In today’s rapidly changing environment, leaders and organizations often take action quickly without engaging in thoughtful listening to themselves, each other and the cultural environment. Although it’s counter-intuitive, the most pressing situations are the ones that require the deepest listening.

One of the things that I noticed in my work is that we sometimes talk about the people who work in the field of culture; organizational development practitioners, leaders within organizations, and employees within organizations. So from all these different perspectives, people will talk about culture and people as being two separate entities.

When we really think about it logically, we don’t have a culture unless we have people because people, through their interactions, their communications, what they learn, how they make decisions together and how they work together, they’re actually forming a culture over time. We actually can’t really separate people and culture because when we’re trying to develop people within an organization, we’re impacting the culture. For trying to change the culture, we are influencing by how people are growing and developing. It’s really a symbiotic relationship. They’re not two separate things.

I’m so grateful for all of the incredible academic research on organizational cultures. And I think what’s happened now is that it’s been challenging sometimes to translate that academic research. But how do we translate that into everyday life in an organization too? The dynamic is actually occurring in the organization every minute of every day. And I feel like that’s one of the next horizons, one of the next frontiers, just to say, how do we actually get in there in a practical way and start helping an organization work with its culture differently? The answer is authenticity.

When I talk about authenticity, I’m talking about understanding and truly listening to what’s actually going on in a culture at any one time. So authenticity is neutral in the sense that it’s not saying if something’s authentic, that it’s great or if something is authentic,  it is negative. In some way, it’s saying we’re going to understand authentically what’s going on right now so we actually have a baseline. We understand how this organization and this culture operate in this particular moment in time. And authenticity can take a form of understanding in some of the hidden norms. There are hidden operating assumptions that are unconscious in a lot of organizations and people act a certain way, they behave a certain way, in concert with each other, but they don’t always know exactly why they’re doing that. And often it’s because of the underlying assumptions that operate in most organizations. So when we start to plug authenticity back in, we’re really saying we’re bringing what’s unconscious into the conscious so the organization itself can start to make better choices.