How to Build an Authentic Corporate Culture, and Why You Should
As leaders, embracing our authentic selves can help us manage change, improve employee retention, develop stronger business relationships, and drive profit both personally and professionally. But organizationally, how can we best develop an authentic culture that supports and empowers employees, too? We talked to Anna Crowe, author of Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture, and an Authentic You, to find out.
Anna’s book was nominated as a Top Book recommendation for 2021 by Corey Ringh, Consulting Travel Manager, Netsmart.
Q: Why are so many organizations realizing the value of authenticity at work?
A: Employees today are driven by different values than in previous decades. Organizations competing for top talent realize the importance of creating a trusting environment where employees can bring their best selves and authentic strengths to the table – one where they can be valued and heard.
Q: How can organizations begin to create a more authentic workplace?
A: Authenticity starts from the top. To generate authenticity from employees, leaders have to create a culture of transparency and trust. This starts with a self-assessment exploring three core questions:
- Am I being authentic?
- What does authenticity look like to me?
- How can that translate to our corporate culture?
Leaders then need to understand how they can channel and exemplify authenticity and allow others to follow suit. It’s also important to understand the values of your organization, stay true to those values, and ensure everyone is aligned around them.
Authenticity is the most critical piece in creating trust. We don’t have to be best friends or hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” to be authentic, but we do have to be consistent, communicate effectively, and be open to vulnerability.
Q: Why is vulnerability so important to authentic leadership?
A: Vulnerability can be perceived negatively, but it’s a really positive thing. Being vulnerable doesn't mean you have to wear your heart on your sleeve; it’s just a way to show someone that underneath titles and roles, you're human. It helps shed some of those layers and allow people to level the playing field in terms of understanding one another.
Q: What mistakes do organizations make in attempting to become more authentic?
A: The biggest mistake is not getting full buy-in. If some people commit to authenticity and others don’t, it creates confusion, inconsistencies, and distrust. Especially with today's generation: if employees see it’s not working the way it's supposed to, they’ll eventually leave.
If employees are aligned with the organization’s core values, you’ll have a much easier time explaining the value of authenticity, getting buy-in, and having it trickle down. If some employees aren’t on board, they may no longer be a good fit with the organization.
“We all have our superpowers that we should embrace. Authenticity is about tapping into who you are, how you want to lead and manage your culture, and owning it.”
Q: In addition to employee satisfaction, how can authenticity help improve operations, productivity, and profitability?
A: When we're able to share feedback with one another without fear of being reprimanded, we become a different organization. Suppose you need to require additional approvals to help save on costs and better enforce policies. In a transparent culture, you can say, "Martha, the workflow you spearheaded for travel and expense approvals worked really well for a long time, but it’s not working anymore. Let’s have an open conversation about it to ensure everyone is on board with making changes to improve efficiency.”
In a transparent culture where you can have authentic conversations, that's an easy discussion. Everyone is coming from a place of wanting to improve operations and grow the business. In a non-transparent environment where you don’t have trust, people won’t speak up – maybe because Martha is their boss, they don’t want to hurt her feelings, or they don’t want to be seen as gunning for her job.
Transparent culture also encourages creativity and risk-taking. It creates a safe space to ask questions, find new solutions, learn, and grow. People can think bigger and innovate without the fear of making mistakes, which can do wonders for an organization.
Without genuine conversations and understanding each other on a human level, it’s hard to work together in the best possible way. When you have authentic conversations, you can accomplish so much more.
It’s also important to remember that productivity goes hand in hand with a sense of meaning and purpose, which will only come if we are being authentic. When people are empowered to bring their full, authentic selves to work and to freely tap into their strengths, they become more invested in their work and in the organization’s success. They can achieve a lot more and their productivity increases. Nurturing and growing the talent in your organization will lead to loyalty, employee retention, and with it, better profitability.
Q: What’s the best way to encourage open communication in the workplace?
A: Humans communicate in different ways. Some are emotional communicators; some are cognitive communicators; some speak from the heart; others don’t care about chit-chat and just want to get to work. This can cause a communication breakdown when really, we’re all trying to reach a common goal.
When we have an authentic understanding of how each person perceives information, we can communicate better. For instance, I can be pretty direct and don’t always have a lot of time for chit-chat. But if a highly emotional communicator comes into my office, I will take a moment to ask how things are going before we jump into the work issue. It’s a genuine action that comes from a place of understanding the individual, what’s important to them, and how we can best connect on a human level.
Q: How should organizations ensure their authenticity efforts continue to evolve?
A: Authenticity is an ongoing process. We’re continually learning, growing, and finding our leadership style. As with any type of big initiative, you need milestones. Perform regular self-assessments, leadership assessments, and culture assessments to ask, “What's working? What's not working? Do we need to refine what's happening?” Consistently reevaluate your teams, values, and communication methods; then hold yourself and others accountable.
Q: Can authenticity help organizations be more flexible and responsive in the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: 2020 spotlighted the real value in authenticity and why it matters. Suddenly, everyone was working at home – but we all had very different situations and points of view. Some employees had 10 people in the house and no childcare. Others were home alone and went for months at a time without seeing another human being.
We can't assume everyone is going through a crisis in the same way. The one-size-fits-all model [of management] doesn’t work anymore. You have to be able to have open conversations: "What's going on for you? How can I better support you? What do we need to do? And how does it best align with our business goals?" Without listening actively, and hearing and understanding, you can lose good people and miss out on opportunities.
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About Anna Crowe
Anna Crowe is founder and CEO of Crowe PR, a recognized public relations and marketing expert, best-selling author and speaker. Anna has spent nearly 20 years working for iconic brands in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego, pivoting from a Big 4 CPA track, to scaling and leading a national public relations and marketing agency.
In addition to running her business and empowering people to unlock their true potential through authenticity, Anna spearheads the local chapter of a female focused Changemaker Chats organization, sits on the board of the San Diego Chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization and is an active members of philanthropy-based PEERS Network. Anna's focus on developing extraordinary leaders and growing her clients' businesses has led to several notable recognitions, including PR Team of the Year, PRNEWS Top Women in PR, Women Who Mean Business, CEO of the Year and more.
Anna's book ‘Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture and an Authentic You’ earned Amazon Best-seller status in 2019 and continues to sell globally. A former Moscovite and long-time New Yorker, Anna lives in San Diego with her husband and two young children. She is happiest when she positively impacts another human being, grows as an individual and a leader, travels the world with her family, and catches a coastal sunset with a glass of Pinot Noir.