The Truth about Authenticity

real fake

While fake news is often hard to spot, phony advertising, inauthentic companies, and fake people aren’t.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day and I heard it. I wasn’t listening for it, but it was obvious. Commercials on podcasts usually involve the host telling you how great a product or service is. It’s typically something they have used personally and they give you their own perspective. It’s almost like an endorsement, so advertisers normally give the host freedom to ad-lib. The result is an advertising segment that seems genuine and authentic.

That’s why it stood out to me when the host of the podcast read this advertisement segment verbatim. It was for the new Toyota CH-R. The ad seemed like it was written by a high-priced Madison Avenue firm. Every word was carefully selected, the message was perfectly crafted, and it was likely focus-tested to provoke a picture-perfect response. The host even read the flawless, well-written legal disclaimer at the end. To me, it sounded phony.

In the podcast world of personal-endorsement-style advertisements, this one felt fake. It didn’t seem truthful or genuine. It was over-produced, over-engineered, and too perfect. It wasn’t real.

“There’s authenticity in a first take.” Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame would agree. He made a living off being “authentic.” He said, “Dirty Jobs didn’t resonate because the host was incredibly charming. It wasn’t a hit because it was gross, or irreverent, or funny, or silly, or smart, or terribly clever. Dirty Jobs succeeded because it was authentic.” The show was the first of its kind. There was no script, no rehearsal, and only one take. They turned the cameras on and Mike responded and reacted to his environment. It was genuine and people loved it.

“I believe the enemies of charm are deliberateness in much the same way I would argue that the enemies of authenticity are production.” Mike Rowe

Companies can also be inauthentic when they aren’t true to their message. Think about Subway restaurants. They’ve used the advertising slogan, “Eat Fresh,” since 2002. They came under fire when it was discovered they used azodicarbonamide in their bread as a conditioner. Food blogger Vani Hari, of the popular food blog Food Babe, originally drew public attention to this issue. She revealed that azodicarbonamide was the same chemical used in yoga mats and shoe rubber. In 2014, after public pressure grew, Subway stopped using the chemical in their bread recipes.

But the damage to Subway was done. Subway’s sales fell. They lost 3% in 2014, despite opening 778 new stores. They faced eroding public perception regarding the quality of their food while still using the “Eat Fresh” slogan. The main reason they lost consumer confidence was because they were seen as phony and inauthentic. You can’t claim “Eat Fresh” and use a yoga mat chemical in your bread.

People can be fake as well. People who make promises with no intention to keep them, those that make friendships only for personal gain, or those that have hidden agendas are seen as shallow and phony. You can probably name people with these qualities where you work. They can be successful in the short term but only until people learn their true character. Then, no one wants to work with them.

“People with good intentions make promises, but people with good character keep them.” Anonymous

In a world where we are surrounded by phony people and messages, how can we be more authentic? Let me suggest three things.

Be true to the first take. Avoid over-processing and over-engineering your message. A product training video, for example, that has a few mistakes seems more real than one that has been carefully edited. A quick, witty tweet delivered at the right time will get more attention than a perfectly polished post. We are bombarded daily with highly-engineered, focus-group tested messages. An honest first-take is refreshing and seems more authentic.

Be true to your company promise. What does your company stand for? What is the brand promise? Whatever it is, make sure you are delivering to that promise. If you commit to 24 hour deliveries, make sure you are built for speed. If you promise the “lowest prices,” make sure you know that’s true. If you claim “eat fresh,” then know what’s in your recipes. Being true to your brand promise will make you appear more authentic.

Be true to others. Nobody wants a fake friend. Be real. If you make a promise, deliver on it. Build relationships based on mutual respect not hidden agendas and personal gain. Be there for people in the good times as well as the bad. Put others ahead of yourself. Don’t talk behind their backs. Show respect for everyone on your team. Being true to others and being a person of character will make you more authentic.

Let’s get rid of fake news and, while we’re at it, let’s get rid of phony advertising, untruthful companies, and fake people. Authenticity is rare. We will stand out if we embrace reality and stop being so over-engineered on fake. Embrace your genuine self, be original, and see what happens. It certainly worked for Mike Rowe.

What do you think? Does authenticity stand a chance today? Are there other reasons why “Dirty Jobs” had such mass appeal? How can we employ authenticity in our messaging? What are some other examples of authentic or inauthentic companies? What was the result? Let me know in the comment section below.

