Developing Everyone in the Company
The culture of Next Jump, an e-commerce tech company, is summarized in a catchy phrase: Better Me + Better You = Better Us. In other words, if I grow, develop and become more successful, and if I help you grow, develop and become more successful, then the entire organization becomes more successful (i.e., more profitable). Next Jump put some real weight behind the words through the structure of its compensation, which is 50/50: 50 percent of your pay depends on how you impacted revenues, and 50 percent depends on how you implemented the Better Me + Better You = Better Us culture.
Next Jump is one of three companies whose practices and philosophies are at the heart of An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. (The other two featured companies are hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and movie theater conglomerate Decurion Corporation.) Kegan and Lahey call these companies Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs). The core philosophy of a DDO is that a company’s success depends on everyone in the company having an opportunity to grow. For a DDO, development is not one of the features of the company. Deliberate development is the engine that drives the company forward, as vital and irreplaceable as the engine of an automobile.
Edge, Home and Groove
There is no dearth of volumes describing the importance of putting your people first. And having presented its argument that developing people is the single most important function of a business, An Everyone Culture could easily tumble into a series of intuitive but motivating how-to’s, which would probably include a chapter on listening with empathy. However, Kegan and Lahey are scientists, and building on their research on adult development, they have created a robust model for organization-wide development that incorporates three dimensions:
Aspiration. DDOs have a culture that relentlessly pushes people to grow, not only as employees but also as people. The authors call this the edge.
Communities. People must not only want to grow but must be enabled to grow, and that requires safe, trustworthy communities. The authors call this home.
Practices. The final dimension incorporates the actual development practices and routines of the organization. The authors call this the groove.
Implementing these three dimensions requires a series of “discontinuous departures” — principles, practices and structures that represent a true departure from business as usual. A total of 12 discontinuous departures animate the DDO framework.
The first discontinuous departure for the aspirational edge, for example, is that adults can grow. As noted above, development and growing in the context of this book is not about becoming better at your job but growing as a human being. Next Jump successfully applies this aspiration through its 50/50 compensation plan — a discontinuous departure that translates a nice sentiment into a concrete process.
One of the discontinuous departures that creates safe communities is the explicit attitude that rank does not have its usual privileges. In a first-person sidebar, an executive at Bridgewater describes being asked by a 25-year-old employee to explain an “illogical” statement the executive made at a meeting. The executive, a former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, was astounded at the young upstart’s gumption, then remembered “I’m at Bridgewater.”
Many books focus in whole or in part on the importance of developing people. However, the depth and breadth of An Everyone Culture is unsurpassed. Kegan and Lahey have been collaborators for 30 years — a partnership for which businesses and organizations everywhere will be grateful.
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