Open dialogue: The bedrock of authentic company culture

company culture

Payal Vasudeva, executive sponsor of human capital and diversify at Accenture, explains why dialogue is the building-block of an authentic culture, and good for business.

As businesses continually strive to engage their workforces and figure out what drives employee satisfaction, people often talk about the importance of an ‘authentic workplace’, but what does this really mean? Why should businesses try to create it? And where’s the best place to start?

In my experience, the single most important attribute that breeds an authentic workplace culture is open and transparent dialogue. This enables everyone to bring their true selves to work and say what they really think without feeling the need to self-edit. If all the conversations in your workplace add up to an honest ongoing discussion about what matters most to people then you are well on your way to achieving authenticity.

And authenticity fosters inclusion. We’ve all experienced times in our lives when we feel we don’t belong. But in an authentic workplace, individual differences are embraced and celebrated, everyone’s views are valued, and everyone is included in the conversation. This creates an environment where all talent can thrive.

Why self-awareness – and storytelling – are key

An authentic workplace forges better human connections. Yet to make these connections as meaningful as possible, self-awareness is very important.

Why? Because better understanding our own situation helps us empathise with what others might be going through, and we start to see them as whole people – both in and outside work. For example, if we recognise the pressures we face ourselves in balancing work and home life, we are likely to be more attuned to understand how others may be feeling in similar situations and this makes us more willing and able to help each other.

At Accenture, we think about these issues a lot as we’ve set ourselves the goal of becoming the most truly human organization in the digital age – which means simply that we want to help our people succeed both professionally and personally. As part of that it’s essential to see the person beyond the work persona, and with this in mind we’ve taken a number of steps to encourage and foster a more ‘human’ workplace.

For example, a couple of years ago we overhauled our performance management system to become more open and transparent, moving away from the formal, annual appraisal process to frequent, frank conversations about strengths, growth and career aspirations.

And on a more personal level we regularly draw on the power of storytelling through initiatives such as Inclusion Starts With I, in which employees share their experience of what makes them feel included – and excluded. Other examples include ‘Dare to Share’, a campaign which gave employees the opportunity to record a short video on their smartphone revealing an aspect of their lives that’s important to them which their colleagues may not know about.

Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their personal experiences at work and that’s fine, but as human beings, we are inspired by connection and meaningful interaction with others, and the response we’ve received to these initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive. Whether they’ve actively participated or simply watched one of the videos, our employees welcome the sense of connection it fosters, and it helps to spark conversations about important topics that might traditionally be considered taboo in the workplace.

Mapping out the route

When it comes to creating an authentic workplace, all organisations are at different points of maturity and there is no one size fits all formula. Here are five steps to consider:

  • Explore why authenticity is important to your organisation
  • Decide what needs to change and build senior-level advocacy – authenticity will flourish if leaders are role modelling the desired behaviours
  • Start small, co-create with your people and be prepared to learn as you go – it is a journey
  • Measure the results using quantitative (e.g. people metrics) and qualitative (e.g. focus group) approaches
  • Use the insights to course correct and maintain a relentless focus on continuously improving over time

The message is clear. Authenticity is good for people and organisations – and it begins with breaking down some of the workplace barriers and encouraging honest dialogue. Micro actions effect macro change in the culture of a place, and we all have a role to play – so let’s start today.