In our lives and growing years, we often learn from imitation, and have a huge need to fit in, often at the cost of who we really are. We are encouraged to ‘be ourselves’ yet we are expected to live in ‘conformity’ with social and organisational norms. Often, as we seek to integrate ourselves in the workplace, with our customers and the larger world, we can lose our sense of self, and forget how to be authentic. We can end up living a double life, that can be a reason of stress and also building shallow relationships that do not add any value to us or our work. As communicators and reputation managers, it is important to embrace authenticity in the way we interact with the world and ultimately represent our organisational brand internally and externally.
In today’s business world, especially post COVID-19, where virtual relationships may precede one to one meetings or physical interactions, being authentic is the ‘beej mantra’ for success. Authenticity in business interactions and communication is a lot more than just a trend. Authenticity elevates our business above competition, building our personal brand into someone reliable, trustworthy and influential. It provides real substance to our business and our services, by enabling partners and customers to have a deeper connection with the organisation. It becomes easier to help people understand how our offer may be of benefit to them, encouraging deeper, more personalised engagement, turning clients and customers into ambassadors.
The basic principles of authenticity are:
Being Genuine: Being real and authentic is the best way to be perceived as authentic. We need to go back to our basics, define our core values, our organisational values and consciously imbibe them in our day to day interactions. It is important to know our goals, keeping in mind the mission and vision of the products and services we aim to sell. It is also important to be empathetic and supportive in any given situations. The ability to listen keenly and then act is not always easy, but it is exceptionally critical.
Consistency: To build a deep relationship with others, our fundamental message should be in resonance with our identity and style of communication. It should also be in harmony with the organisations we represent; whether it is in an online space or offline. Having consistency in our messaging leads to greater trust and understanding.
Reliability: It is one of the most valued traits in the quest for authenticity. People who can be trusted to follow through with small things are the people we implicitly trust with bigger things. Reliability can be as tiny as being on time for an appointment or as big as representing facts for a cover story on our organisation. It is as simple as people knowing that if we say we will do something, we will do it.
Accountability: As humans we all make mistakes – to own up and apologise can not only help build greater trust but also possibly avert organisational crisis. This also means accepting when we are in denial of something that may have gone horribly wrong. The BP Oil spill crisis is a stellar example of how lack of accountability can lead to a massive organisational crisis and create a huge negative impact on life and the environment.
On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in human history, killing 11 rig workers. Oil and methane gas spewed from an uncapped wellhead, one mile under the surface of the ocean, for straight 87 days. It has been estimated that 4.2 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, causing unimaginable damage. This was followed by a series of insensitive remarks by the organisation’s CEO; false announcements of ‘modest damage’, arrogant statements to the media and many false promises to set things right. Public criticism and outrage followed the oil spill, not only due to the environmental disaster, but also due to the lack of remorse and sincerity from the organisation in its crisis response. This case study has become a classic example of why organisations should use the ethical principals of accountability and responsibility in their decision making, especially during crises situations.
Nurture Relationships: It is important to stay connected with people and think of how we can assist them in their quest for success or any other goal. Sharing our knowledge or resources with those who may benefit from what we know/have can be a great way to provide support. It is important to appreciate effort and encourage people to be the best version of themselves, perhaps even mentor people if we have the ability to do so. Often honest feedback given to a colleague or business associate can help them improve themselves or their product, and be very meaningful to them. Also being grateful for what support or information we receive can build stronger relationships.
Discretion: Authenticity and transparency does not mean that “all things are equal” in all situations. It is important to remember that authenticity does not require the same level of transparency in every relationship. Information sharing should be done with utmost discretion and in the best interests of the organisation. Business relationships should be respected for what they are – business. It is important to have healthy respect for confidentiality and information sharing, within boundaries.
When we embrace authenticity based on these basic and simple principals, we create powerful relationships that inspire and prosper. However, being authentic does not mean turning into a people pleaser – such people build relationships at the cost of their own happiness and end up sabotaging themselves and the relationships. Authentic relationships are also not built in a day – it happens over a period of time and needs consistent, conscious effort to connect with others in a meaningful and genuine way. For professionals who uphold the mantle of building and sustaining organisational reputation, authenticity, like we said earlier, is pretty much the ‘beej mantra’ of success.
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