Not too long ago, I was looking through some old folders of company pictures and materials. It was a bittersweet experience for me, especially when I saw the way we used to present ourselves.
The picture above is a good example.
On the left is a photo that shows how we wanted to portray ourselves back then. The suit and tie. The plastic smile. Prague in the background (only that’s not even the real Prague: it’s a backdrop, and I’m not even from Prague, I’m from Zlin which is almost 3 hours away). We did this because I was told “this is the formula; this is how everyone else is doing it.”
As for the picture on the right, it’s hard to put into words, but what I see fills me with strength and energy. Relaxed, no suit or tie in sight. Laughing wholeheartedly with my sister and other colleagues while we work hard to help people. That’s the authentic me.
When I thought about just how different these two approaches are and how much happier I am now, it got me wondering:
Why aren’t more people doing this? What makes it so scary to be authentic in the way we approach business?
Personally, I remember that my decision to present ourselves the generic way was based on a fear of two things: failing to attract some potential clients, vendors, and employees, and losing those we already had.
Don’t get me wrong – these were rational fears and choosing to take off the mask and be truly authentic had its consequences. At the same time, though, once we overcame the initial discomfort, the atmosphere at the office improved significantly.
In other words, yes, it is hard, and yes, it is absolutely worth it.
To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, here are some examples of our transition.
The first relates to our marketing practices on social media.
When we first started using social media for recruitment purposes, we put extra effort into trying to appeal to as many readers as possible. That meant lots of posts about how amazing our team was, how perfect it is to work for us, and so on. It’s easy to fall into this trap on social media and I see it on both my professional and personal accounts.
We realized that this wasn’t the right way to go when people in our company started mentioning that this type of communication didn’t reflect the transparency and honesty that we live by here at the company.
In addition, though a lot of people started applying, not many of them resonated with us, making it harder for our HR department to find the right ones. It’s not a surprise, really – the image we had painted wasn’t the real us, so many applicants came to us with certain, consequently unrealistic, expectations.
Now our approach to social media is becoming more open, honest and relaxed and we are enjoying the results. Applicant quality has increased significantly and those we select feel more comfortable here from the start. I’m very grateful to have a relationship with my people that lets them share their feelings and helps me see the right path for us.
This whole process convinced me that it’s not about reaching the most people or getting the most likes. It’s about being authentic and letting the right people come to you on their own.
Last year offered me a challenge unlike any other I had experienced before in my professional life. We had finally started working heavily with a company we had always dreamed of – one of the largest car manufacturers in the world (prestigious, great reference, lots of orders). After a while, though, we realized that the way this company worked wasn't natural for us.
So then we had a choice, change the way we work, which, in short, would hurt our relationships with our translators and overwork our project managers, or let this “dream client” go. We let them go. I won't lie, it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, but having my team behind me made it easier.
Now, instead of that one client, we have 5 smaller ones with whom we can truly be ourselves. Our salespeople are genuinely happy to visit these clients, because they can act naturally with openness and transparency. Project managers know that we can guarantee high quality and our translators are happy to have interesting and better-paid jobs.
My main lesson here was simple: regardless of their prestige or size, no client is worth sacrificing your values for.
Making the change to your authentic self is not an overnight endeavor. In fact, I don’t recommend even trying it that way. Our transition began years ago and we are still working on it today, always finding and discussing new ways to adjust how we work to make the entire process more meaningful for everyone.
Start with small decisions, discuss them with your people and let the process gather momentum throughout the company. The longer it goes on, the more motivated everyone will be to tackle larger issues.
To be honest, this journey has given me a lot of challenges and hardships. Stepping out of your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. My advice is to be ready for that difficulty and never lose sight of what you are working towards, because the end of that tunnel is indeed very bright.
One of the most liberating parts of this process is how much it reminds me that we are all human and we don’t have to be perfect, so long as we learn from our mistakes and apply what we learn towards the next step forward.
Our ability to benefit others also increases when we are more authentic. Everyone’s version of authentic is different, and each has something unique to offer the world. Embracing that difference and nurturing it let us build on that uniqueness to really make a difference.
I’ve also noticed that when you are being authentic it’s much easier to care about people and convince others that you do.
Now that I think about it, the lessons I’ve learned here go far beyond the translation industry, or even business in general. They apply to everyday life, no matter who you are.
The goal of marketing is to express "This is who I am. This is what I do. How can I help you?"
True happiness and success at work (and in life) come from making sure that every part of that statement is authentic.
This article is just me marketing to you, authentically.
CEO at ZELENKA Translations