Transparency is one of those terms, like “outside-the-box”, that everyone likes to use but rarely is defined. The meaning of transparency and its importance in large organizations became very clear to me in a BNET interview of Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, an 8000 staff teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. A March 12 article in the Boston Globe described the meeting that Levy had with the medical center staff where he requested ideas for preventing layoffs in the face of a $20 million deficit. Through email, chat rooms, and town-hall meetings, Levy collected ideas from staff for running the organization more effectively and efficiently. Thousands of people offered comments and suggestions.

Levy talks about two kinds of transparency in a hospital; one is being open about the medical center’s financial situation and the other is being open about the hospital’s clinical outcomes. He said, “As the CEO, I saw it as my job to implement and model transparency.”  This kind of transparency comes with risks. Publishing actual financial and clinical outcome numbers might give another hospital the information it needs to achieve a competitive advantage. Levy thinks it’s worth the risk because all hospitals are facing trying economic times and they have a lot to learn from each other. He said that the important thing with transparency is to be sincere, open, and honest with staff.

Transparency has paid off for BIDMC. Because of implementing staff suggestions, what could have been a 600 person layoff of the people least able to manage a loss of income, turned into less than 150 people losing their jobs, and staff are continuing to work on how to reduce that number further. Transparency in communication has had a clear, positive impact on BIDMC and the lives of thousands of employees and their families.