On Culture by Bryan Miles, BELAY

A lot of people confuse culture with a company’s external characteristics — a ping-pong table in the breakroom, flip-flops and longboards cruising the hallways. And while these things might be expressive of an organization’s culture, they aren’t culture in and of themselves.

To me, culture is the force which rallies ordinary people around a shared and extraordinary goal. A cohesive culture can bring people together regardless of age, background, or beliefs, to accomplish something much greater than themselves. It is the framework which unifies and guides the actions of a group.

Which might sound pretty rosy and romantic, but in practice, culture is tricky.

At BELAY, we have a very strict “no gossip” policy. And by strict, I mean no exceptions, no excuses. That policy is a central tenant of our culture, and for culture to actually carry weight, it has to be consistent. And because of that, we’ve actually had to let otherwise fantastic people go for breaking that policy just once.

It’s not about being authoritarian or vindictive. It’s about understanding that culture defines everything we do, and it is only in sharing in that culture that we can truly reach our goals.

One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is thinking that they’re somehow exempt from that sharing. A leader that doesn’t “walk the walk”, so to speak, is the easiest and most effective way to undermine a culture.

As a leader, you can’t ask people to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself. If you are unwilling to abide by and uphold the culture you promote, then you can’t expect anyone else to. That includes big stuff like following the employee code of conduct, and the little things like demonstrating gratitude and being patient. As a leader, you can’t just speak culture into existence. You have to will it into being, every single day, through action.

In the case of our no-gossip policy, that kind of intentionality can be challenging. But there’s another side to that coin.

We recently hired a woman who had been looking for work for a long time. One night, she was lying in bed with her husband and browsing through job listings on her tablet. When she came upon BELAY’s website, she turned to her husband and said, “I’m done looking for work.”

He was a little confused at first, but she explained that she’d found the place where she wanted to work, and nothing else would do. Nine months later, she joined BELAY.

Her story is pretty exceptional, but it illustrates one of the main reasons why culture matters — not many places have it. By establishing a consistent, meaningful culture, BELAY attracts the kind of passionate employees that most organizations can only dream of. And once they’re here, they stay.

This year, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked BELAY number one among all small companies for top company culture. My mom told me I should never gloat, but that ranking is something I’m incredibly proud of. To me, it’s worth far more than bombshell quarterly earnings or major contract acquisitions. It shows that the people we work with, and the people we serve, find meaning in what we do that goes beyond our earnings.

It’s also a testament to the fact that culture isn’t bound by geography. As a 100% remote organization, BELAY has had to invest extra effort into establishing and cultivating our culture. But with the power of modern technology — and a little bit of creativity — we’ve been able to overcome the challenges.

In addition to our bi-annual summits, we also enjoy the occasional “virtual happy hour”, and always prioritize video calls over voice. Most importantly, though, we remain clear and intentional about our culture, and trust one another to uphold it.

I’m confident that, as long as we continue to prioritize culture, the rest will come naturally.

Dignity by Tiffany Trivett

Tiffany Trivet

Dignity: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.
I finished “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, a seriously remarkable book, in just two hours. The best words for it are: Drinkable and Clarifying. Drinkable because it is eloquently written. Clarifying because it shifts paradigms into sharper view.
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the French editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, suffered a massive stroke which left him permanently paralyzed, except for the ability to blink his left eye — which is how he wrote his memoir. By blinking letters to a woman who transcribed them, he describes his experience as a fully-conscious paraplegic. He laments over his inability to communicate, observes how people stare as though he isn’t even there, and fumes over what it’s like to have a fly land on your nose and be unable to twitch it away. He shares, simply, what it is like to be fully awake inside of a body that is mostly dead.
Last night, a friend told this story: “I was visiting an assisted living home for my mother, and spotted a woman across the room in a wheelchair. I thought nothing of it; an old, sick woman. Later, I heard the staff talking about her. ‘She’s a riot! Last year for Halloween, she wheeled herself out with a white trash-bag over her head. Said she was dressed up as a condom!’ The staff roared with laughter. I was beside myself! Never had I imagined the woman in the wheelchair was so spirited, so full of humor. So alive.”
It made me consider my own judgements. An obese woman enters a restaurant. A man wearing a turban waits in the airport. A woman has her PhD but doesn’t speak English, moves to the United States. A paraplegic blinks his eye, imprisoned in his own body.
I challenge myself to expand my mind: to pause snap-judgements and include everyone in my “fully human” mental category. I ask myself honestly: Where do I cast judgement? How can I do better?
I want to look at everyone with wonder. I want to treat them as they are — worthy of honor and respect. I want to acknowledge them as complex beings with stories as intricate and nuanced as my own. 

- Tiffany Trivett, Managing Editor at If I Made

Dignity: Inherent and Immeasurable Worth

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During this political and cultural climate of “us vs them” and walls and borders, matched with a social media climate ill-absorbed in “selfie” status, I think what we need is a bit of dignity shared with humanity to stand up to the negative forces that tell us to judge others and place varied value on an individual. There is never, ever a reason a person does not have dignity: inherent and immeasurable worth. Every single life is sacred. YOUR life is sacred. YOU are sacred.

Dignity shows us it should be our love for people that dictates how we interact with others, not our belief in people. And that changes everything. Dignity creates space for each of us to love one another better and it bites back at the critics who challenge hope and peace and equity. There is always dignity to be recognized and shared, even in the darkest of hours. We can always speak dignity into someone. We can always show dignity to others. Always.

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Dignity plays out in the work of See Beautiful through the guiding premise that everyone has great worth and that means we all have something incredibly valuable to give to each other. We work to inspire children and adults to honor that value in themselves, that beauty; to see it in others, and to create more beautiful in the world. When our identity is challenged, or judged by another, we feel excluded and lose a sense of independence, community and a belief in a life filled with hope and possibility. Sadly, identity is challenged too often and we see children and adults questioning their dignity all too often. We work to combat this through education and strategic giving. Whether we’re in classrooms working with children or seeking non-profits who we can support, we want people to know See Beautiful is a place where they are seen and loved and we work to increase that feeling and understanding – especially with people whose dignity has been challenged.

Next time you’re too hard on yourself, or even cast a judgement on another, let dignity lead instead. This inherent part of each of us is also a common thread of human nature that transcends differences and reveals a shared identity that’s quite beautiful. The glue that binds all of our relationships, from intimate to casual, is the mutual understanding of the desire to be seen, heard, loved and treated with equity. The world is an uncertain place, but dignity paves the way for us to create so much beautiful every single day.

-Lydia Mays, Founder of See Beautiful

Dignity in Belonging

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Dignity means knowing that you have worth, purpose, and belong in the world. Dignity strips away any notion or erroneous idea that you are an outcast and have no voice.

Two weeks ago, I met a gentleman named Mark digging in the trashcan behind our building. He’s a sixty-year-old man, and instead of asking him to leave, I was interested in knowing him and his story. I asked, “Do you mind telling me your story and how you got here?”

“Well, I’m not a beggar. That’s why I eat out of trashcans. I’ve been living homeless in the Atlanta area for three years. I’ve experienced tons of loss too. First, my wife and I lost our son, then I lost my wife, then I lost my job…” Mark said.

He continued before I could ask another question, “Also, I am adopted. In fact, I have never known my family, and the person that was my caretaker abused me mentally and physically. She’s no longer living, so I have no one…or anywhere to belong.”

Could you imagine being faced with poverty, homelessness, experiencing loss, not having a voice in society, and being stripped of the idea that you belong anywhere?

Every single day, people who are faced with poverty and homelessness or any type of injustice feel this sense of isolation in the world. That’s why noticing people where they are is super important.

Noticing people gives persons carrying burdens—dignity, and reveals to them that their very essence matters. After getting to know Mark, our organization has been able to provide temporary housing for him and is now walking along side him to assist him in recovering vital documents needed for him to take steps forward in life.

Not only, have we given Mark a community and somewhere to belong. We have given him the dignity he needs to build upon. Dignity is to a person what a foundation is for a house. Without dignity, there is nothing to build upon.

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I personally find dignity in the work that we do with Love Beyond Walls because we get a chance to restore dignity to those who feel outcast through authentic relationships. It’s probably the most important part of our work—to let people know that their stories matter and they belong in the world.

In fact, I personally find dignity in the same manner. For me, I constantly rely on my faith in God to assure me that my very existence has meaning and purpose. As I am affirmed in that thought, it pushes me to live a life that affirms others in the same way.

Do I have it all together? No. But that’s the beautiful thing about dignity. Dignity has a built in grace component that suggests it’s okay to be perfectly imperfect.

Terence Lester, Founder of Love Beyond Walls

Thoughts On Dignity from Bethaney Herrington

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What if our culture of service was more defined by what we accomplish with others than by what we accomplish for them?

It was 2009 and I found myself on the west-side of Chicago participating in a service trip. As is true for many service-driven individuals, I was confident that my choice to volunteer for a week would be a gift to the people that I was going to meet. I felt proud and excited to give myself to a community that seemed to have so much need.

However, as the week ended, I was struck with the realization that while I did go to help and to serve, at the end of the day, this community helped and served me. I am pretty sure that I left that trip having received more love, more hospitality, and more generosity than I had given. I was humbled, grateful and surprised.

This occasion wouldn’t have left such a big impression had it been an anomaly. But this kept happening to me. I spent a summer in a garbage village in Cairo. I thought that I was doing my duty by holding orphans and teaching English. However, it was the hospitality and spiritual resilience of this village that left its mark on me. From my perspective, they were materially poor. But as the summer ended, I came to see that they were rich in the things that mattered most, like laughter and joy.

This happened to me once more while living in Northern Uganda. I thought that I was bringing my community development expertise to the table – and sure, maybe I brought something helpful. But at the end of the day, while this community was in the throws of rebuilding after a 20-year long armed conflict, they had a freedom and gratitude that was astounding and healing to me. I was humbled and surprised yet again.

It was the same story, over and over again.

The people I came to help ended up helping me.

The people I came to serve ended up serving me.

The people I came to teach ended up teaching me.

What was going on here?

After years of service, volunteering and practicing community development work, I now know that I had been regularly receiving from the dignity of other people. I was experiencing the fact that everyone has something of value to offer.

Pope John Paul II is quoted as having said, “Nobody is so poor that they have nothing to give and nobody is so rich that they have nothing to receive.” Dignity is about the inherent worthiness and value of people. Dignity is not something that we give to one another nor is it something that can be taken away. Our efforts for social good do not give dignity, they are merely opportunities to affirm the inherent worth that each person already carries.

A frequent disconnect in our work for social good is that we often don’t consider what it means that each person we encounter has something to give. We take the posture of savior and rather than inviting those whom we seek to serve to the table as equals, we create relationships of inequity based primarily on their needs and on our provision. This one way flow of resources leads to burnout and frustration. In worst-case scenarios, many of problems we seek to solve are left in more damaging conditions than when we found them.

However, in the midst of this disconnect, each of us has the opportunity to pioneer a different way of service – a way that invites collaborators and influencers to the decision-making table from all levels and margins of society.

For your business, when you’re ready to make that first hire, what if you chose someone from a different ethnic or socioeconomic background than yours?

In the non-profit venture you’re bringing to life, what would happen if you let a group of people from that community design an entire initiative? And rather than you leading the charge, what if you simply signed up as a volunteer for their project?

For the creative project that you’re exploring, what if you extended yourself to visit new neighborhoods, to create from different kinds of spaces, and to hear stories from people who come from a different worldview than your own? How might this diversity enhance the depth and breadth of your work?

I believe that this way of service is possible. I believe that we can change the culture of social good from a tendency towards one-way flows of resources to the work of mutual exchange and interdependence. I believe that we can diversify our teams. I believe that we can work in such a way that amplifies the value that already exists in the communities that we serve.

We can design solutions to social problems that are built on a foundation of dignity, but it is the kind of work that we can only do together.