It’s a cliché for a reason: honesty really is the best policy when you’re growing your business. And it’s the same with your authenticity when dealing with staff and clients. There’s no doubt sharing performance-based feedback with team members, devising flexible working arrangements and figuring out what to do when things go wrong can be challenging to navigate. However, instead of trying to make the truth sound better, being totally upfront and transparent can really help you get through challenging times – and make the most of the good times. 

In fact, Roy Morgan research shows being honest and speaking with authenticity is the most valued trait for government and business leaders we already trust. When asked to nominate the most important behaviours of a great leader, 42 per cent of participants in an Australian survey listed authenticity. So, what have business owners found to be true? Three leaders give business advice on the importance of authenticity – and how being honest with their teams and customers has helped them to achieve business success. 

SEE ALSO: Expert Advice to Make Hybrid Working Work for Your Business 

Why is Authenticity Important? It Builds Trust Within Your Team

Front view of a smiling man with dentist equipment in the background to illustrate a story about trust and  authenticity. 
Dentist Dr Chris Sanzaro says he runs his practice on the values of trust, honesty and authenticity.

The Dental Surgery Newstead is a longstanding general dental practice in Launceston, Tasmania, where the majority of the 22 team members work part-time. Director and Principal Dentist Dr Chris Sanzaro has found that trust and authenticity are crucial in a tight-knit team, and a tight-knit community.

Make Authenticity a Business Value

“The practice has been serving our community for nearly 50 years and honesty is one of our most important business values. This is because honesty and authenticity are a foundation for building trust with both colleagues and patients. Without trust, it’s impossible to run a successful business. 

“We must be honest with our patients by law – it's covered in the code of conduct for how health practitioners operate – and we make sure it filters down to non-clinical conversations with patients and the way we interact with each other. 

“With so many part-time staff, being honest about challenges like rostering demands and communication makes a lot of conversations easier and more straightforward. During the early stages of the pandemic, we were honest about the need to reduce hours and the offers that came back from staff for a reduction in hours were much more than I expected.”

Always Give Honest Feedback

“We provide open and honest feedback to our staff during performance reviews. It isn’t always easy, but we believe focusing on continual learning and self-improvement benefits the individual, our team and the business as a whole.

“One member of our team initially found it difficult to receive honest feedback – it was upsetting for her to hear that she wasn’t hitting the mark. She had genuinely bought into the job and there was just a slight disconnect between how well she thought she was doing and what we expected. The feedback we provided helped her to improve, and now she’s an absolute star performer who’s moved into a management position.” 

Chris’s top tip: Be honest [with your staff] about how the business is performing. This helps staff understand there isn’t a bottomless pit of money to be able to do everything you want to do and, at the same time, builds trust and loyalty. 

SEE ALSO: The Perks of a Co-Working Space 

Telling it Straight Leads to Business Growth

A portrait view of a woman wearing black and standing against a black background to accompany a story about authenticity.
By creating a culture of truth and authenticity in her business, Arize Communications COO Megan Keogh says team members feel empowered.

Megan Keogh, COO at Melbourne-based communications agency Arize, has found that her team of  21 highly skilled team members shine the brightest when they feel inspired and valued. She believes authenticity in the workplace is imperative to business growth. 

Reduce Fear Through Authenticity 

“Leading with honesty and authenticity isn't just a choice, it's a necessity. By fostering a culture of openness, we aim to diminish fears and doubts, encouraging a creative and forward-moving environment. When we stop spending time worrying about what we can’t do, we open ourselves up to really lean into what we can do.

“Running an agency, with its fluctuating highs and lows, is no walk in the park. There were instances when work outnumbered hands, especially post-pandemic when recruiting became particularly challenging. Then there are moments when certain industry sectors dip, and we find ourselves with more capacity than desired. But that is life, and I genuinely feel our open and honest conversations with the team give them the confidence that we are solutions-focused. By putting aside our fears about potential reactions and being transparent, we don't just have two or three problem solvers – we have a united team of 21.”

Be Honest About Your Needs

“Arize is run by two passionate women. Between us we have five children, giving us a firsthand understanding of the significance of flexibility. We've seen that open discussions about personal needs lead to flexible work arrangements, benefiting both the business and our team members. Whether it's clocking out early for family commitments, kickstarting the day with a yoga session or taking a midday stroll, we encourage these choices. We firmly believe that when individuals are honest about their personal needs, they flourish professionally.”  

Megan’s top tip: Don’t fear what you aren’t good at; instead, embrace what you’re great at. This kind of authenticity with yourself and your team will see you thrive and grow.

SEE ALSO: Business Goals: Is it Time for a Mid-Year Check-In?

Being Upfront in the Trades

A man in a factory gives a younger worker a certificate with both of them smiling at the camera, for a story about trust and authenticity.
Business owner Phil Fraser (at left), seen here with a staff member at his Perth factory, knows the importance of authenticity – and transparent dealings when mistakes happen – for his long-term business success.

Phil Fraser has owned and run PRF Electrical in Perth since 1985. He employs eight people and provides electrical services to everyone from homeowners and property managers to mining companies and shopping centres. To him, the longer you’ve been in business, the easier it becomes to communicate with authenticity, as you have long-term relationships to fall back on. 

Be Upfront When Things Go Wrong

“It can be a challenge to be upfront with your clients about issues that have occurred, whether it's something your staff have done or something you've done yourself or overlooked, especially when you've got an angry client. But you only get yourself into trouble when you try to turn things into something secret or not quite the truth. 

“If something happens that they’re not quite sure about, I tell my staff to be honest, and to talk to me or another senior person. We then communicate with the client in a clear and straightforward way about what’s happened on-site or what’s been delayed. Because we have been doing business with many of our clients for a long time, we can provide reassurance that we’ll look after them.” 

Use Honest Processes

“The electrical industry is extremely regulated insofar as what we can and can’t do, and we also run the business in quite a structured way. We have processes and procedures for dealing with issues regarding staff that focus on honesty and coming up with solutions. If there's somebody who's out of line, for example, we have a procedure for talking to them and making it work better next time.”

Phil’s top tip: To grow your business, you need to talk truthfully about your pricing. It can be quite easy to quote a job a lot cheaper if you’ve got a bunch of guys who don’t have much work on, but you've got to price on what’s going to be profitable for your business.

What To Try 

SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Building Better Work-life Balance