Nikita Panchal, Global Head - Organization Development, Talent Management & Development, D&I, ACG Worldwide

Nikita considers herself as an agent of transformation and it thrills her to constantly push the edge of consciousness in herself and in others. She is an Executive Coach and a Global Leader with HR experience of over 18 years. Most of her momentous work is in the space of Organization Development, Talent Management, Diversity & Inclusion and creating future-ready organizations. Her work contributes to enabling strategic management, leadership pipeline creation, scaling up & streamlining of business and culture building. She has worked with reputed organizations like TATA AssetManagement, Motilal Oswal Securities and is currently associated with ACG Group.

 

If there is one thing that differentiates an organization which not only survives but thrives is its ability to be authentic. Not only in the ways it does its business, but also in the ways of relating and meeting diverse stakeholders needs. Be it associates, customer, vendor, partners and community. The fundamental aspect to realize here is that in the center of all transaction is a human being. Flourishing enterprises can be built if each person in the organization consciously chooses authenticity at the center of its beingness.

When we talk about a person being authentic, people generally think that he is genuine, true to himself, and you can experience his ethics and morals from his behaviors. These behaviors often become predictable the more you know the person.

Most often people receive the advice to “Be yourself” when asked to face the judgment calls in their respective fields, that’s when the dilemmas around authenticity become real. When the predictability index goes down, at times you feel you are seeing a different version of the same person, leaving behind the fundamental inquiry, what is authenticity? So, are we witnessing here the fact that someone is forced to veil their vulnerable side because if true emotions are let out then it can challenge their authority, irrespective of the position they hold at the organization? The answer is yes. Also when we talk about authenticity here, it is not just about witnessing authenticity in leadership styles, but also in other relevant aspects of the organization like vision and mission statement of the company, values and communication.

Let’s do a small experiment here. Think of the place you have worked at and try to recite its Mission statement. If you do it, do you believe in it? Does it strike you as authentic and something that comes alive in the actions and culture of the company and people who work for it? Or do you feel that it is something that the Marketing and PR folks conjured upon one night? For example, “Our mission is to build unrivaled partnerships and value for our clients, through the knowledge, creativity, and dedication of our people, leading to superior results for our shareholders.” This one has everything in place and all aspects checked right, from clients to employees, to shareholders, to knowledge, and results, all checked. Lehman Brothers owned this mission statement, and surely, they stood for something, which we couldn’t experience from these words.

Authenticity traces are in different people in different intensities. While largely it is a function of our basic reactions to most things, as people grow personally and professionally, they mature out of their own orbit. This brings us to the two defined lenses of looking at authenticity, one of “accepted”, and the other “adaptive”. The two approaches asked best when balanced out, and often are implemented in different surroundings. When we delve deeper, “accepted authenticity” is common in personal spaces, while “adaptive authenticity” is observed in professional spaces. This may pose a question; how can authenticity be adaptive? It is when there are situations that challenge us, to stick to familiar and comfortable behaviors and styles or develop a style that feels right to us as well as suits our organizations changing needs. The second aspect of authenticity does emerge from the experiences we have had. A generous look into the mirror of our past experiences can help us see these patterns in our life. We don’t learn by living those experiences, we learn by reflecting on them. It simply means the process of introspecting deepens with one’s complete awareness. Both intellect (cognition) and emotions come into play during Reflection. Some of the questions support a moment of reflection on would be:

  • When was the last time you felt a sense of congruence in your thought, feeling and action?
  • What was the most important need, value or intent that you were holding in that moment?
  • Were the needs, values shown by you during that situation you often exhibit?

When you start to reflect on these lines, you start discovering those underlying behaviors which help you to understand the way you portray yourself to the outside world. Let us try to understand the concept of self-awareness through an example from your routine.

On a busy working day, your desk is piled up with tasks and the situation is chaos as there were too many things to deliver. You had to submit an important design which was due two days ago and couldn’t complete it. Your manager starts blaming the entire team for this situation and the matter has got escalated. What would you do in such a situation?

Reflect upon this situation with the questions mentioned above and try to find your underlying behaviors which can help you in understanding your true self.

Building Organization culture through authenticity:

Organizations that value building authentic relationships with their stakeholders create a trusting environment which fosters collective growth. It also garners an environment of psychological safety where people feel safe to understand and express their needs. Imagine the potential of a work environment where human needs are not suppressed but expressed and channelized in its functional ways. The question ahead of us is, how do you achieve this state of systemic change?

Most organizations which thrive on authenticity would begin by enabling its associates to speak up by eliminating trust negative moments and amplifying trust positive mindset. Hence reducing fears and uncertainty which usually bring in defenses and barriers in human interactions. The direct implication of having a trust positive culture is better communication, engagement, fewer trigger moments or surprises, increase in productivity and more importantly enhanced collective wellbeing.

