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Dec 17 2015
mind the culture gap | getting there from here | family business advice

Mind the Gap

by Jared Byas, Family Business Advisor

We encourage all our members to read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, a book about feeling worthy and about the power of vulnerability. In this blog series we wanted to offer a summary of each chapter with a few items for reflection. Enjoy!

Chapter 5 | Mind the Gap

It’s a daring strategy to cast a vision for who we want to be and then commit ourselves to closing the gap between who we are and who we want to be. But paying attention to that gap might be the greatest contribution we can make as leaders. There’s an age-old debate between strategy and culture, between whether we should focus more on who we are or on what we want to achieve and how we are going to get there. Generally everyone agrees both are important. Culture, however, is certainly the harder piece to get a good handle on.

What is culture? It is “the way we do things around here” (174). It is very important to recognize the difference between our actual culture and the culture we hope to cultivate. Another way of saying it is the difference between our “practiced values” and our “aspirational values.”

“My dear friend Charles Kiley uses the term ‘aspirational values’ to describe the elusive list of values that reside in our best intentions, on the wall of our cubical, at the heart of our parenting lectures, or in our company’s vision statement. If we want to isolate the problems [in our culture] and develop transformation strategies, we have to hold our aspirational values up against what I call our practiced — how we actually live, feel, behave, and think. Are we walking our talk? Answering this can get very uncomfortable” (176).

What is the danger of not acknowledging this “gap” between our practices and our aspirations? Disengagement. “When our practiced values are routinely in conflict with the expectations we set in our culture, disengagement is inevitable” (180). It’s much better to name and accept your reality and lower expectations (for a time) for your organization than it is to hold your company to a standard that you yourself don’t practice or that you don’t have the time or energy to keep people accountable to.

Name Your Reality

So how do we name our current culture? Our “practiced values?” Take time to observe the following:

  1. What behaviors do we reward? Reprimand?
  2. Where and how do people actually spend their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. Which rules and expectations do we follow, enforce, and ignore?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who tips them and who stands them back up?
  6. Which stories do we tell each other as legends, and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails or makes a mistake?
  8. Do we perceive vulnerability well, or not so well? 
  9. Are shame and blame prevalent? How do they show themselves?
  10. Are we tolerant of uncertainty and discomfort? (174-175)

The point is not that we have to be perfect. We have to acknowledge the gap and show our commitment to growth. “We don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action” (182).

For Reflection:

  • Can you give a recent example of your behavior that is aligned with your aspirational values?
  • What is a recent example of your behavior that is not aligned with your aspirational values?
  • Can you name steps you might take to close the gap in your company between “practiced” and “aspirational” values?

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