Is Authenticity in the Workplace Overrated?
au•then•tic•i•ty (ô th n-t s -t ). n.
The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.
Every working day we are involved in numerous communications with our bosses, staff, shareholders, partners and customers. Much of the communication in today’s busy business environments prove to be incredibly fast-paced, often with little or no time to really think about responses. Often this fast pace allows people the excuse of “not mentioning it” because there are so many things happening. And if responses are given, one of the key questions we must consider is “are these responses always authentic?” Maybe a better question yet is “do they really need to be authentic?”
Any organization whether a Government institution, for profit, or not-for-profit company is in of itself a living organism made up of people, services and products. For most, human capital is the most important: “how well does the team operate together against the many inside and outside pressures?” These pressures in today’s organizations seem to be ever-increasing with more expected of people, both in terms of commitment and throughput. More hours worked, tighter deadlines, higher expectations, working through breaks, evening and weekend working, are just some of today’s evident challenges. And don’t think it is just your organization – it if rife in today’s society.
How authenticity challenges are typically encountered in the workplace:
With Staff: are performance issues always identified and communicated to the individual? Are opportunities, or decisions, about internal opportunities and promotions always communicated? Is feedback (positive or critical) obtained from various stakeholders shared in a timely manner? Are remuneration discussions openly discussed?
With bosses: does your boss know when you are unhappy? Do you have a tendency to “agree” with your boss? Do you openly share concerns and opportunities for the wider organization with your boss? Are you willing to address challenges publicly or only in private?
With shareholders: are all your shareholders getting a true picture of the business results and business/competitive environment? Are they occasionally “kept in the dark” on some important issue, or an issue that is still developing? Do you often “spin” messages to the shareholders to keep them happy or keep them “off your back”? Do the people who invest in your company have all the knowledge they need to decide if that investment is right for them for the longer term?
With customers: are they always informed of product or service delays? Do they get to know about changes in company strategy that could affect them in a timely manner? Are price reductions always immediately communicated to them? Are business risks openly shared with them?
With partners: are necessary performance measures in place with agreed targets? Are perceptions communicated or hidden? Are decisions about changes to the partnership agreement discussed in advance? Do you know what the partner genuinely thinks of your organization and the partnership?
With yourself: are you “keeping your head low” to stay out of management’s way? Do you see some real issues that should be highlighted but choose not to?
Are you in the habit of “communicating some things but not others”? Do you talk to other people about challenges or opportunities but don’t share with management?
Someone once asked me “if authenticity is such a great thing to strive for, are there any possible downsides?” “Sure,” I replied. The answer to this question is relatively evident. By being authentic in the workplace, there are no guarantees that everything will go as well as planned, or as hoped. There is an element of gamble to being authentic. Again it takes courage and it takes sincerity. What happens if you are authentic and something does not work out the way you had hoped, should you now stop being authentic, or be selectively authentic? That is one of life’s great choices. Most organizations in my experience show selective authenticity, while the very best ones thrive on everyone being authentic all the time. These organizations have a special and unique DNA that attracts like-minded people. Like-minded, authentic people can move mountains.
So, how can you be authentic in the workplace? Well the most important aspect of authenticity is having courage – courage to say what you think, what you believe, and ultimately what you deem to be helpful for your organization. It may not be the popular vote, or it may require you to explain with more detail, and often in a larger forum. But don’t let that deter you. Often teams can develop “group think” very quickly, and there is an innate pressure “just to agree”. Hold your ground, be courageous and communicate in an open and honest way with sincerity. Additionally, when some of your colleagues see you exhibiting authenticity in the workplace, you can become a real beacon, a mentor to others, often without knowing the full positive impact you are having on them.
Another simple mental task to test authenticity is to ask yourself “which team would be the highest performing?”, “which team would have the most fun?”, “which team can tackle the real challenges of the business?”, “which team would I most want to be part of?” – an authentic team or an un-authentic team?
Another simple test is to walk into an office or meeting and just quietly watch and listen for a few minutes – your gut-feel will alert you to what type of environment you are now in!
Personally I have been part of both types of organization in my career. One displays lots of politics, inefficiencies, internal gossip, lack of alignment and minimal fun. The other brings out the best in people’s creativity and work ethic, can be highly efficient and results driven, and is a fun place that colleagues can also become friends. It is prudent for you to know well which type of organization you are working in, and is it the best fit for you.
Don’t let anyone tell you that always being authentic with your communications is easy – it’s not. But having the courage to be consistently authentic in all workplace situations will in the longer term benefit not only your colleagues, bosses, shareholders, partners and customers, but more importantly yourself.
Organizations can move from selective authenticity to full authenticity by allowing staff to speak their mind without recrimination. Often the best ideas are highlighted by the person willing to standup and be authentic. Although authenticity ownership is everyone’s responsibility, there is a special responsibility accepted by owners and management, especially senior management. Everyone has a built-in radar to sense authenticity, so management should exhibit authenticity consistently and praise it, and help encourage it in their staff. It’s wise to understand that whether you are being authentic, or not being authentic, generally people know.
At the very core of choosing to apply authenticity consistently in your life is a belief that you are ultimately helping the other person, or people. A while back I made the conscious choice to live authentically (consistently). And to be authentic I have to say “sometimes its truly wonderful and sometimes its (truly) challenging”. But knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Choose authenticity – it’s worth the effort.
Joe Connelly is co-author and co-founder of The Nine Prophecies Inc., a worldwide training and coaching organization geared towards enabling positive change in people’s personal and professional lives. Joe can be reached at