Does Your Company Know Itself?

Authentic self

“Are your teammates bringing their authentic selves to the office?” A panel on Quartz at Work is attempting to address how organizations can prepare to handle employees' full selves. Empathy, ethos, and an understanding of nuance are typically not everyday practices in corporations.

Could practices, norms and approaches help managers do both: acknowledge the breadth and nuance of people's lives, and stay focused on the needs of the business?

I doubt you'll figure it out in a quick 1-hour conversation. But what if instead of trying to fit a person into a system, you reframed the conversation starting from the person?

Let's break down the parts.


The meaning of authenticity

People are quitting in droves not because they don't need a job to pay the bills. They do. Nor they leave because they're lazy. They aren't. Work is an important aspect of human dignity. Based on dozens of conversations I've had in the past 18 months, people say “no” to towing the line.


Many jobs have been systematized to death.

Programmatic doesn't work for ads,

what makes any sensible person think

it may work for people?

However, if you want to make the conversation more productive, there's a different way of asking the question. Are companies going to allow people to craft their own roles so they can bring their richness, speak with their own voice, and create meaning for themselves?

Colin Newlyn says, “We’ve allowed even highly skilled jobs like special Ed teachers to be systemised to death and play tended out into a set of soulless processes and box-ticking.” Take meaning and sense of belonging out of people and all you've got is just a job.

Now that we're here for the sake of efficiency, we wan to put life back into the job.

“There's an interesting discussion to be had about how ecosystems and human communities intersect, and how understanding both will be necessary to start overcoming these challenges,” says Dr. Richard Claydon.

“That’s why I keep coming back to Senge's view,” says Geoff Marlow.
“'Leadership is the capacity of a human community to shape its future.'
That capacity has historically been systemically stifled, smothered and strangled by the hogging of decision making at the top of organisations by 'the leaders' aka 'the decision makers.' Hence the fragmented, flaccid and feeble linkage between decision making and the richly diverse but disconnected sense making already going on in the body of the organisation.
Add in the increasingly uncertain and unpredictable nature of the world and it’s not much of an intellectual leap to see that sense making, decision making & action taking must become ever more tightly coupled, rapidly and repeatedly iterated, deeply embedded and widely distributed throughout an organisation.”

As I said in an article published by management consulting firm Trivioquadrivio, “Within the context of leadership, authenticity appears as the confluence of personal values, purpose, heart, connected relationships, and self-discipline.”

I wrote it in 2005. Again from the article, “Taken within its psychological meaning, authenticity is a concept in which the individual derives gratification and positive emotion from exercising signature strengths.”

Working from strengths, creating meaning, having purpose are all reasons why people go out on their own. Flexibility may be part of it. But the siren call of self-expression and continuous learning is what is most addictive. 


Who is your whole self?

When you say it like this, what do  you see? People go to therapy for years to figure it out. Your identity and behavior are formed in conversation with self, but (mostly) with others. 

There's a heavy narrative component here.

Your own narrative is influenced by culture where the mainstream narrative flows. David Graeber and Dabid Wengrove just rewrote the history of the world. (Not that anyone who has a vested interest in how things are right now was asking.) The Dawn of Everything explains this:

Philosophers tend to define human consciousness in terms of self-awareness; neuroscientists, on the other hand, tell us we spend the overwhelming majority of our time effectively on autopilot, working out habitual forms of behaviour without any sort of conscious reflection. When we are capable of self-awareness, it’s usually for very brief periods of time: the ‘window of consciousness’, during which we can hold a thought or work out a problem, tends to be open on average for roughly seven seconds.

What neuroscientists (and it must be said, most contemporary philosophers) almost never notice, however, is that the great exception to this is when we’re talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems sometimes for hours on end. This is of course why so often, even if we’re trying to figure something out by ourselves, we imagine arguing with or explaining it to someone else.

Human thought is inherently dialogic. Ancient philosophers tended to be keenly aware of all this: that’s why, whether they were in China, India or Greece, they tended to write their books in the form of dialogues. Humans were only fully self-conscious when arguing with one another, trying to sway each other’s views, or working out a common problem.

True individual self-consciousness, meanwhile, was imagined as something that a few wise sages could perhaps achieve through long study, exercise, discipline and meditation.

I save these quotes for my work of translating purpose (and intent) into value. It's especially useful when doing rebranding work. Self-awareness is a critical aspect of creating experiences that transfer value to others.

Which is why when we execute, we work at two levels: strategic or how you make choices, and habitual, or how you do things. Because business can change rapidly, branding in the service or promise economy makes habits a bigger lever.

Say you're self-aware, how do you self-improve? Tyson Yunkaporta says [via Jennekin Dicks]:

“… You're almost nothing as an individual….You don't have anything inside you… Everything that you think you are, that’s outside of you, it’s in your relationships.

And that includes your unique and amazing thoughts. It’s in your unique, amazing fingerprint or particular pattern of the web of relations that you exist in. So, forget about your self-improvement and look to improve your relationships.

That doesn’t mean spend more quality time with people or anything like that. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s just enriching and deepening those relations and making sure that those are also grounded in a deep relationship with place that you’re noticing and observing these things. And all you have to do for that is to observe and be responsive to your system of relations.

That’s it. Just observe and be responsive to what you find. Everything you need is always around you. This is what we know as indigenous people. Have a good look around, everything you need will be there.”

If you want to know why Italian brands are so attractive, it's because of culture. They're immersed in the richness of place that is Italy. Every city and town is its own territory with stories, too. 'Made in Italy' is made through relationships that bring the craft to life.


Putting it back together

Energy is the unspoken reason organizations want people to bring their whole self into work.

A craft made through relationships with people and place is dense with energy. Self-expression and relationships enrich us in  ways we can't even begin to quantify, though not for lack of trying. But that's because we're using the wrong metrics.

Everyone wants to work on high-value things. As I said in my article,

“Authenticity starts with using the correct language to create a conversation about what we want from each other and confronting our own choices and responsibilities as leaders and businesses.

Language was employed even before writing to create and narrate stories; stories make it easier to understand the world, they are the only way we know to spread an idea. We hear and tell stories all the time—corporate stories, selling stories, marketing stories, tales from friends and family.

We consider those stories that agree with our worldview great; they don't teach us anything new, they simply agree with what we already believe and in doing so make us feel smart and secure. When we live the story we tell, we're telling the truth, we're authentic. Make it real, and you increase economic value, too.”

But what if the story you're telling has run its course? You'd know from the level of energy your team generates as it works. Some companies feel dead on the inside. They're the companies where habits are keeping people stuck and decision-making could use an upgrade.

Even as a company, you want to belong to industry and market to participate in your share of wealth and prosperity.

How can you join in the emergent narrative?

First, you want to develop all forms of sensemaking. Assess, analyze, research, discover, but also feel because we're talking about people. Sensemaking is a strategic aspect of business. You make decisions based on this kind of information. Internal stakeholders make sense with me holding a mirror.

Then, identify what motivates and moves you and your team and organization forward. For that, I rely on research and deep experience with psychological attributes like values and attitudes and human behavior.

Rebrand involves this deeper understanding to identify the embodied values and purpose.

Whether you're a 50-year old production company, a martech company with a unique machine learning approach to lead generation, or a leading provider of professional digital audio networking technologies globally, the different sides of your identity matter to align your organization with its most resonant customers to create a more emotionally resonant, enduring brand.

Reframing the question simply takes us to: Does your company know itself? Because that's the only way to know if it's even possible for people to bring their selves into work.


[image via Pixabay]


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