Authenticity in a working perspective


Hans Henrik just asked about authenticity. Are you authentic due to what you do or is it a part of you, he asks.

Well, for the more theory-savvy there is lots and lots to read and discuss when it comes to the term itself. The Philosophical understanding is best defined by Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. I recently took up reading Sartre again which I hadn’t considered since studying philosophy for a brief period at SDU. It’s mindbugging and really exciting!

There is also a psychological discussion going on. The Psychological understanding is (among many things) about building your positive emotions by using your signature strengths. Which is what we are currently working on in STAGIS in our “happiness-sessions” with Lars Ginnerup.

The way we work and talk about authenticity in STAGIS is in the context of relations between management style, organizational culture, corporate design and communication. I am interested in this subject because I’ve seen so many cases during the past decade where the strategy lived by the CEO of a company differs from what’s being discussed in the organization which again differs from the external communication of the company. All these gaps create frustration, lack of alignment, bad customer service, flaws, lack of happiness within all groups connected to the organization etc. Turning to the more positive side I’ve experienced great success in seemingly small projects because of the alignment of ideas and conversations. When the organizational culture is aligned with the thoughts of the manager(s) and the design and communication of the organization the likeliness of success is higher.

There seems to be a general understanding of corporate brands and/or organizational identities being only what they are perceived being. This is true in the sense that whatever image comes across to a particular group or person becomes the truth that this group acts upon. This could lead to the idea of constructing corporate identity (with any artifacts like buildings, decor, packaging, ads) but in the information-heavy times we live in that cannot be done consistently without having a common beleif – or culture – that hold these activities together and creates a trustworthy identity.

This “trustworthiness” is the exact reason that I don’t believe in easy constructs. Where the troubling part of the discussion appear (and this is where Hans Henriks comment hits the fan) is, “who is the judge of what is a construct and what’s not”. I may think that something is not truthful and at the same time you beleive in it. But in general I think that most of us start being suspicious towards people as well as organizations if they act differently at different times and in different places. So when your phone-company is friendly at the sales-meeting and give you bad service at delivery while postulating being number one service-provider on TV – you’ll wind up finding them less than trustworthy. You might even think that they are not acting in line with who they really are. Or that they are not authentic. So in our perception action and being has a strong relation.

Everything is a construct and hence you can argue that nothing is authentic. But my goal is to create a reasonable connection between the beliefs within the organization and the image perceived within target groups or in the general public. And I try to help organizations create it through sensemaking-processes and acting (rather than just talking) in line with the ideas in the culture.



Sartre: French existentialist and writer, who worked with authenticity in “L’Être et le Néant” (Being and Nothingness, 1944) among other pieces. Taken in Berlin 1947