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From Where We Sit

Are we incentivizing authenticity?

Anton Ng

Less than a week from now, we will have our midterm elections. One of the buzzwords we often hear from voters on who they would vote for is authenticity. Authenticity is defined as being true to one’s belief, character and personality. In short, we want our politicians to show who they truly are. It is the degree to which an individual’s actions are aligned with their beliefs and desires. During the campaign period, we try to determine who is authentic and who is simply faking it. Do they believe in honesty, or do they believe that lying can justify the end? Is eating using your hands being authentic?

Despite the voting population’s clamor for authenticity, do candidates really believe voters are looking for it? Or do they think singing, dancing and bringing with them celebrity endorsers will make them win? If that is the case, there are really no incentives for people to be authentic. There is incentive, however, to pretend you are happy to sing and dance for the electorate. Thus, they will endure singing, dancing, and making a fool out of themselves and everybody in the short-term, and then be their authentic self once they are sworn into office. By then, their authentic self, whether we are amenable to it or not, no longer matters. They have already been elected into office.

The same can be said in the world outside of politics. We often desire to be authentic. We desire that our bosses be authentic. We desire for our staff to be authentic. We want to have that freedom to show who we truly are. However, are we incentivized to be authentic? More importantly, is our authentic self really worth bringing out into the open?

After going through business school, one of the things I was always conscious of is whether the incentives being provided to employees are aligned with the type of behavior the organization wants their employees to exhibit. The incentives or dis-incentives policies, sometimes referred to as the carrot or the stick, of an organization would normally be a way to drive a particular behavior. Whether it is about punctuality or how an employee should treat a customer, organizations normally come up with policies that would reward what they think is “good” behavior and punish the “bad” one.

If we follow this particular method of molding the behavior within our organization, how are we then affecting the authenticity of our people? As leaders in our respective organizations, we create incentives to drive a particular behavior. Are we preventing our people from being authentic? Are we trying to make people do things they do not necessarily believe in, but are being driven to do so, because there are incentives or, worse, penalties for non-compliance? Will our people, by changing their behaviors to get the carrot or to avoid the stick, remain authentic?

Most likely not. They might be changing their behaviors without necessarily changing their beliefs or way of thinking. As it sounds, there is no way this approach, especially now when people are looking for meaning beyond material things, can be successfully sustained over a long period. At some point, the change in behavior will fizzle out, because it is contrary to their beliefs and values.
We can, instead of modifying behavior through incentives or none, try to influence our people to have a different perspective and to change certain beliefs and ways of thinking to drive a particular change in behavior, but still allowing them to be authentic. We can also align their individual visions and goals with that of the organization to find a common ground, wherein the organization can achieve its desired results but, at the same time, allow its employees to remain authentic. This requires a lot of conversations and leadership within the organization. It would not be as easy as setting up new incentive policies as well. This, however, can be effective in the long run.

Why are we trying to change behaviors and not just allowing people to be authentic? It is because there are certain behaviors, though they reflective of one’s true self, that may not be aligned with the organization’s vision and values. Let us say one values efficiency and time above all else. Shall we just allow that person, in the name of authenticity, to totally lose his patience to people who don’t share the same value? Or, if one values excellence, shall we allow that person to uncontrollably reprimand their subordinates at the first instance of a substandard output, regardless of the cause, again in the name of authenticity? Does being authentic outweigh decency, tact and proper decorum? Can we actually justify our behavior in the name of authenticity by simply saying: “I’m just being authentic. I’m just being true to myself. What is wrong with that?”

Yes, we want to be authentic, but our expression of authenticity should not be harmful to others. Otherwise, we are just being authentically selfish by allowing our inner self to be more important—much like most of our politicians nowadays.

Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our Website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated 08 May 2019