Brad Lande on Authentic Company Culture


Jeff Gapinski


Brad Lande, CEO of Live Grey, speaks with us about meaningful work and how to develop an authentic company culture. Founded in 2013, Live Grey aims to promote purposeful workplaces by helping companies and their employees find fulfillment and a real connection to each other.

Live Grey primarily focuses on holding gatherings to bring together thought leaders doing innovative things within culture development. Through workshops and talks, they share new ideas and content with each other and the public. Their next event, life@work, will take place in Brooklyn, NY from October 16 to 17. Live Grey also works with companies on bringing these teachings and practices directly to teams through workshops on topics like communication, values, and purpose.

How did you become passionate about “meaningful work” and office culture?

I’ve had a lot of different roles across a variety of organizations—entrepreneur, strategy consultant, executive for high growth companies—and I realized that at all of these places, company culture isn’t owned by one designated person. Though my roles were never culture specific, I believe that the largest impact I made in those positions was the community I created in the teams that I took part in. Looking back at these roles and the successes I won there, I saw a real opportunity to support similar people and teams within other organizations.

Why is this important now?

At this moment in time, we have daunting problems to overcome. As I pull back and look at all the issues we’re facing as a human race, we need people capable of coming up with innovative solutions. This will require people who not only have the intellectual breadth and depth but also the emotional capacity to connect and understand each other as well as compassion for each other as fellow human beings. When I think about the legacy I want to leave behind, I hope that I can help people and organizations solve the problems that we, as a human race, should be focusing on.

How would you define “meaningful work”?

Meaningful work means different things to different people—for us at Live Grey, that’s what the “grey” is. If life and work are black and white respectively, making your work meaningful is the grey; it’s about bringing the personal self into the professional work. “Meaningful work” isn’t necessarily just working at a non-profit; you don’t have to save the world to feel good about what you do.

When people are conscious about why they show up to work every day, the choices they make at work and the way they approach their job will be different. I’m passionate about getting people to connect with what is meaningful to them and that’s different for everyone. It’s the purpose behind Live Grey and, I believe, the responsibility of the employee as much as the company.

Organizations, especially now, need to take responsibility for the humans that they develop through their work. A lot of our growth, learning, and finding our edge happens through work, so I think the idea that you’re only at work to develop certain skills—like marketing or engineering—is so old paradigm. People come to work because they want to grow and learn and that functionally has to do with hard skills but also human skills like empathy and compassion—the eulogy values. Persona development is professional development because a lot of it happens within the boundaries of work, and that’s what we at Live Grey advocate for and want to help people explore.

You’re a huge advocate for mission-driven companies. Can you tell me more?

Mission-driven companies—by which I mean companies that have a social mission—are, in my opinion, the way of the future. There does exist a commercial sustainable business model alongside a more macro purpose other than the value that they’re bringing to the world. I can point to Warby Parker and Toms where there’s a literal giving back, but there are also other ways companies can operate where the business model and social mission are built together. That category is really fascinating, especially now at a time where it is proven that they can co-exist. In our research conducted in 2013, we found that people desire more “fulfillment” out of their job. Just being intellectually stimulated or getting paid well isn’t enough anymore.

Why is this trend happening now versus before?

The workforce is demanding it; they demand that companies operate with different principles than they’ve done in the past. We’re in a time of absolute transparency thanks to social media.

The division that used to exist between your company culture, your brand, your employees, and technology—all of these boundaries are now permeable and that’s what we call the grey space.

Nowadays, your culture is your brand, and the values that you hold as an organization are the values that you bring to the world. This is different now than it was a decade ago.

We’ve been speaking a little about Live Grey. Can you tell me what inspired its creation?

Live Grey was founded in 2013 and the formation of the company was really about acknowledging the shifting social paradigm of life at work. The old paradigm was a black and white world, which represented the dichotomy of work and personal life, kept separate. In either realm, you could only express certain attributes that didn’t exist in the other. Live Grey was formed to acknowledge and promote the idea that there is possibility and magic that happens when you find the space in between the black and the white, a space where you’re able to bring the things that you’re passionate about, the parts of yourself that you would have left out of work, to work—all that bold thinking, those innovative ideas. People become more engaged and more satisfied with work when they can bring all parts of themselves.

What do you mean by “bringing your whole self to work?”

We mean that you feel safe enough at work to share different parts of yourself at work, such as what is really happening in your life that’s deeply affecting you. There’s a New York Times article about a two-year research project by Google to find what the defining elements of the high performing teams? They looked at every possible factor—age, economic background, education, personality types, and so on—but what they found was that “psychological safety” was the number one variable for successful teams.

This means that if a group leader is struggling with something, this idea of psychological safety allows her to share with the team what she’s struggling with. Maybe someone in her family has a terminal illness—this kind of burden is visibly carried by people. If she can feel safe in sharing and reacting to her feelings at work, this opens up conversations and allows for authenticity to occur in the workplace. We at Live Grey ultimately believe that this kind of openness allows people to do their best work.

Just to clarify, this is very different from being authentic in the sense that you say whatever you want whenever you want, which is not what I’m promoting.

The type of authenticity I mean is that you have a container, a safe space, at work where you can share what’s going on for you which then translates to enough trust and relationship stability with co-workers so that you can be transparent about deadlines or obstacles, which does wonders for teams.

What can companies start doing immediately to encourage authenticity and connection in the workplace?

One of the easiest things to do is for team leaders to have at least one meeting a week where everyone spends some time just checking in. It’s simple and overlooked, but by setting time aside at each meeting with your core team for everyone to spend a couple minutes bringing something personal up—I’ve been stressed because the children are starting school soon, or my partner has been feeling ill for a while—doing that, letting that intimacy in, will help people break down those black and white layers and build more genuine and authentic relationships at work.

Can you tell me a little more about the upcoming life@work Company Culture Conference?

life@work is a gathering of culture minded people twice a year, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. We’re typically 250 influencers and culture leaders, people who are in HR and culture roles, senior leaders who have a passion in culture development. We host content and conversations to help organizations develop their culture by helping them understand what other companies are doing that’s working and not working.

The overarching theme of life@work is bringing more humanity to workplaces—we aim to help make work more human and to invite more humanity into our workplaces.

life@work, which occurs twice a year—in San Francisco in March and in Brooklyn in October— is open to anyone who registers. Tickets start at $999 on their website.


Jeff Gapinski

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