Pekarsky & Co April 2017 Newsletter – Authentically Yours

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Happily, around here Executive Orders are relatively benign things.  In fact, about the only relatively non-democratic decree emanating from my office is the occasional voluntelling, usually of a new hire, that it is their ‘turn’ to write a newsletter. Which is a bit like having it be your turn to jump out of a burning airplane because you happened to be sitting in the emergency exit row.  Thing is, we’re pretty good at recruiting around here and Erin Dand, our newest hire, sitting in the exit row, is exceptional, and her inaugural leap is testament to this. Joining us a mere month ago from one of Canada’s leading “Seven Sister” law firms, Erin joins the ranks of the P&Co. recovering lawyers and has immediately made an impact. We are thrilled to have her.

I will use my remaining paragraph to remind you one final time of our firm’s long-time support of the Gordie Howe Cares Pro Am hockey tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research.  We are one of the remaining original teams in the tournament, this being our 7th year, and in that span, with your help, the Pekarsky & Co. Pro Bonos have raised over $415,000 for the cause, nearly $45,000 of which was raised this year alone.  My final plea before the fundraising deadline tomorrow, April 4th, at 4 p.m., is for everyone who reads this newsletter to click [HERE] and donate $10.  That would raise us another $35,000, vault us into the top 3 and take our cumulative total to $450,000, a truly audacious amount for our humble enterprise.  Thank you.  Now, over to Erin…
Hi, I’m Erin. And I am delighted to be writing this month’s rendition of the newsletter.

I really enjoyed Adam’s piece last month on employee happiness, so I’ve decided to continue our musings on workplace culture, and write about a subject that is near and dear to my heart – authenticity in the workplace.

But before I do, I’d like to start off by introducing you to myself, to Erin. The real Erin. Not “Recruiter Erin”, or “Workplace Erin”. Just Erin.

As a true extrovert, I adore pretty much anything that involves people. Dinner parties, movies with friends, meeting with potential candidates as part of a recruitment search – if it involves people, I like it.

I also am both a left-brain and right-brain thinker. Math and analytics come easily to me, which is why I chose to study finance and law. But, I’m also passionate about more creative endeavours like music and design. I paint furniture for fun, I can spend hours poring over interior design options and I am classically trained in both voice and piano.

Although I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, I have always longed to be an urbanista in a big city. Now, I live and breathe the city. I ride a cute bike instead of driving a car, and I almost never step out of inner-city Calgary (it’s another world out there!). I’m one of those crazy people that lines up for an hour to check out the new brunch spot du jour, and I’m always up for an urban adventure.

If you’d like to find out more about me, feel free to check out my bio or look me up on LinkedIn. You can even check out my Instagram if you’re so inclined (beware, you may see photos of lattes and vacation spots).

I hope by now you’ve assembled some sort of picture in your mind about who I am as a person. Perhaps you’ve even thought, “why did she tell me things about her personal life, when she is writing to a professional audience?”.

The answer to that is simple. I wholeheartedly believe that people should be their whole authentic self wherever life takes them, whether that be at the grocery store, among friends or talking to a client over the phone. It’s hard to shelve our personality when we come into work in the morning – why not aim for authenticity at work instead?

You might be wondering what exactly it means to be “authentic” at work. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, to be authentic means to be “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”. I think this simple definition is perfect – being authentic is nothing more than being your whole self.

Vulnerability is also an important part of the discussion on authenticity at work. To be truly authentic, we must recognize that we are human beings and not workplace machines. We sometimes fail and we sometimes make mistakes. (Yes, I realize that talking about vulnerability to readers largely comprised of have-it-all-together, never-admit-failure professionals is a bit taboo, but I’m doing it.)

Dr. Brene Brown, one of the leading social scientists on the topic of vulnerability and shame, says that “the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries”. As beautifully put by Brad Lande, the CEO of a company aimed at strengthening organizational culture, “[a]n authentic workplace is a space where employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work every day, make deep connections, and feel inspired to do their best work as a result. It’s an environment where your humanity is embraced, where it’s safe to be vulnerable, and share a deeper version of yourself”.

