As individuals, we work hard to live authentic lives. But, how do we find authenticity for our businesses and organizations? It’s tough to do. We forget that organizations can be authentic. Worse, we forget that they should be authentic.
If you want the short version, here it is: The world is run by and for PEOPLE. Understanding and remembering that fact is essential to maintaining authentic organizations.
1. Remember Your “Why”
Why does your organization exist? Why does it do what it does? If your answer is “to make money,” then you’re full of crap. Do you make pornography, sell illegal drugs, support human trafficking, or bilk little old ladies out of their life savings? If so, then maybe you are in it just for the money. Otherwise, your organization exists for something more. You fill a specific human need. What is it? When you remember the “why” of an organization and you’re genuinely enthusiastic about it, then people will gravitate towards that authenticity, becoming better employees, volunteers, members, or customers.
2. Live Your “Why”
It’s not enough to identify why your organization exists. You must embody that identity and live it every single day. When the members of an organization becomes distanced from their core identity, then the organization itself loses its identity. Customer service organizations must strive to serve well. Salespeople must genuinely try to meet the needs of the customers and not merely make a sale. Spiritual organizations cannot stoop to petty materialism and cruelty. If you say it, you have to live it.
3. Teach Your “Why”
Frequently, organizations lose some authenticity when its founder or founding generation leaves. If the founders provided the vision for the entire organization, but failed to instill the same passion in the next generation of leaders, then count on trouble. You can’t paint a corporate slogan on the wall and expect it to change behaviors. People at all levels of an organization have to understand the ideals of the organization and truly believe in them.
4. Define Your Success
What does success look like for your organization? When will you be able to say “We have accomplished everything we set out to achieve. Well done, everyone.” You can always set new goals and modify your definition of success, but you must be intentional about it. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you somewhere. Make sure that is where you want to be.
5. Know When Enough Is Enough
How much is enough? Is the answer always “more?” Can your organization handle an explosive growth in membership, and would it still be the same organization? Is your business only looking for greater profits? Bigger isn’t always better. Profit is never the only goal. Otherwise, we’d all be making porn or bilking little old ladies. What’s your sweet spot?
6. Avoid Mob Mentality
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”
(Agent K, Men In Black)
When we allow a mob mentality take over an organization, members of the mob have no identity beyond the organization they represent, and therefore have little accountability for their actions and attitudes. They no longer see other people as human beings. Instead, they see them as nothing more than customers, members, conversions, or enemies. When that happens, we allow any sort of moral compass to disappear. The anonymity of the group diffuses blame. Practices that no one would condone as individuals become permissible or even encouraged. The Mob Mentality kills the Golden Rule.
7. Pay Attention
I once watched a consultant declare to an organization that they were dying based entirely on how the organization fit into demographic trends of similar groups. He made no effort to understand the history of the organization, its people, or its situation. In the end, the organization ignored this “sage,” and continues to succeed. Every situation is unique. Listen to the people around you and pay attention to what’s really going on.
8. Take Responsibility
If it’s yours, then own it. If your organization screws up, admit it and fix it. If something affects your members or customers, then take an active role in finding a solution. If someone works for you, take care of them. This may be the one area where there is no such thing as “too much.” Every effort made to take responsibility for improving the world around us pays back far more dividends than it costs.
Keep everyone in the loop and be open wherever you can. If possible, avoid secrets. If you ask for applicants for a new position, acknowledge them when they apply. If you interview someone for a position, tell them if they don’t get it. (I was actually brought in from out of town to interview for a position and then never heard another word. I had to reach out to the organization for results. It was bad form, especially for a faith-based organization.) If you’re going to miss a deadline, then tell people.
When you actively communicate, you control perceptions of your organization. When you don’t communicate, you allow others to control those perceptions. Do you really want someone else to control your identity?
10. Show Respect
Organizations must remember that everyone from employees to customers to members to critics are all PEOPLE. Every person in contact with your organization has their own set of hopes, dreams, fears, and personal baggage. This is an extension of the Golden Rule. Just because you can treat them a certain way doesn’t mean that you should. That job candidate may not be the “loser who has been out of work for a year,” but could be the guy who sacrificed a year of professional life to care for an aging parent. If you ignore or misjudge people who do not fit your personal expectations, you do your entire organization a disservice. That “oddball” may have exactly the perspective or experiences that you need to move forward. Remember that they are living, breathing human beings and treat them accordingly.
Every organization is unique, but every organization can be authentic. Where does your organization stand, and where are your challenges?