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An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

Authors: Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Publisher: Harvard Business School Press | 2016 | 336 pages


As the subtitle of this book reveals, the authors' intent is ambitious: charting a working model on how an organization may position itself as "extra" people developmental. The authors ask, "What if a company did everything in its power to create a culture in which everyone--not just select 'high potentials'--could overcome their own internal barriers to change and use errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth?" The answer lies in becoming a deliberately developmental organization (DDO).

Like many books of this genre, the starting point is observation. The authors, specialists in learning and development, studied three "excellent" companies, well-known and highly respected in their respective sectors: Bridgewater (hedge fund management), Next Jump (software development) and Decurion (movie theaters, exhibition spaces, real estate).

The book is an attempt to decipher their success secrets. All three companies take a highly unconventional view about personal development and put it at the center of their raison d'etre as businesses. Their company philosophies each reflect this. "Striving to be excellent by being radically truthful and transparent" ( company.aspx). "Take care of your people and they will take care of the business" ( "Decurion's purpose is to provide places for people to flourish" (

Each company has its own idiosyncratic approach, philosophy, and modus operandi, but the principles are generic: creating a culture that engages each and everyone in the company with personal and communal learning and development. At Bridgewater, their notion of radical transparency means that all communications are recorded (there are no private conversations allowed), everyone rates everyone else continuously and can be "proved" (that is: challenged), and one is obliged to record their negative experiences at work in order to share them and ameliorate them, as "pain + reflection = progress" is the company's mantra. One of the four Decurion axioms is that "people are not only means but also ends in themselves... We feel that reducing people to a role in a process dehumanizes them. While honoring the roles they play, we approach people as fellow human beings, as ends in themselves." Next Jump's battle cry is "better me + better you = better us," emphasizing care, support, and mentoring. Fifty percent of salary review in the company is assessed on contributions to the company's culture. In all three companies, the emphasis is engaging the process of working rather than its contents.

The paths that led these companies to create their unique environment are varied: from being well-versed with current progressive management thinking (Decurion) to one based entirely on the founder's own life experience (Bridgewater). The theoretical premise these companies base their approach on is anchored, reason the authors, on mounting evidence that our brain does not stop developing as we reach maturity, but rather continues to do so throughout our lifetimes.

Hence, by being offered and challenged to learn, we not only expand our marketable skills but more fully become "human" in the sense of fulfilling our potential as Homo sapiens. In practice, that is enabled through synchronizing three working assumptions: that adults can grow by learning from their errors and by challenging their weaknesses (developmental aspirations), that everyone is vulnerable and by recognizing that, mutual support for learning and development can be entrusted (developmental communities), and that bringing the whole self to the workplace is a must, or in the words of the authors, "the interior life is part of what is manageable" (developmental practices).

The narrative of the book is inspiring, the testimonies exhilarating, and the companies' achievements speak for themselves. The endorsements provided by the likes of Peter Senge, Edgar Schein, and Gary Hamel are highly complimentary. The practitioner in me says, '"wow." The academic in me would like to see a more rounded assessment and to hear about the dark side: age profiles (is this a youth culture?), turnover (what happens to those expelled from "Paradise"?), the tyranny of peer pressure to conform. There is an overt, unapologetic, evangelical streak to these organizations. All have their own company speak and routinized rituals which are compulsory to engage in daily. Bridgewater has a 123-page "bible," written by its founder (of course), which contains his credo, and company employees are expected to know it inside out. At Next Jump, the monthly "10X" all-hands staff meeting, where everyone is giving and getting feedback on their contribution to the company, is not unlike an AA confessional. Decurion's fishbowl team dynamics are not for the faint-hearted.

The three companies are privately owned, medium size (in American terms) family businesses, with charismatic leaders-founders. In themselves, these are limiting generalizable factors. DDOs may not be everybody's cup of tea, but this book gives you an idea of the taste--after all, that's the most it can do. Go ahead and take a sip.

Reviewer: Yochanan Altman, Ph.D.
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Author:Altman, Yochanan
Publication:People & Strategy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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