Authenticity Deep Dive:

There are several elements which influence creation of authentic work culture. If we were to distill it down to three key aspects it would be self, other and environment. The level of exchange that happens between the three attributes to the level of authenticity experienced in the moment. It is said that the fundamental reason why people come to an organization is to meet their needs. Needs are of many kind and Financial (money) just happens to be one of them, because the underlying drive comes largely from a desire to do something else-to make a product, to give a service, generally to do something which is of value. The others being power, care, belonging, safety and many more. Authenticity is that play between the met and unmet needs between two individuals in a given environment.

The real reason which inhibits oneself from being authentic is when a need within an individual is unmet. What is overt and visible is a behaviour which is different and hence labelled at times as an inauthentic expression. However, there are also moments when two individuals are able to realise and accept their own need and the need of the other. That’s the pivot point for building authentic expressions and resulting into more authentic exchange. The environment in which the two individuals operate either creates the enablement to accelerate the expression or derail it. Hence culture building for most organization becomes an imperative to nurture authenticity. Our focus here would be to increase the level of unmet needs to met needs. Let’s look at each of these factors and try to understand them better.

Unmet Needs:

These are needs which remain below the iceberg and hence many a times not verbalised or stated explicitly. There are times when these needs do get expressed through behavioural manifestation which may feel counterfeit.

  1. Trust Negative: Moment when trust building is still to happen. Where some of the old beliefs, stereotypes come on the way in building trust.
  2. Barriers & Safety Guards: The lack of trust making an individual build innate defences, safety measures, territories in the ways of relating and working. Where protection might hold a higher meaning than being vulnerable.
  3. Rigid & Fixation: Holding a point of view or opinion too strongly which inhibits emergence and flow. Limiting the other to express them self with freedom and openness.
  4. Past Narrative & Reference: These are moments when one is testing the waters and at time operating from past narratives or experiences which may not be affirmative.

The unmet needs are ones which avoid us from bringing out our authentic selves, they pose a threat to the vulnerability that can exist as a professional trait at workplaces.

Met Needs:

Met needs create a moment of uninhibited expressions. These are moments when people are able to connect at a level beyond ordinary. Some of the elements that influence this are.

  1. Trust Positive: The relationship between you and the other person on the positive front enabling overcoming past stereotypes. Creating new neural patterns and beliefs.
  2. Boundaries: These are moments when boundaries are clearly understood and respected. Where understanding of boundaries enables expansion.
  3. Flexibility & Flow: Flow brings in possibility for new emergence, creating space for acceptance of ever-changing needs. This becomes imperative considering that our needs are at times transitory and can be influenced by multiple variables.
  4. In the moment: Rising above the experiences of the past and the estimates of the future, being in the moment enables meeting the needs as they arise. Hence creating a stage for what’s relevant for each moment and living in the present.

Met needs are a reflection of people who naturally exhibit accepted authenticity and people who can execute adaptive authenticity, basis what the situation they are in. An important point to note here is met needs is not only the idealistic situations where people are at peace with each other’s natural inclinations(of Trust positive relationships), but also represent the situations where people try to make peace(flexibility and flow).

Environment:   

  1. Stated & Unstated Norms: These are ways of working which an organization defines consciously or unconsciously. What behaviors are recognized, what generally gets penalized, artifacts and experiences which define behaviors. This collectively defines norms on how authentic a person can be in an environment.
  2. Celebrating Heroism: What behaviors are recognized and celebrated in the organization. While heroism is positive, the shadow is in marginalizing what does not fit in to the stated heroic behaviors.
  3. Safety Climate: The key to a sustainable culture within the organization is by creating a safe climate for associates to experiment where diverse thoughts have equal opportunity. That’s where authentic expressions are risked without fears of judgments and labelling.

It’s important to delve deeper into these aspects if you want to build an organizational culture valuing authenticity and most importantly live by it fully yourself.

If we were to have an “Authenticity Indicator” present in every person’s mind, then those are finely tuned when it comes to corporate speak; people can tell when leaders or organizations don’t mean something. So when we put or mission or values into writing, it better be authentic. A good litmus test is to ask what would happen if we were to change the statements that describe culture. If we were to change our culture statements putting the needs of only customers, advertisers or publishing partners first, then we would have exploding inboxes and outraged employees would take over townhalls and meetings. Where employees are welcome to voice their agreements or disagreement with company decisions. Employees always have a voice, and hence holds the potential to call out leadership styles, values, culture, communications accordingly. Considering that authenticity is an effortless expression of a human being. Looking out for those moments where we drift and recenter our self makes us more human than before. We create the world we live in. These changes do not necessarily need a complete makeover, but small, planned, sustained change efforts. The key is to keep it small, keep nibling at the end of the change agenda and move a step closer each moment to live authentically.

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