I’ll confess, this post was triggered by Jack Welch’s Go Ahead, Talk About Politics at Work. Welch asserts “I’m a huge believer that you should always bring your whole self to work. You should bring your interests and your passions. You should bring your authenticity. Being real is the only way to be. Otherwise work would be boring, filled with phony stiffs and fake conversations.”
This made me think hard about the importance of authenticity.
Generally, people are programmed to detect insincerity. It makes us feel very uncomfortable. But much of the way that we do so is through mismatches between speech and body language, in our personal, face-to-face interactions. So does this also apply to a digital world?
Success in an increasingly digital economy means finding shorter links between “supplier” and “customer”. I use these terms in their broadest sense, to represent folks who want to sell something, even ideas, and folks who want to buy or need them. Social platforms have emerged as a good place for some of this exchange to happen. But as with all marketplaces, they don’t just attract the dedicated and focused. There are also more than a smattering of stargazers, voyeurs and also-rans.
I spend some of my time helping subject matter experts be more discoverable in this marketplace. This means scanning for what the rest of the punters are up to, and trying to chart the most effective path to success.
To help our candidates clean up their profile, we use a thought leadership vs. advocacy matrix. Quota-bearing subject matter experts have the hardest job. They need to excel at both sharing ideas of substance and careful advocacy, to get the right balance between them.
But there are many people in the marketplace who are trying to engage without any subject matter expertise. What are they trying to achieve? I think some of the time, they are sharing things just to meet some internal KPI. You can spot this easily, for example, when 50 employees from the same company all share the same manicured visual to promote a recent white paper, or an executive’s post. And we all know what a turn-off this is to anyone watching. It seems that we can still detect this kind of insincerity, even online.
Instead of this cloned sharing, we believe the future belongs to those who can ignite conversations.
Subject matter experts will be sought by customers every day. No matter what your focus, the answer is to develop expertise. Resist the easy click-to-share from your employee advocacy hacks and spend some time evaluating what you, personally, actually stand for, and what you can share that will demonstrate this. It will take time and energy, but will be far more sustainable in the long run. Not only will you enjoy engaging with others, you are also more likely to connect with more interesting people.
Authenticity is good for business. This is not a new idea. In The Naked Corporation, Don Tapscott and David Ticoll made the case that transparency and corporate values enhance market value, because better understanding creates empathy and connection between the organization and its stakeholders. Don’t wait for magic from above; authenticity starts with you. Start meaningful market conversations based on your real interests, and not just to meet a set of KPIs or measures.