Can authenticity be bad for your business?

An article written by Christoffer Öberg, one of the founders of Mpya Digital.

Lately I have tried to describe what authenticity means to me. I think one sentence from that piece sums it up nicely:

Authenticity is about being in control of your actions and listening to your emotions.

For me, there has to be an element of responsibility when it comes to authenticity. It is not just about having lisence to be the ‘real you’ wherever you go. True authenticity is about being accountable to yourself — and also making others feel that they can be authentic around you.

My own challenge has been around managing the balance between the introvert and extrovert inside me. My instinct is to be quiet and reflective — but as a leader and role model, I want to be more sociable and spread confidence.

It is something we discuss a lot here at Mpya Digital. While honesty and integrity are qualities we all hold dear, pragmatism must also come into play when you are running a business.

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”There has to be
an element of responsibility
when it comes to authenticity.”

Authentic and professional

One thing that has become clear is that, in practice, there seems to be a natural conflict between authenticity and professionalism.

In a consultancy, there are assignments to be won and lost. As a consultant you must go through the tender process, matching your profile, the pitch, the quote, the interview — and at every stage, your resolve to be transparent and honest is tested.

In client interviews, in particular, it is tempting to tell them what they want to hear. In this environment, we are naturally over-eager to impress. Being objective around a client’s flaws and challenges might be less appealing than laying the compliments on thick.

And, in the face of tough competition from other consultants, there must be a temptation to wait until after the contract has been signed before revealing the real you, with all your integrity, vulnerability and — of course — authenticity.

This is something we have pointedly fought against at Mpya.

It is a cynical approach that is about winning business at any cost. I am under no illusion that we have lost out on potentially lucrative contracts because of it. In short, sometimes a competitor who is less authentic but more professionally savvy has won business from right under our noses.

Should that change our strategy?

I don’t think so.

Drawing the line

There are unquestionably elements of professional conduct that require a considered approach rather than an unfiltered view of who we really are. But there is a line in the sand and we can all choose where we draw it. Being professional and being authentic should not be mutually exclusive qualities.

I’m also proud of the work we have done together to encourage one another and foster a safe environment where people can be themselves.

Our ‘authenticity’ as a team of friends and colleagues has a lot to do with our culture and the spirit of collaboration. I’ve talked about this before in a piece about tailored personal development. I hope Mpya has always been a workplace that celebrates diversity and individuality. I would hate it if we compromised on that by making people feel like they had to conform to some arbitrary level of professional slickness simply to win business.

So, what’s my conclusion to all of this?

Maybe my personal quest for authenticity has helped to me to develop a collective authenticity at Mpya Digital.

Being authentic as a business means we seek to work with people who accept us for who we are, and who share our values. If that means we lose the odd client or a potential recruiter chooses another consultancy, so be it.

If you aren’t true to your own values, you have a whole lot more to lose.