I recently finished a book that changed my life. It’s called Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
For those unfamiliar, Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and studies courage, vulnerability, and shame. Her talk at INBOUND15 was about finding the courage in ourselves to be vulnerable in our lives, which in turn will help us create better relationships, become better parents, and communicate more openly at work.
I tried picking up her book after her talk, but the bookstore at INBOUND15 was already sold out. When I got back home, I decided to try to get through a few other books on my bookshelf before adding another.
Daring greatly at work
While the book is applicable to every area of our lives where we’re interacting with others (and ourselves), a decent amount focuses on the workplace. And for good reason—during her research, Brené discovered how unhappy people are at work, but how afraid they are to try to make it better.
One area that stood out to me was around company culture. Countless articles have been written on company culture and its importance, but none have stuck with me the way Brené’s interpretation did.
She talks about how creating a positive culture starts at the top. While it doesn’t end there, if the top executives aren’t on board, nobody else can be—even if they want to.
She says she can “tell a lot about a culture” and values of various groups—organizations, families, churches, etc—by asking ten questions.
Brené Brown’s list of company culture questions
- What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
- Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
- What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
- Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
- What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to trip them? Who stands the cows back up?
- What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
- What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
- How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
- How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
- What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?
After reading the questions over and over (and over), the paragraph that followed in the book stuck out. Here’s an excerpt:
As someone who studies culture as a whole, I think the power of these questions is their ability to shed light on the darkest areas of our lives: disconnection, disengagement, and our struggle for worthiness. Not only do these questions help us understand the culture, they surface the discrepancies between “what we say” and “what we do,” or between the values we espouse and the values we practice.
The difference between “what we say” and “what we do” is important. I think that’s the power of these questions—they force people to provide specific examples instead of more philosophical ideas or words that look good on paper.
They’re tough and honest questions but any organization with a culture that encourages its employees to be their best selves—both as people and as employees—should be able to answer relatively easy. If the culture is negative, hostile, or nonexistent, the answers might be a little different.