So, is there any benefit to promoting authenticity at work? Actually, yes. Numerous studies have revealed compelling benefits to promoting an authentic workplace culture. For instance, in one study, employees that identified with being authentic at work reported significantly higher job satisfaction and engagement, greater happiness at work, stronger sense of community, more inspiration and lower job stress. The employees surveyed also believed that being genuine created stronger relationships with clients and co-workers, due to higher levels of empathy and trust.

My absolute favourite study (yes, I have a favourite study – nerd alert!) also directly links authenticity in the workplace to the success of teams. Six years ago, Google began “Project Aristotle”, studying why some of Google’s teams were high performing, while other were the weak link in the chain. After more than three years of investigation, Google’s researchers only identified one factor that explained the effectiveness of Google’s teams – whether a team had a culture of “psychological safety”.

Psychological safety, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson, is a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking… It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves” (emphasis added).

Once Google found the key to successful teams, it studied how to build cultures of psychological safety. The result? When leaders in teams demonstrated vulnerability, the team was better able to develop a culture of authenticity and psychological safety:

“What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘work face’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency… We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

Isn’t that incredibly profound?

Despite the clear evidence that vulnerability has positive effects in the workplace, there are critics of the “authenticity at work” movement. Some critics say that employees and leaders may be viewed as unprofessional and lose credibility at work by oversharing personal information in the name of authenticity. Others argue that individuals committed to authenticity will stay rooted in their comfort zone, unwilling to take on tasks that are not “within their personality”, causing such individuals to stagnate and miss out on personal growth.

Brene Brown (who I absolutely love, if you can’t tell), responds to the first critic particularly well. She says that authenticity is not, “the mindless spewing of whatever you’re thinking regardless of how your words affect other people”. Authenticity requires being mindful about our intentions, and it requires major self-monitoring. Being our “true self” at work doesn’t mean saying everything that pops into our head. Sharing our personality doesn’t mean sharing all our personal experiences. We can remain professional while being authentic.

I also argue that authenticity does not mean only taking actions that are within our comfort zone. Yes, we all have evolving versions of ourselves, especially as we are growing in our career. But we can authentically evolve and remain “ourselves”, no matter what version of ourselves we are currently at, even when trying new things and developing our skills.

So, now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to go out into your respective workplaces and be vulnerable and real with your teams and your employees, I’d love to share with you what it’s been like so far as a new member of the Pekarsky & Co team, and what you can expect working with any one of us.

Although I’ve only been at P&Co a short while, it feels like I’ve been here forever. From day one, I have been encouraged to be, and have unreservedly been, nothing but my authentic self, and already P&Co feels like my family –  I shout across the hall to Jameswhen I have learned something cool and new in the recruiting world. I run into Adam’s office gushing when I’ve had a meaningful conversation with a potential client or candidate over the phone, and he gives me amazing advice, always using a perfect analogy. Whenever I’ve missed putting information into our database, Ranju patiently sits with me and not only explains what was missing, but why it was so important to include. Amy and I are always bonding over our love of the Peanut M&Ms in the kitchen (ok she is actually usually telling me to stop eating them all). And when I ask Susie for advice about how to spend my newfound freedom during the weekends (being a recruiter has some perks after all), she smiles and says, “just wait until you have kids”. Even my colleagues from the Edmonton office are a delight – I love our bi-weekly Skype calls with RickChristine and Julie, and I already know that each of them is a definite kindred spirit.

Yes, if I put on my analytical hat and took a hard look at the organizational culture of P&Co I’d have to say that it passes the authenticity test with flying colours. And because of it we work really well together – we are constantly sharing information with each other. We have an “all hands on deck” approach when things get busy. I feel inspired to throw myself into my work, because I really like where I work, and I like what I do.

I’m really happy to be working at P&Co, and no, I’m not just saying that to impress my bosses, Adam and Ranju. The team is incredibly lovely inside of the office and out – and they’re absolutely AMAZING at what they do. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting or working with Adam, Ranju, Susie, James or Amy (or Rick, Christine or Julie if you’re in Edmonton), you’re missing out. And if after reading this newsletter you’d like to meet up, please give me a call. I’m happy to chat about career opportunities, working with us, or just discussing the latest research in organizational culture.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you on authenticity at work – I hope we can meet in person soon.

Until next time,
Erin

Erin Dand is an associate in the Calgary Pekarsky & Co. office.  She holds a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School and a B.Comm in Finance from the University of Saskatchewan. 
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