In order for a company to get the most out of its workers, it must encourage them, as much as possible, to be themselves. Authenticity is the key to productivity, according to business school professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. The argument comes from the duo's new book, Why Should Anyone Work Here: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization, excerpted in the Harvard Business Review.
Nurturing individuality at work isn't just about the surface level, according to the authors. It's not about letting people dress in sweats if they want. Instead, it's about really letting the workplace adapt to welcome people's different backgrounds and working styles, and creating leadership opportunities for people who might not have emerged from the traditional pipeline (arguments that might sound familiar to anyone who has done research on how to get anyone who isn't a white male into the upper echelons of management).
The authors write:
We are talking not just about the buttoned-down financial services company that embraces the IT guys in shorts and sandals, but also the place where nearly everyone comes in at odd hours while accommodating the one or two people who prefer a nine-to-five schedule.
Consider a company with several dozen executives, say the authors. On paper they look very diverse. But they have a lot in common: They're all " urbane, sophisticated, multilingual, diplomatic, and mildly humorous." As a result, there isn't enough conflict in corporate discussions to really innovate. "The company is also struggling with its leadership pipeline — the straight-and-narrow path to the top means that too few of its middle-ranking executives have had experience out of their functions or regions," according to the authors.
In other words, authenticity is key to growth. Letting people be their best selves is a great way to improve a company from the inside out.