A successful organization is not the one that consumes its employees in order to propel its mission. Rather, according to authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, a successful organization is one that is proactive in providing meaning for its employees. The authors assert that the most significant cause of work burnout “is not work overload but working too long without experiencing your own personal development.” Thus, Kegan and Laskow Lahey argue for becoming deliberately developmental organizations (DDO). In their view, DDOs succeed because they are aligned with people’s strongest motive: to grow.
The authors are quick to define “development” not as a personal development program for a select group of leaders nor an increase in the size of the employee’s responsibilities and position. Instead, the term is applied to the commitment of the organization to the ongoing formation of every employee who inhabits their careers. Accordingly, an ‘everyone culture’ treats all of its employees as high-value, high-potential works-in-progress that are in the process of formation every moment of every day.
According to their research, the authors reveal that in ordinary organizations, “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.” Naturally, this “second job” exposes lack of trust, reduces innovation, and ultimately diminishes the impact of the organization. Further, it generates a perception that decision-making power and perceived value are located within an upper-echelon of leadership. Likening their experience of being cogs in a machine, these employees see an internal promotion or company change as their only chance for personal development.
According to Kegan and Laskow Lahey, it doesn’t have to be this way.
In conversation with three companies that the authors have identified as Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDO), they surface three core characteristics of the DDO: Edge, Home, and Groove. They define Edge as the development aspirations of the individual and organization; Home as the community of safe vulnerability in which the development occurs; and Groove as the set of developmental practices that individuals and organizations are committed to. With four practices attached to each of the three characteristics, the authors intend to communicate that business growth and human growth enable each other.
I and the organization that I serve are beginning the new year in a moment of staff transition that is both surprising and unwanted. We were poised to enter 2021 with refined vision, renewed strategy, and a unified team only to discover that one of our cherished and most integral teammates would be transitioning away from Global Immersion and into her next season. As I’ve placed some of the key learnings from this recent transition into conversation with An Everyone Culture, I’ve recognized that while we prioritize evolution, evaluation, and empowerment, we fall short of a deliberately developmental culture.
This is most notable in two categories: accountability and assumptions.
With regard to accountability, the individuals and the organization both set lofty and specific, time-sensitive goals. We empower the individuals on the team to work, delegate, and collaborate in order to achieve those goals, and they/we often do. In the aftermath of achieving (or not) the goal, we’re tenaciously evaluative with regard to how it went and how we did as a team. We explore the ways in which the success or failure of the goal invites us to evolve as an organization. We utilize the learnings from what just occurred in order to inform new hunches and pivot our future goals. We work to understand what personal and organizational assets and deficiencies contributed to the success or not of the goal. What we don’t do is create an environment of mutual accountability the permeates the entire process such that we can, in real-time, harvest the learnings that take place in the individuals and the organization. In our approach to evolution, evaluation, and empowerment the scale that holds mission and the employees in tension is perceived as tipping toward mission.
With regard to assumptions, our genesis nearly a decade ago emerged out of the primordial soup of challenged assumptions. The ‘challenge’ was a portion of the high-octane fuel for the innovation that marked our message and work. As I reflect on this process of staff transition in conversation with An Everyone Culture, I recognize and am grateful for the ways in which our teammate was challenging assumptions about herself, us, and the organization. I recognize that challenging assumptions about ourselves, one another, and our work is essential to the sustainability and impact of our team and our work. This practice has diminished as the organization has aged.
So, while I’m proud to be a part of a deliberately evolving, evaluative, empowering organization (D3EO), I can see the gap between being a D3EO and becoming a DDO and am inspired to take this journey. Remaining agile, teachable, and innovative in this era of perpetual uncertainty demands that we do.
 Kegan & Laskow Lahey, 2.
 Ibid., 2.