"A deliberately developmental approach to more fully realizing organizational potential is not a matter of only ‘being better to our people,’ a DDO [Deliberately Developmental Organization] represents, instead, a rethinking of the very place of people development in organizational life."
I’ve been reading Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s books for many years and have been profoundly influenced by their work. Kegan’s theories of adult development (which are described in a chapter of this book,) together with Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change (also a chapter of this book,) are two of the most important sources for how I think about not only my work—but my life.
Given that, I was surprised by my response to An Everyone Culture, their newest work. Where their previous books have easily made sense to me, this one was challenging. It feels truly radical to me and it’s taking me time to really figure out how to use these ideas going forward.
For a long time now, I’ve thought that putting people first was more than just a good thing—it’s a critical thing. I’ve subscribed to the view that engaged employees = better business. I work with leaders to help them increase employee engagement and applaud efforts to promote well-being at work. Deliberately Development Organizations go much further than that. These are organizations that push people to uncover their blind spots, to be transparent and vulnerable, not to get comfortable. If anything, the message of a DDO is: challenged people = better business and better people.
Eliminating the Second Job
"…the single most important feature of ordinary organizational life, from the point of view of a DDO, is that…everyone is doing a second job that no one is paying her for—looking good, staying safe, avoiding vulnerability. How efficient can that be? ...What does a culture look like if it so values developing the capabilities of all its people that it seeks to fashion a space where everyone can bring their full, imperfect selves to work every day?"
A core premise of An Everyone Culture is that an inordinate amount of organizational time and energy are wasted on this second job that only exists because we bring only part of ourselves to work—and are in constant protection mode. The energies we expend on this second job are the “single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.” Calculating the cost of wasted time and energy spent on covering up weaknesses, hiding limitations and playing politics would be staggering!
Through three extended case studies, we are exposed to organizations that eliminated that second job. Employees in these companies bring their vulnerabilities to work, and learn to embrace work as a place where they will be required to grow as people in profound ways.
Creating the structures required to make it possible for people to do this—to truly bring their whole self to work—requires some radical shifts in the very nature of work. Personal growth is not side-lined; it is center stage. A combination of practices, community creation and shared aspirations about people and business are required to make this shift possible—all supported by and contributing to exceptionally high levels of trust.
Moreover, the premise of these organizations is that their bottom line and people development are inextricably interconnected. And, development, in this context, isn’t about building skills, it’s about building selves—and, as people flourish, so does business.
Don’t Stay Comfortable
"People’s limitations are seen as their growing edge—a company resource, an asset—that should be continuous and publicly engaged."
The GEMs for this book may leave readers a bit disappointed. This is not a book with prescriptions or practices that you can adopt and—voila!—create a DDO. In fact, every DDO will, by definition, look and feel different from every other DDO.
The three case studies in An Everyone Culture include an entertainment/real estate company, Decurion, an e-commerce company, Next Jump and an investment firm, Bridgewater. And, each has a very different feel. I was most excited by Decurion, could imagine being a part of Next Jump and felt I wouldn’t make it through a day at Bridgewater. My reactions had to do with aspects of each individual culture that were distinct.
At the same time, each of these organizations has certain common features—which are explored by Kegan and Lahey at length. One that is useful, even if you’re not thinking about creating a DDO, is around comfort. A shared practice across DDOs is to always be outside your comfort zone in some way. Staying in the same position because you’re good at it or not taking on new and challenging assignments are anathema in DDOs. If you’re not working on something that pushes you towards new ways of thinking and new ways of being, you’re not growing. And, you grow from challenge because you take them on, you get honest (sometimes brutally honest!) feedback and it’s safe to make mistakes.
The essential work of development is in expanding the capacity to embrace greater complexity. Work can contribute to the growth of that capacity by ensuring that there are always challenges, that it’s safe to take them on and that you can fail as long as you learn from that failure.
Create Meaningful Practices
"We refer to all the developmental tools, habits, formalized behaviors, and types of meetings in DDOs as practices, because the word reminds us that we’re doing something in a certain spirit, with a particular intention. "
A key to DDOs—and a core principle of a developmental approach—is the adoption of practices. While many exciting practices are described in their book, they are not necessarily ones you or your organization would choose to adopt. The practices you choose must be specific to how you are attempting to develop.
So, instead of sharing things you can do, I will share some of the principles around practice that the authors share. Start with the word itself—practice. We practice something to become better at it; a practice is a routine, regular part of our lives; we make mistakes and learn from practice.
When you think about it this way, bringing true practice into our work and even into our lives is not so simple. We often focus on the results—the performance. We don’t give ourselves or others that we lead the time to practice and build capacity.
DDOs don’t focus on training programs or executive coaches, but on practice and feedback. When you think about your own growth as well as your organization’s growth—and even without taking on the entirety of becoming a DDO—adopting a mindset of practice can be life changing.
At various points while reading An Everyone Culture, just as I would begin to feel a little uncomfortable and doubtful, the authors would jump in and remind me that this is how I could be feeling now. If an intention (which I think it was) in writing this book was to provoke the reader’s discomfort, and force some serious thinking, the authors succeeded with me.
Since this is one of the least “summarize-able” books I’ve read in a long time, I hope that I have whet your appetite and that you’ll share your thoughts once you’ve read the book.