Authenticity. The degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. And I’ll add the degree to which you can communicate that clearly – and quickly - or perhaps are willing to communicate it. As far as that last piece goes though, we may not always have the conscious choice we think we do, as authenticity is not purely an innate quality, and it's often defined by what others see in us.
I know authenticity, or at least the concept of it, is valued though. That was clear at a speech I gave to 200 recruiting and HR pros at a Minnesota Recruiters Conference held on the corporate campus of Best Buy.
Following that presentation, about 10 or 12 people came up to the podium to talk to me. Every one of them wanted to discuss the importance of being authentic in the job interview process, both as an interviewee, and an interviewer.
One woman who is a senior recruiter at a large bank says her colleagues often complain about the lack of authenticity on the part of applicants. She quickly added though, “We are guilty of it sometimes ourselves.”
She detailed a couple of instances recently where her company made what might be referred to by most as "bad hires." But she said that’s not really accurate. Rather they were just the wrong people for those particular positions. She also said if both sides had been more authentic (and truthful perhaps?) in the hiring and interview process, instead of merely saying what they thought the other wanted to hear, this lack of alignment would have been apparent early on.
What’s the point of the charade? We are all going to be found out eventually, so why not be ourselves, warts and all, from the outset? It would sure save a lot of trouble and hassle, and in some cases, dollars even.
Artists, philosophers, and social scientists have debated the concept of authenticity for centuries.
Artists, philosophers, and social scientists have debated the concept of authenticity for centuries, and I'm hardly going to have the last word in this Staffing Talk post.
I believe it is a subject worth discussing however, as it's often difficult to find a balance between expressing our personalities and also fitting in, either as leaders, managers and influencers, or employees.
I had this discussion about authenticity the other day with Gregg Dourgarian. While he agreed, at least broadly, about the value of authenticity, he also said there is another side to the proverbial coin. He opined that if we were more authentic, both as employers and as candidates in the hiring process, there might eventually be even less diversity in the workforce than there is now.
If we were more authentic, both as employers and as candidates in the hiring process, there might eventually be even less diversity in the workforce than there is now.
Douglas Merrill is the former CIO and Vice President of Engineering at Google. He says, "It’s always easiest to hire people who look like you. It’s always easiest to promote people who look like you. It’s easiest because you like them more! However, that’s a bad way to run a business. To be a high performing company you have to make sure you have those diverse perspectives.”
I once read a definition of authenticity in a Harvard Business Review article as "people who remain focused on where they are going without losing sight of where they came from."
We certainly value it in other areas of our lives. An issue of TIME Magazine’s Style & Design showed up in my mailbox one time with an article about a place called Bhutan. It’s a landlocked state in South Asia, at the eastern end of the Himalayas, bordered by India and China.
The article called it “the last authentic place on Earth,” a real-life Shangri-la, and one of the world’s most coveted destinations. “Authenticity is a rare and valuable commodity, and people will travel far to find it,” writes Bobby Ghosh in this piece.
"Authenticity is a rare and valuable commodity, and people will travel far to find it."
Just before I began writing this post, I read this article about a new art exhibit that details the transformation of today's gentrified New York City from its dirtier, bloodier and raunchier days as recently as the '90's.
Bike shop owner Dave Ortiz says he remembers when the city's Meatpacking District, now home to expensive restaurants, nighclubs and boutiques, was more akin to the wild, wild West. "It's amazing what they turned it into. It's cool but it's lost its, like, authenticity."
When you hear the word authentic, or authenticity, what comes to mind? Is it something you think about often? During the recruiting and hiring process are you being "authentic" in your job descriptions and as you describe the culture and DNA of your organization to a candidate? Or is the word - and the idea - overused to the point where it has lots most of its value and currency?
Essayist, lecturer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson values authenticity. He wrote long ago, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
I’ll close with a quote from Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, from his book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.
“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”