Posted on 22 September 2010
I never liked Howard Stern when he was on terrestrial radio. He was too crude for me. I guess I just didn’t get his sense of humor; I am not a fan of fart jokes and interviews with porn stars. I never stayed on the station long enough to hear him out. That all changed after I got Sirius satellite radio in my car. Not sure how it came about, maybe he was interviewing an interesting guest, but I gave him a listen and that is when I realized why he is the most popular radio personality, and probably the only person who can jump to a paid subscription model and bring millions with him.
It has been said that the Howard Stern show was really the first reality show. They say this because on a reality show you get to experience each person’s flaws, successes, failures and triumphs. There is a ton of honesty on reality shows, most of the time there is too much, which leads to drama and people love to watch drama. On reality shows, you get to know all of the characters really well, as if you are right there alongside of them. After a while you feel like you know everybody and you start relating to different people. The Howard Stern show is a success because of one major factor that most people probably don’t realize, and that is “complete transparency”. The show is brutally honest, often times getting so personal people lose it, cry or say things they probably regret. Howard really has a no holds barred style. If he is pissed at someone and wants to fire them, he talks about it on the show in front of the person he is thinking about firing. Imagine that happening in a normal work setting? Howard also is very critical of himself and is the first person to point out his flaws, making them publicly available for millions to hear, over and over again (they say Tivo is coming to satellite soon). Howard says what is on his mind, and doesn’t hold back no matter what type of trouble it could get him into.
I believe this transparency has been the key to his success. It takes a lot of courage to tell anyone who wants to listen, what fears you have, and to walk people thru your flaws in detail. Think about it, how many people you know talk openly about where they fall short? And if you do know someone, how does your relationship with them work? I can tell you that from my experience when someone is honest with me, I form a strong bond of trust. There is something very refreshing with someone willing to be so vulnerable. I personally don’t do a good job at this; I don’t I have the courage like Howard does. Of course to run a widely successful company I need to get much better at practicing complete transparency.
The word “transparency” is definitely a corporate buzz word these days. The Internet has been a platform that has really put a lot of companies in check. With social media, blogs, wikis, chat rooms, message boards, etc.. it is much harder to get away with poor customer service, product failures, and general dishonesty than it was even 10 years ago. I think most companies, however, still keep many things secret, and information is hoarded at the top, available only to a few pairs of eyes.
I will be the first to admit that mobileStorm is far from where it needs to be in sharing information across the organization. My dream company is one where there are absolutely no secrets and no matter what position someone is in, they always know the score.
Two very important things happen with complete transparency:
1. Deep Trust: Employees who have access to everything going on, have a deep trust in their organization. This trust leads to dedication, and amazing employee retention.
2. Smarter and Dispersed Decisions: The ultimate goal for any entrepreneur is to have a company that runs on its own. If all of the information is guarded at the top, then only people at the top can make important decisions. This sets up a process whereby the owner must be involved in all decision making, and they find themselves only being able to grow fast as they can be involved in making decisions. If information is shared, then anyone in the organization can make a decision, and most of the time the person most qualified to make a decision is one closest to the issue or the one who will be affected by it the most (I got this concept in a book called “How to Turn your Employees into Mini CEO’s” by Aaron Ross).
If more businesses could be as transparent as Stern, then I believe they would become more successful. I am inspired to continue to let go of information that should flow to other people. It’s a struggle, it really needs to become a habit. We are launching our core values soon and “Practice Transparency” is one of our values to serve as a constant reminder.
I still turn Howard off from time to time when he is getting into that humor that I think is a bit lowbrow, but no matter how nasty he gets, I still have a lot of respect for the honest side of him. He is one of those rare breeds that are not afraid to let people see him for who he really is. None of us are perfect, it can just be hard to admit that sometimes.
What will you start doing to take steps towards creating a organization that is open about flaws and freely shares information? I would love to hear your thoughts.