Authenticity is one of those overused words. The more it’s crowbarred into corporate literature of all types, the more slippery its meaning becomes. So I found it very helpful to hear Rob Goffee bring the word back to basics, in our Expert Interview podcast.
He told me that the Oxford English Dictionary defines “authenticity” as “of undisputed origins.” In other words, you should be able to look at authentic individuals and organizations and understand where they come from – the values they’re rooted in, the ideas that consistently shape their choices and behavior.
An authentic leader or organization, then, is the real deal.
Goffee explores this idea in his new book, “Why Should Anyone Work Here?” co-authored with Gareth Jones. Subtitled “What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization,” it sets out what they believe are the characteristics of an authentic organization, because, in their view, authenticity is key to attracting and retaining talent in today’s ever-changing world.
“In simple terms, we’re really talking about organizations that we can believe in,” Goffee says. “Organizations that we can trust. Organizations where we know what they stand for and, maybe in addition to that, organizations where, to use a popular contemporary expression, you can be your best self, where you can express yourself well and confidently.”
So how do we create such an organization? Start with the basics, Goffee suggests – those undisputed origins.
“Your history is something to work on and some organizations are very skillful at this,” he elaborates. “We thought New York Life Insurance, a mutual in the States, was very skillful at building upon its strong mutual foundations as a kind of rock to identify with during financial uncertainty.
“But you don’t need to be decades old, as that organization is, to have strong roots. We think a relatively young organization like Apple is also rather skillful at using where it started and where it came from as a way of identifying what it’s about.”
Recognizing and practicing your organization’s values is also crucial. After all, Goffee points out, “there’s no point having values and then not putting them into practice.”
He highlights BMW as a company with strong values, which run up and down the organization as an integral part of its culture. His research suggests that BMW engineers have a strong sense of purpose, built on the company’s values. They don’t go to work primarily to make a living, he says. They go to work to “build the ultimate driving machine.” That’s how they find meaning in their daily tasks.
Leadership is another important factor in building an authentic organization, Goffee says, describing a symbiotic relationship whereby “authentic organizations develop authentic leaders and have authentic leaders as great role models at the top of the organization.”
In their book, Goffee and Jones explore six dimensions that can help create this type of authentic organization, one where people want to work.
The first letters of these six attributes spell out DREAMS. They are: difference, letting people be themselves; radical honesty, communicating what’s really going on; extra value, magnifying people’s strengths; authenticity, standing for something real; meaning, creating satisfying work; and simple rules, reducing the clutter and making things clear.
In this audio clip, from our Expert Interview podcast, Goffee explains how a leader might use these attributes in practice.
For Goffee, the more authentic an organization is, the more it can win in the competition to attract and retain the best talent. Does authenticity matter to you? How do you demonstrate authenticity in your work life? Join in the discussion below!