3 Reasons Why Leaders Need a No Whining Policy

5226742 - of nine month baby crying, isolatedWhen Pope Francis tells you to stop whining, you know there is power in the message. Since becoming the new pope, Francis has been a model of humility, empathy, and compassion. It’s obvious he cares deeply for people, especially the poor and oppressed. But a few weeks back, he did something that made headlines. He installed a sign on the door of his private apartment at the Vatican that essentially says, “No Whining.”

This powerful statement from one of the world’s most influential leaders made me think about the concept of “victimhood.” As leaders, we know the importance of listening and empathy. We know that caring for people and their needs creates a better work environment. But, what if we allow it to go too far? What if, out of compassion, we allow whining and complaining to get out of control?

The answer comes from the fine print in the Pope’s new sign. According to Reuters, the sign warns that continued whining leads to a mentality of “always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humor and capacity to solve problems.” It then reminds the reader that “to get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations…stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.”

“Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining – it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.” Zig Ziglar

Leaders need to be good listeners but, as Pope Francis reminds us, we need to watch out for excessive complaining. We need to avoid situations where people become victims, losing their capacity to solve problems. A “no whining” policy will help our organizations in three distinct ways.

Whining drains energy. Valid concerns from employees who care and want to make things better are good. But constant complaining from those who seem to be perpetually unhappy drains the energy of the team. Whiners want to be heard but they don’t necessarily want things fixed. Their negative attitude affects everyone around them and hurts the team’s morale. Leaders need to recognize this and intervene.

“Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.” Dennis Prager

Whining reinforces a victim mentality. A victim mentality is formed when someone sees themselves as a sufferer of the negative action of others. Victims feel powerless to affect their circumstances. As leaders, if we accept the constant whining and complaining of employees, we help reinforce their condition. They will lose the capacity to solve their own problems. Instead, we should challenge these employees and ask them what they are going to do to get out of their situation.

Whining is selfish. Whiners are focused on themselves and their negative circumstances. Their “woe is me” attitude leaves little room for them to care about others and the job at hand. In an organization, this is detrimental to good teamwork. It’s the role of the leader to observe this behavior and confront it. Focus the whiner on tasks that will help others or the goals of the organization.

Leadership is a people business. We know that caring for people and their needs creates a better work environment. But, as Pope Francis points out, we can’t let whining and complaining get out of control. Perpetual complainers, if not confronted, will drain the energy of a team. We also run the risk of prolonging their victim mentality. In the end, whining and complaining are selfish acts that run counter to good teamwork and goal achievement. A “no whining” policy is essential to a well-run organization.

What do you think? What’s it like to work around people who are constantly complaining? What happens if that behavior is not confronted? Have you confronted whiners? How did that affect them and the organization? Let me know in the comment section below.

Trust and Speed: Lessons from Percy Barnevik

Percy WP

How do you get a large, multinational company to move fast? You do what Percy Barnevik did at ABB in the late 80’s and early 90’s. You push decision making to the lowest level and embed a culture of decisiveness at all levels.

What seems like a simple idea is actually very difficult. For large companies, the desire for certainty as well as a need for command and control tends to force decision making to the top. Companies then add layers of bureaucracy to ensure compliance with the orders from headquarters. The result is a slow moving, cumbersome organization where employees are not encouraged to color outside the lines.

Barnevik did not want this for his new company. In 1988, when he created ABB by pulling off the largest merger in European history, he quickly moved to embed a culture of decisiveness. He did this by keeping operating units small, limiting the decisions coming out of headquarters, and preaching the value of decisiveness.

I was running one of those operating units in ABB at the time and it was one of the best jobs I ever had. As I discussed in Barnevik on Decisiveness, I loved working for Barnevik. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way.

The main thing I remember from that time is that Barnevik trusted us to make decisions. He had faith in his business unit leaders. He knew that we would occasionally make mistakes but he trusted us to always make it right. There was a culture of speed, decisiveness, and forgiveness. If you made a bad decision, it was not the end of your career. You were expected to fix it and move on.

What do you think? Have you worked in a similar fast-moving culture where there was trust at the top? What was it like? Have you worked in a heavily bureaucratic organization? How was that experience? How does the company culture affect your attitude towards your job? Let me know in the comment section below.


The Four C’s of Leadership


“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur, arguably one of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history, points out the four C’s of leadership in this famous quote.

Confidence. Great leaders are confident. They are able to rally their team around a vision of the future that doesn’t yet exist. Even when the odds are stacked against them and the goal seems impossible, a true leader will stand alone, if necessary, and provide hope.

Courage. It takes courage to make tough decisions. The best leaders have the guts to be decisive even when the facts aren’t clear. As I wrote about in Fail Fast & Fix It Faster, being decisive as a leader is critical, especially in the “fog of war.”

