Consider this statement:
712 happy passengers reached New York after RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage
This declaration is as true as far as it goes. However, it omits the crucial detail that 1496 other passengers drowned after this passenger ship hit an iceberg and sank off the coast of Newfoundland in the early hours of 15th April 1912.
The statement about the Titanic’s maiden voyage lacks authenticity.
On Monday 15th January 2018, the UK’s 2nd largest construction company Carillion went under. It entered compulsory liquidation with a reported £2 billion debt to 13 banks, over £600 million in pension liabilities, and hundreds of millions of pounds owed to suppliers. When it sank, it is estimated that Carillion held just £29 million in cash.
Richard Howson, Carillion’s Chief Executive stepped down in July 2017 following the issue of a catastrophic profit warning. His severance package included a continuation of his £660,000 annual salary and £28,000 annual benefits until October 2018. In 2017, it is estimated that Carillion’s bosses shared bonuses of £4 million.
The tragic story of Carillion’s demise interests me from the perspective of authenticity. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines authentic in the following 3 ways:
authentic: Of authority, authoritative; entitled to obedience or respect
authentic: Entitled to belief as stating or according with fact; reliable, trustworthy
authentic: Real, actual, genuine, original,
Authenticity is the quality of being authentic. Carillion’s 156-page, 2016 Annual Report and Accounts makes interesting reading from the point-of-view of authenticity. It follows the classic pattern that I see in almost all corporate or project communication; it paints a rosy, positive picture – but fails to truthfully acknowledge the real nature of a situation.
The following extracts from the Chairman’s report at the front of the document, dated 1st March 2017, encapsulate this:
More than anything else, I perceive authenticity to be a human quality. There may be many reasons why a person’s communication or behaviour may not be authentic, such as incompetence, lack-of awareness, denial, self-interest, dishonesty, revenge or plain criminality. By any interpretation, Carillion’s bosses failed to meet the OED’s definitions of authenticity.
In working environments, authenticity is a key ingredient for success. The projects undertaken in these environments are human endeavours and success is dependent on the ability of people to work as a team. Authenticity is part of the fabric from which all teams are woven.
When concealed facts become known, or are already known by a company’s workforce, partners, clients or investors, the negative backlash can be catastrophic. Trust turns to mistrust, loyalty turns to betrayal, engagement turns to disengagement, on-time turns to late, profit turns to loss, happy clients tell others not to work with you and companies fail.
Below is another extract from Carillion’s 2016 Annual Report. It relates to Carillion’s 4 core values.
I think that more authenticity would have helped Carillion to care, achieve, improve and deliver better.
This article is written by Glenn Hawkins
Training, facilitation, technical authorship, studies of project delivery and performance improvement consultancy
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