Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey had me sold in the opening paragraph of, 'An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization':
“In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and nonprofits, and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.”
Then in case the reader missed the importance of this Kegan and Laskow Lahey follow with, “We regard this as the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.”
But what follows is not academics pontificating on what is wrong with organisations to create this but a highly informative, evidence-based and fascinating study of 3 American organisations that have opted to do things differently. Importantly, identifying the key features that these organisations have that create the qualitative difference. The case for transforming the place of people development within organisations is strengthened by the varied nature of the organisations forming the study: entertainment and real estate; e-commerce; and hedge-fund investing.
Kegan and Laskow Lahey identify a dynamic system within each of these organisations that places development at the core of the business, not as an ancillary agenda. A common system described through its depth (home), breadth (groove) and height (edge) and the 12 ‘discontinuous departures’, or elements, evident within each organisation while operating in very different and individual ways. The system working as a whole to create an immersive focus on people development through taking risks to overcome personal limitations, within trustworthy communities and grounded in regular practices and routines.
While it’s the individual stories and case studies that make this book engaging and exciting there is a rigorous evidence base for the benefits of the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (DDO) approach carried throughout the book – these 3 organisations are successful and sustainable businesses, and in their own words this is because, not in spite of their attention to people development. They experience:
Increases in profitability, improved employee retention, greater speed to promotability, greater frankness in communication, better error detection in operational and strategic design, more effective delegation, and enhanced accountability.
Reductions in cost structures, political manoeuvring, interdepartmental strife, employee downtime, and disengagement.
Solutions to seemingly intractable problems, such as: how to convert the familiar team of leaders into the more valuable, but elusive, leadership team.
The whole work is brilliantly powerful and important. Personally, I am particularly interested in the strong ideas around openly learning from failure, weaknesses and mistakes; learning from one’s mistakes described by at least one of the featured CEOs as a “job requirement”. I am looking forward to thinking further in 2017 about the ideas of this work, in relation to collaborative working and those both within and working outside of organisations, the potential I think is best summed up by the authors,
“What if a company did everything within its power to create the conditions for individuals to overcome their own internal barriers to change, to take stock of and transcend their own blind spots, and to see errors and weaknesses as prime opportunities for personal growth? What would it look like to “do work” in a way that enabled organizations and their employees to be partners in each other’s flourishing?”