Is Your Company a Deliberately Developmental Organization?

You want your company to become a world-class leader in its niche, and you’re more than likely familiar with the well-weathered notion of your company’s greatest asset – it’s people. When you first entered the field of talent management or human resources, did you have a vision for how to do things differently? Did you have a desire to really make a difference in how companies go about recruiting and then retaining employees? If you’re like many in the field, that original passion has likely been tempered with the day-to-day grind of getting through your work. But as we approach the close of 2016, maybe it’s time to rekindle that original passion you had. I believe one of the best ways to do that is to envision your company as what is being called a deliberately developmental organization or DDO.

People say it all the time – your greatest corporate asset is your people, your employees – the people who must all work together to fulfill a the common goals, objectives, mission and vision of your company. Many companies think they are living this out when in reality they are missing the mark, and missing it by a wide margin. Authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey asked themselves what a company would look like if it truly and seriously took that to heart? They determined that such a company would be relentlessly focused on growing the capabilities of everyone in the business, including personal development. The company would do everything it possibly could to establish an environment in which people could recognize and rise above their blind spots, overcome their challenges and learn to embrace change, to see and seize opportunities for growth within every mistake or perceived weakness. That’s what it would take to be a deliberately developmental organization. Note the key point here is a commitment to grow all your people. Most businesses are committed to helping some of their people grow – the ones they’ve identified as “high-potential.” But that’s not good enough for a DDO.

Kegan and Lahey then went looking for DDOs, as described in their book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. It does hinge on accepting their premise that what everyone most wants is to grow. If that’s true, then the businesses that are going to do best are those that aligned with that deepest motivation. And while leadership development, executive coaching, and annual retreats are all important components of that effort, they are also only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to doing the work of becoming and being a DDO. People development has to be woven throughout the company culture in every waking moment. The book describes three companies that seem to qualify: Bridgewater Associates (hedge fund investing), The Decurion Corporation (entertainment and real estate), and Next Jump (eCommerce).

There’s no simple prescription for what to do to become a DDO beyond this broad ideas of making people growth your company’s number on priority. It can look really different from company to company, but there are some common elements. It means taking your company’s principles, practices, and community (structure) and retooling all three to be in deep alignment with individual development throughout the business. In this approach, employee development is not the same as mere career development. The DDO goes beyond career development to include personal growth in its development culture.

Another surprising feature is the level of intentional vulnerability. Whereas in most corporate settings people spend significant amounts of time trying to hide or cover up their weaknesses, in the DDO you purposefully surface them and work on them as your “growing edge.” The point is to overcome the weaknesses rather than wasting time and energy constantly trying to avoid them. In other words every mistake, every weakness, is an opportunity to grow and become stronger, and you can’t do that unless they are brought out into the light and dealt with in a supportive but accountable atmosphere.

The DDO is a unique concept that may seem overwhelming and unrealistic at first, but makes an increasing amount of sense as you get deeper into it – especially for talent management and HR professionals.

January 3, 2017   Updated :January 24, 2017   DDO, deliberately developmental organization, Lisa Lahey, Robert Kegan   

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