Authenticity Is the Mother of Inspiration
Many companies profess appealing values, typically in the form of catchy slogans. But the slogans are often superficial and keep changing, negating any aura of inspiration, much less sincerity. Inspirational companies are quite different. What makes them special is their fidelity to long-expressed beliefs. These companies remain true to themselves. They consistently uphold their own values in their products, services, and actions. They are what they say they are, at all times—they are authentic.
Authenticity is the key to nurturing a solid customer base. You might get the first order by fooling a customer once, but forget any further business unless you strive to deliver the quality you profess to offer. Authenticity pays.
- AUTHENTICITY IS THE KEY TO NURTURING A SOLID CUSTOMER BASE. YOU MIGHT GET THE FIRST ORDER BY FOOLING A CUSTOMER ONCE, BUT FORGET ANY FURTHER BUSINESS UNLESS YOU STRIVE TO DELIVER THE QUALITY YOU PROFESS TO OFFER. AUTHENTICITY PAYS.
Unfortunately, the word authenticity means little to many contemporary managers, who might use the word but don’t grasp what it takes for a company to behave authentically.
The issue of authenticity goes well beyond a product or service. It also applies to how a company acts in all ways and in all relationships. In business, authenticity is the highest form of integrity, and those who lack it had best choose either a character transplant or a career change.
A company is always tested when confronted by a decision that pits sticking to its values against maximizing its profits—that’s the moment of truth.
Business history provides ample examples of authentic behavior. They include Johnson & Johnson’s 1982 decision to remove potentially contaminated Tylenol from shelves at a huge financial loss (but high moral gain) to protect the public and uphold its own values. More recently, the S. C. Johnson Company has demonstrated unusual commitment to environment-friendly products and manufacturing.
A company that emphasizes authenticity challenges itself to behave accordingly. If you drift from your expressed values today, the Internet’s morality police are very likely to nab your reputation.
The other challenge that an authentic company faces is keeping true in all its actions as it grows. This challenge is more relevant today as companies become global, with dispersed operations involving hundreds of people making thousands of decisions that present moments of truth or untruth. The only prescription I have for dealing with this phenomenon is to be very explicit about your company’s beliefs, values, and practices—and not tolerate any variances. I have often heard the argument that a country’s culture should allow for different corporate behaviors, but that argument cannot be sustained if you want to be true to one set of corporate values. Local cultures can help you determine local differences for products and how you go to market in different regions, but local cultures should not be an excuse for allowing deviant behavior to undercut your authenticity.
- I HAVE OFTEN HEARD THE ARGUMENT THAT A COUNTRY’S CULTURE SHOULD ALLOW FOR DIFFERENT CORPORATE BEHAVIORS, BUT THAT ARGUMENT CANNOT BE SUSTAINED IF YOU WANT TO BE TRUE TO ONE SET OF CORPORATE VALUES.
Of all the qualities and characteristics that I have described both in my previous book, Outsmart!, and in this book, authenticity might be the easiest quality to adopt—if you have the courage to be honest about your business. It starts with being clear about what your company stands for and then aligning behavior with your beliefs. And being authentic can actually make business life easier. When you’re clear on what you value, the answers to tough questions become clearer. And you will keep your customers because they trust you.
Authenticity also illuminates a company’s sense of purpose. It literally shines a light on what a company aspires to do. And authenticity underlies much of what the inspiring companies in this book have accomplished. You can do the same. It begins with your willingness to seize today’s huge opportunities and to inspire those millions who yearn to be inspired themselves.