Harvard professors detail groundbreaking mental and emotional approaches to work at cutting-edge corporations.
The companies that Harvard faculty members Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey label “deliberately developmental organizations” (DDOs) merge revenue building with helping the members of their workforce evolve as people. Kegan and Lahey’s thesis is that many people – like the authors and, perhaps, you, too – waste time and energy avoiding their own weaknesses, insecurities and limitations. The authors believe DDO practices help executives, managers and employees escape dysfunctional denial and boost performance.
Kegan and Lahey’s case studies illustrate how DDOs foster self-development, employee satisfaction and success. Their innovative insights and techniques will inspire open-minded entrepreneurs, senior leaders, heads of HR and managers – though they may unnerve people accustomed to more emotional privacy at work. The authors have the professional credentials to back up their methodology. Robert Kegan, PhD, is a professor of adult learning and professional development at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education where Lisa Laskow Lahey, PhD, is a doctoral program director.
“Deliberately Developmental Organizations”
The authors argue that most people waste time, energy and emotions on their “second job”: dodging flaws they perceive in themselves and hiding their insecurities, skill deficiencies, office political woes and other concerns. But, the authors contend, you can find job satisfaction, develop yourself and your organization, and overcome fears and self-imposed limits. Of course, every self-help book makes these promises, but the authors offer unusual intelligence, compassion and insight.
The authors celebrate DDOs as progressive organizations that incorporate human development into business development. Kegan and Lahey explain that these organizations apply scientific knowledge about human growth, offer personal growth opportunities, and entwine nourishing corporate and employee policies. The authors find that firms that maximize their “organizational potential” enjoy greater profits, stronger retention, improved accountability, and faster detection and correction of mistakes than non-DDO firms.
The authors use the company Next Jump as a case study. Its yearly sales revenues number in the billions of dollars. At interviews, candidates undergo monitoring and observation. On their first day, new hires receive feedback on improvement. They attend “Personal Leadership Boot Camp” (PLBC), work in customer service and receive more feedback. Those deemed unworthy can take a $5,000 buyout or repeat boot camp.
Being a deliberately developmental organization is not only a contributor to, but also the cause of, these companies’ success.Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
Next Jump describes its culture as “Better Me” plus “Better You” equals “Better Us.” Despite the authors’ boosterism, some readers maybe find Next Jump’s methods evocative of the military, for example, the US Marines or even certain cults in which newcomers are spiritually and psychologically broken down and then built up in accordance with the organization’s image. The DDOs that the authors cite operate at the frontier of psychological intrusiveness in pursuit of company coherence and profit. Readers may find this seductive or abhorrent or, indeed, both.
Decurion owns the ArcLight cinema multiplexes, whose revenues grew 72% to $81 million between 2009 and 2013.
Each deliberately developmental organization has its own distinctive culture…routines and practices for getting work done, a unique language and shared deep assumptions about how…problems can get solved and what is valued.Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
The authors list Decurion’s four core tenets: “Work is meaningful”; people are both “a means and an end”; “individuals and communities naturally develop”; and the search for profit and for human growth are inextricably combined.
At meetings at Decurion, the authors chronicle, participants “check-in” by sharing their emotional state, work progress or news from their personal lives that affect their work consciousness. Though the authors never characterize it as such, here the company vests in New Age practices demanding an unusual level of co-worker emotional intimacy. Meetings end with a “check-out,” when members talk about how the meeting made them feel.
Unintentionally furthering images of tight clans or cults, Kegan and Lahey detail how Decurion resolves problems in a “fishbowl.” Four senior people involved in any issue sit in a circle with their colleagues in a circle around them. All share their thoughts, while, the authors make clear, being aware of “limiting behaviors and the underlying mind-sets” that might fuel misunderstandings.
The authors explain Decurion’s policy of “giving your job away” – sharing knowledge instead of hoarding it to consolidate personal power. If Decurion can really prevent employees from hoarding thusly, it is an unusual company, indeed.
Bridgewater Associates oversees hedge fund investments of roughly $165 billion while employing some 1,500 people. Kegan and Lahey note that, in 2012, The Economist reported that Bridgewater had earned more for its clients than any other hedge fund, ever. From 2009 through 2011, one fund produced a 34% return. The authors sought the source of such mind-boggling numbers.
There is no greater waste of resources in ordinary organizations than the energy spent to hide our weaknesses and manage others’ favorable impressions of us.Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
They discovered that Bridgewater prides itself on learning the truth about its people’s limitations and helping them grow. The authors present Bridgewater’s problem-solving process, which seems similar to any other mindful firm’s methods. Bridgewater, the authors disclose, helps employees identify gaps in their thinking and the thinking of others. This process, Kegan and Lahey concede, can be emotionally ruthless.
The authors discuss some 200 principles that define Bridgewater’s corporate culture. The categories that organize these precepts reflect major themes, such as being honest, linking cause and effect, pursuing the complete correct answer to questions, and the like. Again, these don’t seem all that revolutionary, but, when combined, they seem to fuel Bridgewater’s astonishing success.
The authors make clear that these firms’ employees love them and their respective corporate cultures. Kegan and Lahey present every corporate foible as a harbinger of a positive approach to business, and they prove mostly convincing. You may finish their report and race to get your resume to these companies. Or you may start searching for a way to dodge an oncoming wave of corporate mental rewiring of their employees’ ideas about privacy, autonomy and separation of their personal lives from their work.