to his relatives and friends even though the service and/or the cost were not at par with other suppliers. After he was replaced in a board battle with an executive known for his aboveboard dealings, the company became the market leader in its industry. Was it a coincidence or consequence? I would say good corporate governance had a lot to do with their resounding success.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in Management Systems Asia, October 2009 issue.

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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