This book is by two Harvard organizational psychologists who go out in the field to research what they call Deliberately Developmental Organizations – or DDOs. These are companies that invest much more time and energy in their people’s development than most companies. It is also their central focus every day. DDOs do this because they know that it is essential for the people and the company to grow. Focus on development is what has created their success.
There is no tension between investing in the growth of their people and being profitable. It is one and the same thing for these companies. “Decurion’s Christopher Forman says “We do not see a trade-off, and the moment we consider sacrificing one for the other, we recognize that we have lost both.”
Better Me + Better You = Better UsRobert Kagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
Each of the companies used as examples in the book is a deliberate system that is all about growing people. Because the company focuses on this, as a consequence it also does extremely well.
If you ask someone in one of these companies whether they focus on the development of their people because it is the right thing to do or because they believe it is the best thing for the organization, people will look at you funny because for them it is a non-question. It’s both/and. The two go inextricably together.
There are engaging stories told about each of the companies in the book. I encourage you to read them. Each of the companies has unique ways in which it goes about consciously and deliberately engendering the development of everyone who works there. Even the leaders are not exempt from the process they have set up.
The company’s other primary commitment—to radical transparency—goes much deeper than the glass office walls. Every meeting is recorded, and (unless proprietary client information is discussed) every recording is available to every member of the organization. Each office and meeting room is equipped with audio recording technology. For example, if your boss and your boss’s boss are discussing your performance and you weren’t invited to the meeting, the recording is available for you to review. And you don’t have to scour every audio file to find out whether you were the subject of a closed-door conversation. If your name came up, you’re likely to be given a heads-up, just so that you will review the file. In effect, there is no such thing as a closed-door conversation; everything is part of a “historical record of what is true.Robert Kagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
Most of us are familiar with the concept of child development. We know that children grow in capabilities. At one point, kids like to play Peek a Boo. It is because they have recently discovered what Piaget called “Object Permanence.” Before this stage, things are just there sometimes and not there other times. When our brains figure out that the thing is now somewhere else but still exists, that’s object permanence. We take great delight in covering our eyes and everything is gone and then uncovering our eyes and it is still there! How exciting!
Adults can grow. Around the age of 25 our frontal cortex is nicely formed. The wiring of this part of our brains begins in our teenage years and takes until our early 20’s. Our brains develop so slowly precisely so that they can be wired for our particular societal norms. That’s an evolutionary adaptation for creatures living in complex societies. During these years we are being socialized into our culture’s environment by parents, friends, and teachers. This results in what Keagan and Lahey call the Socialized Mind. This is the young person who may have just started working in their first job. They are working out what is expected of them and how to fit in. Keagan and Lahey describe this using the terms: “Team Player, Faithful Follower, Aligning, Seeks Direction, Reliant”.
The next level that most of us get to is the self-authoring mind. At this level we become more conscious, we wake up and realize that we have been socialized into our world view and it is not really our own. Sometimes this starts to happen when people are in their 40’s as a midlife crisis which gives us a kick. We go on a hero’s journey to discover meaning and purpose and create our own view of reality. This is called the Self Authoring Mind. This is a journey to discover our own one best way to understand the world. We use this perspective to change our environment. These are the terms used to describe this stage: “Agenda driven, learns to lead, has their own compass, own framework, problem-solving, independent.” While having your own compass and framework is better than being unconscious of the societal framework you were living in it can be limiting. It can be hard for people at this stage to hear information contrary to their personally developed worldview.
A very few of us get to the stage Kegan and Lahey call the Self Transforming Mind. At this stage the person becomes aware of the many many other frameworks out in the world and that many of them are more complete and may work as well or better. They begin to shrug off the limitations of their own self-authored framework and explore these other frameworks. This is a journey to discover many best ways. They use a framework to examine the other world views and continuously recreate their own framework to better reflect what they are learning. This stage is described in these terms: “Meta Leader, leads to learn, multi-frame, holds contradictions, problem-finding, interdependent.”
If you are fluent in Conscious Capitalism, you will have heard that an organization can’t progress beyond the consciousness level of its leader. The three levels above show how true this is. I am going to exaggerate the descriptions below just a bit to make it clearer. In reality, it is usually not so black and white.
At the level of the socialized mind a company leader may be just doing what they were taught in business school or as part of an MBA program. They are following the social norms for running a business checking off all the boxes on the ‘how to run a successful business list’ that they were taught. If a person is at a supervisory or manager level they will be acting just like their first manager or supervisor did. That is the model they are following.
Hopefully at some point they wake up. Maybe it is a midlife crisis. They get to their 40’s and they ask, is this all there is? Is making money what it is all about? Maybe they have been treating their people like they are just a resource and they have a conversion experience where they realize that each of these people is someone’s precious child. Just like their own son or daughter. They begin to rethink what they were taught and they “Self Author” their own world view based on their own values. Their company begins to run much better. More people are engaged in their work. The company has discovered values and possibly even a purpose beyond profit.
As time goes by some leaders who are now comfortable in their Self Authored world view become confident enough to feel safe (and even excited by) exploring alternative views. They realize that their Self Authored view, their secret sauce, that gave them success is now probably holding them and their companies back. They realize that the world is a lot more complex than they once thought. They realize that they must begin continually trying new things. They find joy in exploring possibilities and encourage others in their organization to do so also. They go way beyond their once-accepted way of doing work. They encourage others in their organization to lead from wherever they are and explore their own leadership views. They seek to continually recreate a framework that can be used to understand the other frameworks. Their own drive comes from a deep desire to learn and they want everyone else in their companies to be learning and growing also. Ultimately, they understand that all of these realities are our own creations, and therefore we are free to create new, more beautiful ones for people to enjoy.
Keagan and Lahey do share evidence to suggest that the higher the level of development of the company leader (and therefore others in the company), the better the company’s performance will tend to be.
Of course, this book is just another framework with which to look at ourselves, our businesses, and the world. I think it is a useful one. It certainly rings true to me as a person who loves learning new ideas and seeing how they fit together with my current understanding.
Also, it seems that many of us are operating at one level in one area of our lives and at a different level in a different area of our lives. It could be more a matter of how much of the time we spend thinking at a particular level. For me, this indicates that it may not be so much a stage of development (like Piaget’s object permanence) but a subjective worldview that is holding us back, particularly in our work lives.
If you would like to listen to a podcast on a similar vein I would suggest the Conscious Capitalist podcasts https://www.theconsciouscapitalists.com/ especially #24 Values and Consciousness with Richard Barrett and #26 Leaders get the Organizations they deserve which explores the journey to Conscious Leadership.
Cheers for Friday,
Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter