Authenticity and Change

Cultivated Roses, no matter how beautiful, have virtually no fragrance, in my experience. They look good, but lack core elements of the original. They have often been “grafted in” with others through a focus on appearance or popular trends, and therefore lose the essence of what a rose authentically is.   

For people, imposed change can be similar. “Pushing” people into doing things only delivers compliance for as long as you have the power to keep pushing or wield the “stick” of fear. While it may yield results in the short-term, coercion has a way of “grooving” people that doesn’t allow for flexibility at a later stage. With adaptability and continuous improvement critical to 21st Century growth, this is clearly unhelpful and very 1985. Ideally, people want to understand why something has value, both for the organisation and themselves, and how their role in the team enables significant goals to be achieved: they want to feel valuable, included and involved. This requires a “pull” that is both clear and transparent – a shared goal that is bought into voluntarily and invites creativity and personal resources to enact.

In the seminal Choice Theory, psychiatrist William Glasser wrote that “when people do not do what we want them to do, coercion and control are all we think of using.” He instead recommends, in the words of former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher “getting people, through both example and persuasion, to happily join together in pursuit of a worthwhile common cause.” Even the Biblical Garden of Eden offered choice, with trust displayed (and contingency plans, should poor choices be made). Why? Because true freedom allows for rejection and pain, disappointment and delight when “good” choices are made willingly. 

Commitment research has long included the construct of engagement, and work engagement has been found to contain “vigour, dedication and absorption” by Dr. Arnold Bakker and his colleagues in studies circa 2003 (see Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Bakker and Schaufeli, 2010). In simple terms, vigour concerns passion and stimulation, dedication is a sign of meaning and value inherent in the work and absorption represents the “flow” state of concentration or being “engrossed” in an activity. Coercion does not achieve work engagement nor excellence. In other terms, discretionary effort and high-quality work requires a form of volunteerism that is attractive and becomes a differentiator in culture. It breeds a change-readiness and personal resilience that is felt, not taught or legislated, since individuals feel resourced: supported, included and authorised. This level of engagement in employees engages customers, too, and makes tribes out of communities, all the while building brand equity. Like roses, this needs to be cultivated, but not at the expense of the “pleasant fragrance” that can accompany it.

In the next blog, I’ll explore what this really means in terms of innovation and creative customer service. I’ll share a recent experience with one of South Africa’s largest financial services provider and why they really should attend to how they authorise and measure their staff’s effectiveness.