Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Transparency of information vs. IP. How much do you share with employees and contractors?

Hi, I am implementing Holacracy in my training and consulting organization. We employ a few employees and a network of Associates (external contractors) who delivers work to client when needed. Some of these Associates deliver our programs only a few days per year, so the relationship is pretty loose.

We want to be as transparent as possible and share all information about the company with our employee and network, but we are struggling with two issues:

- our biggest asset is the IP (intellectual property) of our programs. Shall we give access to all IP to both employees and Associates? And shall we do that even when the IP is not key to their accountabilities? I sense that the information we shall give free access to are: roles, policies, meeting output, status of projects, and some financials, but that IP is not just "information" but the core of our offering (it's like giving away the formula of Coca-Cola :-).. Does this make sense?

- in a company like ours, where we have more contractors than employees and when contractors may also work for our competitors, how can we apply transparency of information without putting the company at risk? 

Anybody faced similar issues? How did you deal with these?

Thank you for your input and suggestions.

Giovanna

8 Replies
awo
10/25/2017

Hi Giovanna

Two questions come to mind reading your post

  • Why is it important to you to be as transparent as possible?
  • What are the risks to the company that follow from transparency? 

Thanks, Andrew 

giodalessio
10/26/2017

Hi Andrew, thank you for your clarifying questions. We want to be role models of a Teal Organization, where employees are not subordinates but all equals, where decision-making is allowed in every part of the company. In order to support all employees in their decision-making we believe all information must be available. We are about to share even financials with all employees.

Our questions is: "In order to be as transparent as possible, how much and what kind of information shall be shared?"

The two doubts we have are about:

Contractors: while employees work 100% of their time for us and there is a contract they are binded to, contractors work for us and other competitors at the same time and their contract is much less binding. Shall we share our financials  or other sensitive data with them, even if they don't need to know them in order to make decisions about the work they do for us, and even if we risk that  information leaks to our competitors who can use it against us?

IP (intellectual property): Our major asset is the Intellectual Property we own on our training programs. If we share all our session plans, agendas, workbooks, etc. to all contractors, we may risk that some of them will use our programs for their clients or pass them to our competitors and it would de-value our assets, making them not exclusive any longer. It would be like a software company sharing the codes of their programs to any collaborators, or a food company like Ferrero, sharing with all employees the formula of Nutella :-). 

Hope this make sense.

Giovanna

 

Sam Burnett
10/26/2017

Hi Giovanna,

I think our two organizations have a lot in common with how we work with contractors and our main asset being IP and training materials.  I wonder if a call to chat about how each of us has implemented holacracy and how we include contractors might help both of us with thinking about how other orgs are doing this work?  

From our perspective, we are in the process of implementing materials use agreements with each of our partnering trainers.  We haven't really considered it with all the roles on our team.  That is likely short-sightedness on our behalf.  We do use copyright protection for some of our materials and are in the process of developing a creative commons licensing policy for other parts of our IP catalogue.  

When it comes to sharing materials--we typically only share them with roles that use them.  So our trainers will gain access to materials as they are needed for a specific session so that they can be studied and modified to the audience.  That said, we are pretty loose with closing out project folders after an event or an kinds of access rules so most people could access them if they wanted.  We are a virtual team and operate out of dropbox for file sharing which adds another level of complexity to the situation.  

Send me a personal message if a call might help with hashing out how each of us thinks about the work.  I would certainly welcome the opportunity to hear more about your approach to working with a team composition like the one you described.

awo
10/26/2017

Our experience at GT is slightly different, since we don't have contractors in the way that you do - but our preference is: share everything that can be shared. 

That would be kind of an answer to your question ""how much and what kind of information shall be shared?" - and it would also be kind of not an answer, since it just reframes the problem as "what can be shared?".

But maybe that's a helpful reframe? 

I also call to mind Theory X/Theory Y - can we trust people with this information? Well if we assume that we can trust them, they are more likely to behave in a trustworthy way; if we assume that they can't be trusted, they are more likely to try and 'game the system'

Hope that helps.

Adam Banko
10/30/2017

I have some thoughts on employees vs. contractors that might also shed some more light on your question.

I started to think of teammates ( typically full-time employees) and contractors in different ways. We have very different relations, expectations with them. Not just from the legal and business but also very different mindsets.

I think of teammates as pro-active role fillers, who should make all decisions that help them advance their roles. For this work they need as much information as possible, we can't know in advance what information they will need tomorrow to decide about whatever comes in their way. The company relationship with them is also not transactional, if they have a personal crisis and can't perform at 100%, most companies still pay team members full salary and maybe gives even more support to help them recover.

Contractors on the other hands typically have a transactional relationship with the company. Do work X in exchange for money Y, and we don't expect them to be especially proactive about it, go outside their box and further the company in a way that a team member does. This typically means limited expectations and limited authority. With this, it's easier to say what information they need access to perform their more clearly defined work.

Of course, this is not black and white and there are exceptions. Still, I hope this differentiation helps.

giodalessio
10/30/2017

Hi Adam, 

your reflections make a lot of sense. The difference you make in terms of rules of engagement in the two contractual positions (employees vs. contractors) resonate with us as well.

We may say that information to make transparent are all the information that can make people's fulfillment of a role easier and smoother, not necessarily ALL the existing information. 

But I still don't feel at ease in being the one deciding what is the information a group or different groups may need instead of leaving them to discriminate what is useful from what is not useful. It still sounds like the old "I am the boss and I know what you need. I'm giving you access to this and I'll not give you access to that" kind of low-trust relationship.

Do you see what I mean?

Giovanna

 

giodalessio
10/30/2017

Hi Awo,

thanks for the reframing, very useful. I genuinely want to move in the direction of Theory Y and believe we can trust anyone, even if they are not contractually binded.

I guess there is some fear to let go when it's about sharing our most valuable asset :-).

Giovanna

Adam Banko
10/30/2017

Hi Giovanna,

I'm thinking of seeking a middle ground between "low-trust by default" and "blind trust". I'm weary of the let-go-of-your-fear attitude in the face of grounded concerns. Contractors might steal and use your IP, or leak them to your competitors.

Is it safe enough to try to share everything with them knowing these concerns? Could you adopt later if it turns out it was a bad idea?

How big would be the harm if there's only a single "bad apple" who misused the trust? In contrast, what is the cost of not sharing everything?

If sharing everything risks too much (possibly the life of the company), what level of transparency seems safe enough to try?

Maybe now I sound anti-transparency, I'm usually a huge advocate. What I'm trying to emphasize is that this can be a more rational decision weighing the benefits and cost, and I think that is the responsible thing to do... and often the answer is transparency and trust. Just don't do it because "Transparency is Good and should be everywhere" or "You should let go all your fears".