Build an Authentic Organization

To start off the week in the Training Daily Advisor, we present tips on building a better workplace in an article adapted from Why Should Anyone Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization (Harvard Business Review Press, November 2015) by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.

Goffee is emeritus professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, and Jones is a Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and is a visiting professor at Spain’s IE Business School in Madrid.

Building better workplaces is not an alternative to, but rather a means for, responding to the new challenges of capitalism, for building productivity, unleashing creativity, and winning. Why Should Anyone Work Here? What it Takes to Create an Authentic Organization provides the tools to help assess how your own organization is doing and describes the tensions and trade-offs that leaders must manage in building DREAMS. The six key attributes that enable organizations to do this are:

  • Difference—Let people be themselves.
  • Radical honesty—Communicate what’s really going on.
  • Extra value—Magnify people’s strengths.
  • Authenticity—Stand for something real.
  • Meaning—Create satisfying work.
  • Simple Rules—Reduce the clutter and make things clear.

Crafting authentic organizations is a tough task. Here, we’ve begun to identify some critical success factors that make efforts to build great organizations and help them to succeed, such as the support of top management and the presence of strong organizational performance drivers.

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Support from the Top

The first critical success factor is the resilient support of top management, which needs to be both cognitively convinced of the benefits of building great organizations and emotionally committed to the long-term nature of organizational development.

Conversely, top managers cannot abdicate responsibility. Take the pursuit of difference (the "D" in our DREAMS organization), for example. If this pursuit becomes a project located in the HR department, it’s almost doomed to failure. It becomes perceived as yet another diversity initiative and often runs into a wall of silent cynicism.

That is why the expression of difference needs to be embraced widely and supported from the top of the organization. Arguments for it must be clearly based on the business imperatives of building creativity and innovation.

Similarly, if radical honesty (the "R" in DREAMS) becomes an issue for the communications function, it’s unlikely to be viewed as anything more than another form of spin. If extra value ("E") is conceived of as the remit of the training department, it is similarly doomed. Some organizations see building authenticity ("A") like a kind of branding exercise, with the marketing department at the forefront.

These organizations make the mistake of thinking that authenticity can be established with clever tag lines. This is simply never the case. And, if meaning ("M") becomes forever related to driving up engagement scores, organizations never tackle the real issues. Finally, don’t leave building simple rules ("S") to the legal and compliance departments; they are trained to develop complexity!

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Driven to Perform

Clearly, another critical success factor is that the elements of DREAMS are based on strong organizational performance drivers. And, this is as true for public sector and nonprofit organizations as it is for the classic capitalist enterprise. We have also discovered that it is almost impossible to work on all of this at once.

So, where should you start? Definitely do not begin with "diversity initiatives" that only increase the representation of particular groups while having zero effect on the company’s true diversity of thought and mindset. Rather, a critical reason to work on difference is the imperative to increase creativity and innovation.

You should pursue radical honesty when you are confronted with a culture characterized by gossip, rumor, and negative networks. Sadly, these are often found in large organizations. The BBC discovered that the most frequently cited source of information about the organization was gossip and rumor, followed by the trade unions.

The organization responded with a fundamental reexamination of the way it communicated with its employees. It made a promise to tell people what was going on before they heard it from anyone else. It rejuvenated the channels of communication, relying much less on the old world of the staff newspaper and more on immediate, internet-based communication.

Recent scandals, however, point to another reason to pursue radical honesty: when the external view of your organization has become negative, damaging your reputational capital. Many financial services firms have faced just such a challenge since the crash of 2008, as have pharmaceutical companies—like Eli Lilly and Merck Co.—in response to the Oraflex and Vioxx scandals.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Goffee and Jones discuss addressing extra value in work in order to build a better workplace.

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