Authenticity is a word that has become widespread in a business context these days. Member Ian Ash shares his perspective on the real vital importance of authenticity.
Have you ever noticed how words become flavour of the month? Disruption, for example? Empowerment. Mindfulness. Wellbeing. There is nothing wrong with these words, but as they become (over)used, their power dilutes. And while it is true that the same comment can also be levelled at “authenticity”, we should not overlook its true significance and importance.
What I Found About The Importance Of Authenticity
A couple of years ago, I reviewed my client base and split them into two simple categories: 1) clients that are succeeding; and 2) clients that are not succeeding. Then, in true Jim Collins fashion, I tried to understand the consistent themes and factors amongst those that appeared to be doing well, as opposed to those that weren’t.
While my ‘research’ was obviously nowhere near as extensive as dear Jim’s, I could easily determine three clear distinctions. And I keep these in mind to this day as “ADE“; they help me monitor the success or otherwise of current clients. ADE is an acronym that simply stands for:
I may return to the other two words on a later occasion, but “Authenticity” is one that really stands out for me.
What Authenticity Means In Business
For me, authenticity is all about remaining true to yourself whatever the situation or circumstances; and that means behaving in a way that consistently aligns with what really matters. It therefore has much to do with a person’s character or a company’s culture; and both are inextricably linked to your core values.
In a business context, you don’t have to have or hire the same type of people. What you do need to do is to engage those that align with your core values. Only then do customers experience a consistent level of service irrespective of who they are dealing with in your business.
Virgin is a great example of this: it doesn’t matter where you fly in the world, you still get the impression that the cabin staff genuinely care that you enjoy the flight experience.
The Importance of Authenticity To Customers
I am sure that you can think of many other companies where the customer experience varies wildly according to the individual with whom you are talking; and hence so does the general perception of that business!
In the same vein, consider the example that Michael E. Gerber cites in his excellent book “The E-Myth Revisited“. In it he goes to a barber and receives an inconsistent experience each time. Because of this lack of consistency, after three visits he stops going. Quite simply the barber had failed to provide a truly authentic experience for each of his visits.
… And To Staff
In practical terms, the successful businesses I mentioned above were ones which took the time and effort to define, develop and communicate their company values. And then they actually applied them consistently in their day-to-day operation. They held their staff and themselves accountable to the values they had defined; and over time people got to view this as “the way things are done around here“.
By comparison, the poorer performing businesses tended to adopt a different priority: “Yes, I know this values stuff is important, but I need to get on with the urgent day-to-day actions”. As a consequence, in these companies the leadership team did not demonstrably live and breath the defined company values; and the relevance of these values to their staff was at best distant… and at worst downright hypocritical.
You don’t need to take my word for it, either. The Corporate Executive Board undertook a study entitled “Engaging the Workforce” (2004). It showed how companies that failed to “communicate and support company Values and Visions” – be authentic – adversely affected staff commitment to the business.
Authenticity And You
From an individual perspective, authenticity doesn’t necessarily mean that you are always the same; but it does imply that people will experience you in a similar way, and would generally say the same sort of things if asked to describe you.
At first sight it might appear that a person’s level of authenticity would be fixed, since their core values typically don’t change. However, this turns out not to be the case since it is not always easy to declare what your core values are; especially if these differ from the norm. The pleasing result is that it is actually possible to become authentic, or more authentic! But it takes courage and vulnerability to achieve. It’s not easy, but it is liberating.
Understanding The Link Between Authenticity, Credibility And Vulnerability
I have cited the quote “Vulnerability breeds credibility”* to my clients, and seen them grow as a result. At the same time, that quote does also stir up painful memories for me of my own inability to be vulnerable in previous corporate management roles. That inability on occasion led me to lose credibility. I would truly have benefited from having the courage to have been more “vulnerable” back then.
(* not sure who actually coined this one; Marilyn Monroe, if you believe the internet)
More recently, Brené Brown who describes herself as a “Vulnerability Researcher”, and who studies “vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame”, has presented a series of very powerful TED talks (such as this one) that show the interrelationship between these elements. She is a very human and engaging presenter who uses her ability as a storyteller to show how important these things are to living an authentic life. I encourage you to check out her Netflix special The Call to Courage, in which she advocates courage over comfort in order to achieve things that really matter and hence lead a more authentic life.
A Challenge And An Invitation
Finally, I challenge you to consider this: are you as authentic as you could be in your business dealings? Company values provide a great compass for this, not just for you, but also for those in your business. Identifying and applying them enables your business to provide a consistent level of service to your customers – and build better relationships as a result.
If you want to discuss your business culture, the importance of authenticity in your context, and how to leverage its power to strengthen your business , contact Ian Ash