When thinking about the future of corporate life, it’s not difficult to imagine the terrifying world that Dave Eggers describes in his 2013 novel, The Circle, becoming reality. The award-winning US writer’s story takes place in a highly regarded ‘tech giant’ social media corporation where the main character, new employee Mae Holland, finds herself increasingly inculcated in the organisation’s invasive culture. This comes to a head when she is asked to spend hours engaged in countless social media activities in order to upgrade her ‘PartiRank’.
Eventually, cracks begin to surface. In the book, which has been reworked for the big screen starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, Eggers challenges us to consider what happens to our identity in such an environment. He asks: how much are we able to thrive in our company's corporate culture while retaining our own individual identity?
In The Circle, Mae starts to give herself up to the organisation and becomes a different person; her values change and merge with the company she works for. This is where fiction meets reality. Many corporate organisations struggle to nurture the idiosyncrasies of their people because consistency and risk aversion have become more important than individual complexity. As a result, people can become homogenised; their sharp edges - which are different but powerful - become blunt. Ultimately, the individual becomes drowned or diluted in the daily rainstorm of corporate life.
People are most effective when they’re free to be authentic and genuine, which is why it’s so important for organisations to encourage people to understand and stay true to their values. We’re all aware of diversity in its wider context, but we also need to look at the real differences and values between people’s personalities and approaches to working together. At Potential Squared, we challenge people to consider their values and beliefs as a precursor to operating successfully and authentically in organisational life.
We’re all aware of diversity in its wider context, but we also need to look at the real differences and values between people’s personalities and approaches to working together.
Our Leadership Profile and Essence tool, which we’ve run successfully in organisations such as HSBC, Bank of Ireland, Accenture and Arcadia Group, prompts people to think more deeply about their values, beliefs and points of view. This in turn helps them to consider how they need to interact authentically with others. Only by understanding what you believe in, and what you are prepared to be disliked for, can you develop an authentic ‘voice’.
The economic recession has had an impact on leadership and employee confidence. Fears over job security mean that people are less willing to take risks, and perhaps feel less able to ‘be themselves’. To change this, we need to challenge people to be brave in considering their values and beliefs, and how they should behave.
It's a crucial step in bringing passion and sincerity to what could potentially be a stale, two-dimensional environment. In empowering people to hold their heads high, take risks and go the extra mile. Ultimately, it's about clarifying values and being prepared to stand by them in difficult situations.
Pulling it all together
The lesson that The Circle teaches us is that this bravery and authenticity needs to come from both sides. Organisations need to trust in their people to be true to themselves, while still serving the corporate good. Likewise, for individuals, take responsibility for yourself. Ask yourself the hard questions that Mae largely avoids. Be tough on yourself before you lose yourself altogether.