Compassion. Leadership is about people. As I wrote about in an article called 3 Questions You Should Ask Before Taking a Leadership Job, leadership is a people business.  Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. You need to love people and have the compassion to listen to the needs of others to be a great leader.

Character. Being a person of integrity is critical for leadership. A leader is being watched every day by the team. They will see every inconsistency in the leader’s behavior and actions. What is accepted by the leader is embraced by the team. A leader without character will have a team without integrity.

What do you think? What are some other characteristics of great leaders? What leaders have inspired you in your career? What is the difference between a good and a great leader? Let me know in the comment section below.

10 Culture-Changing Ways to Honor Employees

Jim Goodnight quote

My Dad is awesome. As a retired high voltage electrician, he loves the fact that I run a business producing medium and high voltage products. He has always been interested in what I am doing with the company. He is especially attentive to the things I do for my employees. What’s even better is he suggests ideas from time to time. Last weekend, he made me laugh.

“You should implement Wiener Wednesdays,” he said. “Get all the employees together on Wednesday afternoon and have hot dogs. It would be good for morale and to build up the team.”

Despite the funny name, it’s a brilliant idea.

I’m a huge proponent of doing the little extra things to celebrate employees. In fact, I wrote about it in an article called Do Something Memorable for your Employees. I have had the honor to lead 9 different manufacturing businesses in my career and I’ve found that honoring employees, celebrating successes, and treating people with respect leads to improved job satisfaction, morale, and engagement.

“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” Jim Goodnight

Over the years, I’ve done many things for employees. Some of them were big and required significant planning, others were small, just a simple way to say thank you. Regardless of the size, each conveyed a message, “You are important, respected and appreciated.”

Here are ten examples of things I’ve done over the past 20+ years. It’s not a complete list but just a sampling of some of the things you can do for people. I hope it inspires you to think of new ways to honor your team.

Lobsterfest. During an all employee meeting, I once promised a factory workforce a lobster dinner if we reached 1,000,000 hours of safe work. When we hit the milestone, we had a huge celebration which included steaks and flying 400 lobsters in from Maine.

“I’m convinced that celebrating wins does more to clarify the vision than anything else.” Andy Stanley

 Family Day. In one business, we invited employees and their families to an annual family day at a large amusement park. Employees spent the day in the park with their families and then gathered for a group lunch in the pavilion where we held a raffle and gave out gifts.

Fridays on the Floor. At several of my plants, the first Friday of the month was reserved for the management team to work on the shop floor. This gave us a chance to get to know people better and to learn ways to make things easier for them.

 Open House. Over the years, I have held factory open houses for the friends and family of employees. These were fun events with food, activities, and a chance for employees to show off where they work and what they did.

Letters Home. One of the things I like to do is send a letter to the home of an employee who has done something above and beyond. I think it’s more powerful than just giving it to them at work. At home, the employee’s family can see the letter as well.

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Stephen Covey

Buddy the Elf. At one business, I had the annual Christmas tradition to dress up like Buddy the Elf. I would climb on the back of a Cushman with another manager dressed as Santa. We would ride around the plant and give out candy to all the employees.

Wall of Fame. I started a tradition at one plant of hanging pictures in the lobby of employees who received a patent and those who had qualified as a Six Sigma black-belt. Every customer coming to our plant knew who our rock stars were.

Veterans Day. Being a veteran myself, I have always made a point to celebrate Veterans Day with all our veteran employees. It usually involves a small celebration with cake, a gift, and a ceremony to replace the American flag in front of the plant with a new one.

Team Pride. At one business, we had employees hang flags of their favorite sports team throughout the offices. We also had jersey days where the employees were encouraged to wear sports team jerseys to work.

 Swag. People like to belong and everyone loves logo-wear. Getting a shirt, a cup, or a hat with a company logo gives you a sense of pride and belonging. I love seeing employees wearing shirts they have received as gifts over the years. I’ve given out backpacks, coffee mugs, water bottles, jackets and even coolers to say thank you to employees over the years.

This list is just a small sampling of some of the fun things I have done to celebrate and honor employees. As a leader, I want to create an environment that is both safe and fun. I want people to actually enjoy coming to work each day. I believe in a workplace where talented employees are respected, empowered, and provided opportunities to fully serve the needs of our customers. In truth, honoring and respecting employees is not difficult or expensive but the payoffs are incredible.

For those who were wondering, I did take my father’s advice. We had our first Wiener Wednesday last week!

What do you think? What kind of activities have you used to honor employees? How has that changed your company culture? Is there a direct relationship between respect and employee engagement? Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post