Troels asked me to spell it out. Why is Authenticity important? And thanks for asking, Troels. Sometimes the simple questions are the most difficult and I certainly find this one of them. This is the argument and the reasons I’ve been able to come up with:
1. We’re fed up with fakes. We want real people, real organizations and we want to deal with companies that take a stand and live by their opinion. We’re tired of companies that do it for the money alone. A part of this touches on the issue of integrity.
2. We miss clarity in our own heritage and we want to deal with people and organizations that have heritage and history. We want goods and services that are (hand)crafted. We like what’s original and what has a relation to roots and history. We like local people and local organizations.
3. We don’t want mainstream. That’s not an all together true statement but there is some truth in it. Most people aim for companies and organizations that stand out from the rest and are able of coming across with a unique identity and a unique message. The same crowd love innovators and their innovations. We like the avant garde, however different segments like different degrees of avant – some tend to stay behind the garde as it is safe and contains plenty of history and heritage.
Real World, Real Service
The need or authenticity is – of course – a reaction to the time we live in. The automation of the environments we interact with (in businesses as well as at home), the virtual worlds we travel through and the products and services we consume are not all authentic as they used to be. “Let’s meet in Real World”, “A Live Performance” and “Personal (or even “human”) Service” are all statements or terms that people didn’t use some 20-30 years ago. Back then, they didn’t make sense. A performance was real per definition – as was service, delivered by a human and not automated at all.
All of the above is true for banks, windmill-producers, phone companies, theaters, bakeries, cafés, shopping malls, car dealers, the fashion industry, bio-fuel innovators – you name it. In my book I’ll include a number of examples of companies that are inauthentic in one way or another – and some that just lack integrity.
A New Managerial Responsibility
One of the earlier customer sensibilities that turned into a management dicipline was quality. Before the 1950s there was a focus on getting the most for the least, that is, getting more goods at a lower price. Then consumers started to want quality and businesses had to start managing their quality. Hence Total Quality Management, kaizen, zero defects, Motorolas Six Sigma etc.
The danish writer Rolf Jensen got off well with Dream Society and Pine and Gilmore whom I share the interest in authenticity with have all been writing about the dream- or experience economy. They are describing the new sensibilities of customers and the demands that every business must live up to in order to be succesful, that is, the delivery of experiences rather than commodities, goods and services. The organizations’ ability to deliver experiences as the thing customers pay for or as the mechanism that make customers like and want to interact with the business is another good example of a relatively new management responsibility.
One of the next managerial responsibilities that leading companies (especially the ones that have gotten big and lazy) will have to take is how they can bring their organizational authenticity to life in the perception that every customer, employee and other stakeholders have. What makes it much more difficult to deal with (and certainly to manage) is the complexity of authenticity. First of all it’s about the entire company, meaning every department, process, employee, strategy, managerial decision. Wow, tough one. Secondly, authenticity is an individually perceived and contextually dependant factor. What I find authentic is different from what you think is authentic. And we’ll both change our opinion in a different setting at a different time. But that doesn’t make it less important – only more interesting a challenge.