Let People Be Themselves

authenticI spoke to a CEO this week who intentionally focuses the culture of his small organization around authenticity. He said people shouldn’t have to be a different person at work compared to how they are at home, or when engaged in their hobbies. And he backs that up. He has a mostly open office plan, but there are some cubes with high walls, and one staff person has an office–not because they are the boss, but because they do better work in an enclosed space. True, he’s got a small staff, so he has some flexibility on this, but I’ve seen plenty of small organizations that would claim that this kind of differential treatment won’t work. It’s too hard. People will be resentful.

It can work, and it does work. And it requires a real commitment to authenticity, not just lip service. That can be scary. Letting people be themselves means there might be some times where they will behave in a way that is different than what you (the boss) want. It can be less predictable. It can require more relationship navigating. We’re not used to doing that at work (in most organizations, anyway), so there is a cost to this approach.

This boss finds that the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits of having people that work really hard because they love their job so much. The benefits of people who have real ownership and get things done without waiting for permission. That kind of engagement is fueled by people who are given the freedom to truly be themselves.

It’s not ONLY about authenticity, mind you. You don’t unlock the true potential of people in your organization simply by flipping one switch. But it definitely requires flipping some different switches than the ones we’ve been relying on for the last 100 years.