Trust Can Scale; Trust Requires Transparency

February 15, 2013 § 17 Comments

I’ve had drafts of this very topic (Trust Can Scale) and (Trust Requires Transparency) in various forms throughout the years (emails, notes, discussions with various Mozilla employees/ execs and industry panel presentations).   Last weekend, I woke up and during my normal routine (coffee, scanning Twitter) I stumbled upon another classic @bfeld post that nails the concept better than I’ve ever written or spoken it.  Thanks Brad for finally inspiring this post!

Trust Can Absolutely Scale!

Mozilla has been operating this way for years.  We don’t know how to do it differently.   Yes, Brad, we are now a +700 person company and yes, it absolutely still works!

I’m known inside Mozilla for being emphatic about “Optimizing for efficiency and productivity”.  You’ll rarely hear me leading with “optimizing for cost” or with financial requirements.  In the rare cases I have tried leading with money/cost only guidelines, it has backfired with unintended results of severe inefficiency (needs another post).    We absolutely optimize for self-direction and the ability for every employee to make balanced and quality decisions.  And yes, that requires optimizing around Trust!

We trust all Mozillians to treat our resources and our spending as if it were their own money.  As Mozilla’s CFO, I have regular proof they do (via verification reporting systems that we’ve built).  A shining examples is our self-managed travel system (Egencia) which has had calls over the years to be replaced.   When those calls come, I always ask “Why Replace?”  and “What Would You Like to Solve For?”   The answers, so far, have always led back to Egencia simply working and being the most efficient and productive for most individual travelers.  (note: Groups/Event travel are a whole different story)

Trust in these systems doesn’t mean lack of control.  Quite the opposite actually.  We absolutely “Trust AND Verify”.  In Egencia (and many other of our cloud based self-managed systems), we build all the classic controls and signature approval policies inside each system.   And like any other more traditional policy, we allow exceptions which are also recorded inside each system (Transparent Exceptions).    Then, we let our employees simply use the system to manage their own time, their own travel, their own business needs.   A look at most of Mozilla’s systems below.  Nearly all are “cloud based” and most have a self-directed component allowing management and finance to get out-of-the-way.


I recently emailed all employees with our latest Mozilla wide Egencia Travel Report for CY 2012 and congratulated everyone on this incredibly successful trust based system.    Some of our impressive metrics?  (cut/pasted from my email)

  • Last Qtr we purchased 750 Airline Tickets
  • 93% were issued via self-service online – no agent/human needed.
  • Avg Ticket price ~ $930;   breaks down as $465 avg domestic;  avg $1,125 Int’l
  • 28 days Avg Advanced Purchased – Awesome;  we are planning trips better!;  this used to be bordering on the all critical 14 days.
  • Last Qtr we spent over 1500 Nights In A Hotel Room
  • Avg. rate of $205 per night.
  • We don’t drive nearly as much;  Only 1400 car rentals in CY 2012 x $39 per day avg. = $56,000 Total Car rentals in CY 2012;  Keep mass transporting!

Which brings me to another key concept inside Mozilla.  Trust requires Transparency.   Mozilla does transparency very well.  Transparency includes building in complete click-through audit trails into all of our systems that easily shows who did what and when.  When you have such trusted systems and transparent systems, there’s literally nowhere to hide.

Transparency is the rather simple act of showing your work.  Communicating openly what you did and why.  Being accountable for your actions and saying “your right, I missed that” or “good catch, let’s fix that”.  Transparency means being able to defend your decisions.  Transparency is also the most efficient way of inherently teaching as you go.  That’s it.

I’d recommend anyone uncomfortable with this transparency concept to get used to it…fast.   The younger generations always plant and grow the seeds of cultural change.  Our younger generations are beginning to lead more of our most exciting companies and their underlying cultures.   This “information everywhere generation” and “digital youth” have grown up with a natural ability to parse amazing amounts of information to get to the core of most issues quickly.   They are also naturally collaborative and expect everyone else to  share  and solve.  Since information is virtually free, they compete and differentiate by developing unique solutions from the shared knowledge pools.

Ultimately, Transparency breeds Trust and very powerful Teams.

Trust + Complete Transparency = A Great Culture and Greater Control

This post started with Brad Feld’s recent post – Trust Can Scale – so I’ll end with my favorite part of that post:

A startup obviously needs to add process in order to scale, but if you replace trust with process, you’ll rip the heart right out of your company.   When adding processes, ask yourself the following questions:

    Does this new process help us go faster?
    Does this new process help us be more efficient?

Trust could be one of your most valuable company assets.  As a leader, you need to fight like hell to protect it.  If you are successful protecting trust, you’ll actually grow much faster and you’ll still have a place where people love working.

Read more of Brad’s post:  Trust Can Scale

And another great post on “Process” that recently made its rounds around Mozilla to wide acclaim.

The Process Myth

Thoughts?  How’s this all working inside your company?    Please comment below:

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