In past discussions, we've explored the significance of organizational culture. Culture is a powerful invisible force that molds the cognition, attitudes, and conduct of people. Every organization inherently fosters a culture, acknowledged or not: Without deliberate cultivation, a culture naturally evolves, carving the destiny of its members. Highly competent and effective leaders are well cognizant of the hidden power of culture. They consider it as an invisible member of the team with enormous power of influence: Like a conductor of an orchestra, your organization's culture directs the feelings, thoughts, responses, and conduct of its members.
Each category has distinctive characteristics, therefore, you should choose one, or a combination of a few, for your organization's vision and goals. In this article, I would like to present a different perspective on organizational culture by providing a value that can be highly beneficial to all companies.
Growth with Vulnerability
Most people passively accept the way their current life functions and operates. Only a few people take on the active initiator's role and choose to lead their lives. Regardless of their life stage, they consistently pursue opportunities for personal growth and advancement.
Growth means a departure from the status quo, an intentional and resolute shift from where you stand to where you aspire to be. True, genuine growth necessitates two fundamental elements: 1. It starts with analyzing and admitting your current circumstances, hurdles, and limitations with brutal honesty. Like a doctor diagnoses diseases before he/she determines what to do, you need to first know where you are. 2. It needs consistent commitment, not fleeting bursts of enthusiasm. Short-term inspiration is simple; maintaining it over time requires extraordinary determination.
Evaluating the areas of your weakness objectively where you need help from other people and admitting the finding is harder to do than said. As a society, we are very much accustomed to hiding our weaknesses. We fear for our frailties and shortcomings to be exposed to others so we implicitly yet surely learn to sweep them under the rug. Admitting one's weaknesses demands vulnerability. Without this, growth is not going to happen.
Sharing vulnerability openly with others requires a safe setting. When it feels unsafe, our natural inclination is to withdraw into our comfort zones, resisting venturing beyond. This is a basic human instinct. To go against this current effectively and smoothly, the change must be made from the top. In other words, should you want your organization to embrace this new change, the leaders on the top ladder must start first. Only when they openly admit their weaknesses and accept help from others, the rest of the team will follow suit.
Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work and an author of several best-selling books including Dare to Lead and Atlas of the Heart, emphasizes that being vulnerable is one of the most courageous acts one can do to support others and induce a high level of innovation and creativity:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Growth Culture vs. Performance Culture
It's crucial to note: a growth culture contrasts with a performance-based culture. In a growth-focused environment, individuals enhance their capability to uncover blind spots. They openly acknowledge insecurities and shortcomings, directing efforts toward creating external value. There is a clear and intentional focus on continuous learning through inquiry, curiosity, and transparency that replaces judgment, certainty, and self-protection. Throughout the organization, feedback is openly, widely, and actively exchanged, grounded in an unswerving commitment to aiding collective growth and improvement.
By contrast, a performance-focused culture often amplifies people's anxieties by fostering a binary, all-or-nothing atmosphere in which individuals are labeled as either winners or losers. As they're consistently evaluated against a narrow set of one-dimensional standards, the organization pays minimal regard to their internal, personal principles. As a result, employees tend to conceal, downplay, rationalize, and negate their errors and vulnerabilities as they feel vulnerable and undervalued.
Let me illustrate the difference between growth culture and performance culture in a simple yet comprehensive manner. A performance-driven culture would inquire, "How much energy can we harness?" The answer is inherently limited. Conversely, a growth-oriented culture would ask, "How much energy can we unlock?" The answer to this question holds infinite possibilities.
Ray Dalio and Bridgewater
Even if you are not an investor, I am sure you've heard about Ray Dalio. Dalio is a well-renowned American billionaire investor and hedge fund manager. His book, 'Principles' has been a popular bestseller since it's been published in 2017.
Much of his fame originates from his company Bridgewater Associates, which manages approximately $250 billion in global investments today. Throughout its nearly five decades, Bridgewater has been widely recognized as a top-performing money manager. It has won numerous industry awards for its outstanding performances including years when the hedge fund industry as a whole underperformed the S&P 500.
Many scholars have scrutinized the company (now, it has approximately 2,000 employees) to find the source behind its distinctive achievement. Then they paid attention to its unique organizational culture.
First, at Bridgewater, business excellence isn't detached from individual fulfillment. In fact, they acknowledge that strong and enduring business success can only be achieved when the company actively prioritizes and invests in the individual success and well-being of its members.
Consider Bridgewater's approach: when reviewing a failed investment decision, the examination goes beyond pinpointing specific data causes. It extends to individual problems or shortcomings that shaped the decision-making process. Acknowledging that unaddressed issues in influential individuals affect the organization, they openly inquire and invest in their personal growth.
This does not mean that they are looking for a victim to blame for the failures. It is the opposite. When they address hidden, possibly ingrained behaviours or thought patterns, their primary aim is to assist individuals in narrowing the gap between their present state and their desired future. The widespread trust among all employees enables members to gather the courage to accept and contemplate feedback from their coworkers. Active conversations on how they can help each other to overcome their shortcomings are openly encouraged.
Dalio isn't oblivious to the challenge of confronting personal issues that most individuals naturally tend to conceal. However, Dalio firmly believes in the transformative potential of vulnerability and the authentic growth culture it nurtures. Hence, he takes proactive measures to exemplify this belief. Years ago, Dalio sent out a company-wide email with the subject line "I fail every day." In that email, he asked the employees, "Do you worry more about how good you are or about how fast you are learning?" Dalio's public acknowledgment of his daily mistakes across the entire company carries immense weight. As the head of a leading global investment firm, he successfully delivers the point that giving and receiving constructive feedback might hurt one's feelings temporarily but it won't and can't hurt that person. Shifting focus from our current level of proficiency to the speed of our improvement can drive substantial personal changes and enhance business effectiveness concurrently.
Kirk Douglas, a star of Hollywood's Golden Age well known for the movies "Spartacus (1960)" and "The Final Countdown (1980)" said, "The learning process continues until the day you die." Consider altering your perspective: What you can get from the team members today is only a fraction of the whole picture.
Cultivate a growth culture through exchanging incredibly sincere feedback and criticisms while emphasizing their individual advancement. As your members excel, your business will flourish.