Keep it Real: Why Authenticity Matters More Than Ever (and how to get it)

The most brilliant being to make the headlines last year wasn’t a human–it was ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence so smart it blew our collective mind and intensified the blurred line between what’s real and what’s fake (I pinky swear it didn’t write this post).

In today’s increasingly artificial world, authenticity matters–and this applies to the workplace, too: Forbes’ list of five ways to show up more authentically at work includes advice like ‘opening up about how you feel’ and ‘sharing personal elements of your life’. But whether you’re an organizational leader or a new hire, bringing your whole self to work involves risk and requires a safe, trusting work environment–especially for those who’ve experienced marginalization.

Here are four tips for creating an authentic workplace culture.

  1. Leaders: Go First. In order to create a safe environment conducive to authenticity, organizational leaders must lead the way shaping company culture. Of course, leaders are people too; to some extent, they’re navigating their own authenticity gauntlet, deciding every day how much of themselves to bring to work. To set the tone for a transparent workplace, they need community and support first for themselves; Executive Coach Dina Denham Smith writing for Harvard Business Review suggests that peer connection in small groups helps provide emotional support for today’s leaders. That’s why this year we’re implementing both Executive and DEI Leader circles where peers can offer and find support with one another.
  2. Support Employee Resource Groups. Actively supporting employee resource groups is a growing strategy to preserve authentic safe spaces. Brie Manakal leads the client solutions team at TikTok, and says the primary way they connect and grow their employees is through ERGs. “ERGs provide us the opportunity to find more work-life balance and show up as our authentic selves at work. That’s why these groups are so important: they speak to who we are as individuals. For instance, I’m very connected with both the Asian Pacific Islander ERG and the Women’s ERG. Beyond that, I also think about ways I can be an ally for colleagues across the company.”  Protecting and promoting ERGs ensures not only a safe space for employees to be themselves, but also a way for them to support each other.
  3. Promote Psychological Safety. Is it OK to make mistakes where you work? How many? Psychological safety doesn’t mean not considering performance–in the end, work has to get done. It simply means there is enough trust and security to fail, voice dissension, and communicate out-of-the-box ideas and opinions. At the very least, ensure there is a system in place for addressing harassment and/or microaggressions–and that employees feel safe enough to use it! In addition to promoting authenticity, this recent Business Leader article describes psychological safety as crucial to high-performing teams, because it creates “an environment where people are willing to share ideas for the collective, rather than individual win.” As it turns out, creating safe work environments contributes to the bottom line!
  4. Provide Diverse Connection Groups. One benefit we’ve seen our facilitated circles providing for customers is the chance for employees at all organizational levels to connect with one another. The potential for a new hire to engage a circle with a mid-level manager–or the president of the company–communicates volumes about authentic company culture. One DuPont employee described his experience like this: “One participant in a recent circle was the VP, GM of Business. His presence didn’t inhibit anyone’s ability to share.” That’s because the circles platform and services promote safety and authenticity, allowing human connection at work.

Does an AI like ChatGPT need a safe space to bring its whole self to work? Time will tell–I’m just figuring out how to get it to write for me. For now, at Circles we’ll continue designing inclusive spaces where human beings can authentically connect and grow.

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In a world of physical distance, circles facilitate authentic human connection.

In a circle, 3-12 participants contribute equally, share openly, and push each other to act.

We spent years with academics and practitioners, honing best practices and building a technology platform. Our circles have helped scale peer learning, sustain manager and leadership development, move live training online, onboard new employees, support career development, teach collaboration, and build community.

We’ve been grateful for the support and the referrals from our large corporate partners, schools, and communities who have been hiring us to help design, facilitate and manage Circles programs.

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