Authenticity In Retail – And Why It’s Important
Creating a culture of inspiration, innovation, open and transparent communication, and engagement in your workplace is critical to the success of today’s retail organization. When workplace politics get in the way of real results, great teamwork, and deplete you of the energy to make your impact in the business – you stifle growth and create obstacles that negatively impact employee engagement which, in turn, impacts customer experience.
Authenticity, on a broad scale, is fundamentally about building trust in the workplace –
“Every company has its own unique culture and its own unique challenges. There is no magic formula. A high level of trust, however, is always very important. The most common misconception I have observed is that they believe a change in policy can make a big difference. But it can’t. What they should much rather think about is how to improve the level of trust.” [Source: Robert Levering, Co-founder of the Great Place to Work Institute]
Authenticity on a smaller personal/professional level is about getting to a place where you can be the same person, all the time, in every area of life. If you feel like you have to be one person at work and another person everywhere else, chances are you struggle with authenticity. And those around you, likely, sense that.
Being authentic isn’t about over-sharing. Authenticity isn’t about quantity of admissions or sharing intimate details during interactions. It’s about knowing your own story and understanding it so the truth and context comes through more so than the details. These moments of thoughtful communication builds a narrative. It enables leaders to become story-tellers and when done correctly these stories are teaching more than they are revealing. Good boundaries are absolutely critical in the workplace. And so is privacy. But being comfortable in your own skin – with who you are – does mean that you should feel comfortable being yourself in all moments, everywhere, and especially at peak moments in your career. Obviously in the workplace we need to understand how this translates to genuine communication with colleagues, your team, and your executive leadership team but it is a value and a competency that, done well, creates and builds credibility and trust.
One of the topics I bring up, ad nauseum, in my blog is the fact that we should hire people for attitude, personality, and softer skills – but we [the retail industry], insists on hiring for primarily for compliance – first and foremost. Authentic leaders are also compliant but they are so much more than that and have so much more to offer. They can galvanize and inspire collaboration, energize and organize action, they are passionate and determined to deliver excellence and teach their team to do the same. People who do not view authenticity as a value – either personally or professionally – tend to play favorites, create chasms inside their team, withhold information based on what value THEY determine it has, and these behaviors drive critical levels of disengagement.
Authenticity is a great value for the organization to possess. An organization that knows itself tends to act with truth; it doesn’t need to mirror other organizational styles because it understands its brand and it’s reputation and is willing to evolve to stay relevant. Like its executive and senior leaders, whose confidence allows for them to fully engage with every employee, colleague, vendor, executive, etc., an authentic organization engages its audience truthfully and embraces inclusion and values feedback.
“Authentic is defined as “of undisputed origin.” Authenticity therefore is to be of your undisputed origin. That means authenticity isn’t about what you wear or even your “personality.” Authenticity is who you are as a person at your core.” [Source: InPower Coaching]
Things That Genuinely Authentic People Don’t Do
- They Don’t Have Hidden Agendas: It is a rare find when you come across people in retail who do not possess a hidden agenda. Hidden agendas can be defined as goals of an individual that they wish to accomplish at some cost to others. We live in a world that speeds out of control with people who are only concerned with what they need and how to get it. These agendas can quickly become quite obvious to people who are authentic. Remember – you are the average of the five people you spend the most time and especially in retail – your reputation will precede you. Most of us who have been in retail for a while are really great at identifying character. Authentic leadership insists that we are honest, transparent, fair, and balanced, in all interactions and communications – and that we focus on delivering results to our organization while teaching and supporting others to do the same.
- They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone: Authentic leaders are honest but empathetic. They will communicate the information and know how to engage and energize their audience but they do not withhold information to the detriment of team growth and results. Authentic leaders understand the difference between popularity and influence and work to build the most effective team they can and explain the “why’s” along the way so that as a collective team they can deliver great results.
- They Don’t Compare Themselves With Others: Authentic people understand they have their own journey to take. They understand who they are as people and as leaders and they will work to achieve their desired results and excellence based on their performance and their team’s performance. They value everyone’s unique character and understand what works for them may not work for others. There is an inherent understanding that people have different gifts, aspirations and access to resources that are necessary for life success and happiness. A highly authentic person understand this fact and shuns comparisons as a way to gauge their own progress.
- They Don’t Lie: People who are not self-aware and self-assured tell lies so easily and readily that it becomes second nature to them. However, highly authentic people are committed to telling the truth always because they know lies destroy trust and relationships. Lying can also destroy your professional brand in a heartbeat and authentic people and leaders understand that.
- They Are Unwilling To Identify Gaps In Their Skills/Performance: Chaos ensues around the retail leader who thinks they know it all or are the smartest person in the room. The best leaders are able to identify gaps in their own knowledge and skill set, and admit to them. They are committed to hiring others to fill skills and knowledge where they’re lacking. Why? Because feigning expertise is a sure-fire way to end up with obstacles in your business. They admit to what they don’t know, and look to hire others who have the expertise they don’t possess today, while working to self-develop these areas.
- They Don’t Dwell On The Past: This is another component that retail tends to struggle with at times. Highly authentic people live in the moment. They don’t let the past dictate their future results [or lack thereof]. Once an obstacle has been overcome – it’s over and they move on. Once a toxic employee is out of the business – that influence is gone and they move the team forward. Retail tends to foster a culture that assigns blame and focuses on the negative as a reason for not capturing opportunity presently. Authentic people acknowledge the issue, energize the team, and move the business forward, period. And a team of truly authentic people will weed out the negative ones when they stand in the way of truth and ultimate success.
- They Don’t Blame Others For Their Mistakes: Another key feature of authenticity is telling the truth, even when it’s hard. Did you make a mistake on a big project at work? Did you fail to meet your goals this week? Authentic leaders own up to the error and the miss, and do whatever it takes to correct it.
- They Don’t Hang Out With Toxic People: Again, highly authentic people know that you are the average of the people you keep around you. If your work relationships support gossiping, bringing others down, talking about why something can’t be done, kvetching about policies or processes without taking action then you most likely also do the same thing. Authentic people refuse to be a part of that and they support their peer group that chooses to be positive, solution-oriented, and supportive collaborators to their colleagues.
Why does authenticity matter so much in the workplace? Because fundamentally, when we are authentic, others know they can trust us, even during the most challenging, confused, or chaotic of professional moments. The benefit of this, as a retail leader, is that everyone our team, every one of our coworkers, and everyone we interact with knows that we are a passionate and committed truth-teller, even when we have to carefully and thoughtfully communicate that truth. That makes us trustworthy as a coach, a mentor, and a leader in our industry and this, ultimately, defines our professional brand.