The Case for Taking a Radically Buddhist Approach to Building Company Culture

Instead of choosing cultural values based around specific leadership styles and personalities, or even to encourage behaviors that support company growth, my radical suggestion is that companies build values into culture that decrease unhappiness and therefore increase happiness.

Happiness at work does not mean fewer challenges, smaller demands, or lowered expectations. In fact, it lays the foundation for coping with and delivering more.

The Buddhist Principles of Existence

So, what are these principles of existence? In Yael Shy’s brilliant What Now? she lays out the questions at the root of almost suffering.

Most of us do not think our culture’s end goal is to reduce suffering and amplify happiness, or to promote behaviors that lead to performance-enhancing acceptance of change, lack of control, and interconnection.

But we can. And it doesn’t have to involve any woo. Here’s how.

Impermanence

Instead of contributing to the negative associations and feelings that come with instability and change, setting values around impermanence can mitigate them.

Write out ten to twelve behaviors underneath “adaptability,” “flexibility,” or even “impermanence” and “change” to align employee expectations around what’s to come. Let new employees know they may go from Product Manager to Q&A Engineer in less than a year or that their massive project assignment could be shelved. Emphasize why accepting this workflow is critical to their personal growth as well as company growth.

Unsatisfactoriness

In a performance-driven culture, unsatisfactoriness is the Achilles heel that takes down individual contributors and teams alike. It boils down to clinging to one positive outcome after another or avoiding failure at all costs. It’s also a core component of destructive perfectionism.

Stress to your employees that they can’t control everything all the time, but they can control the care and effort they put into their immediate work. Emphasize in your values and culture that setting an intention for a positive outcome and then doing the work itself to the best possible degree is the true goal.

The other element of unsatisfactoriness is an inability to stop moving and recognize success, either because the hedonic treadmill is set to overdrive or because the fear of failure is too great.

No Separate Self

Understanding ourselves as unique individuals with distinct characteristics, perspectives, and experiences is critical to our self-identity. However, only seeing ourselves as individuals can lead to intense feelings of isolation, pressure, and loneliness.

Parting Words

Whether or not you choose to apply a Buddhist framework to your company culture, remember to set intention behind your values.

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Alida Miranda-Wolff

Teaching Love. Scaling Empathy. Founder & CEO of Ethos Talent. Executive Director of Embolden & Co. Program Director for 1871’s WIC Accelerator.