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"...most people at work...divert considerable energy every day to a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves." Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Andy Fleming, and Matthew Miller, "Making Business Personal"

Not only are these second jobs a tremendous waste of time and resources - they're a disgraceful waste of opportunity. What if employees didn't hide their weaknesses? What if they worked in a culture that used "inadequacies" as opportunities to enhance both personal development and bottom line results? The deliberatively developmental organization leverages learning. Not only does it "make business personal" - it gains a significant competitive advantage.

Prime Opportunities

Kegan, et al, coined the term "deliberatively developmental organizations" to describe companies that create cultures in which people "see their mistakes not as vulnerabilities but as prime opportunities for personal growth." Rather than failures, limitations are the "'growing edge,' the path to the next level of performance."

They acknowledge that it's neither comfortable nor easy - who wants to put their blunders or deficiencies on display? - but argue that seizing these opportunities results in more capable, successful, creative, resilient, and flexible employees.

Through extensive research, the authors of "Making Business Personal" identified best practices that can help any company cultivate a deliberatively developmental culture:

Getting To the Other Side

Coming up against a mistake, weakness, or limitation can trigger a fight-or-flight response. In developmental organizations, employees are encouraged to do neither! Instead, they implement a root-cause analysis.

At Bridgewater, a global investment company, for example, when an employee makes an error, they analyze data, decision criteria, and the steps taken. But they go further: "What is it about how you - the responsible party and shaper of this process-were thinking that might have led to an inadequate decision?"

Bridgewater employees have access to tools designed to help them view errors as opportunities. The company-wide "Issues Log," for instance, is a record of mistakes and how they were made. Here, making a mistake isn't the problem - failing to log your mistake is.

When your team can "get to the other side" of defensiveness, you can begin using errors as springboards for growth and change.

Closing the Gaps

Are there discrepancies between what you say and what you do? Who you are at home and who you are at work? "Ordinarily, in an effort to protect ourselves, we allow gaps to form." We need to close these gaps to achieve optimal results.

At Decurion, another company highlighted in the "Making Business Personal" study, they use a "fishbowl conversation" to help do this. Several people sit in the middle of a circle of their colleagues, and they talk about issues or problems. During one conversation three employees discussed how they felt about a stalled project, identified personal triggers and blind spots, and then reached an agreement about how to proceed.

These conversations are routine at Decurion; they allow people to comfortably and safely close the gaps between what they say and do, and most importantly, between who they are and whom they think they need to be at work.

Constructive Destabilization

In deliberately developmental organizations like Bridgewater and Decurion, people are always "regularly, though manageably, in over their head." This is constructive destabilization; just past their comfort zones, people have to work through to achieve stabilization (and when they do, they're destabilized again by stretch assignments, new roles, or greater responsibilities).

Constructive destabilization facilitates continual growth and allows employees to explore - and excel in - different aspects of their jobs or within the organization at large.

Leading a Deliberately Developmental Organization

Both Bridgewater and Decurion are remarkably successful organizations, and their commitment to deliberate development is certainly a significant factor. How do you nurture such a culture in your own company?

Go First: You cannot expect your people to expose their vulnerabilities if you do not. Be fully prepared to make your own limitations public.

Be Patient: A culture of deliberate development doesn't form overnight. People need time to build trust and to feel safe in revealing their vulnerabilities and mistakes.

Continually Support the Culture: For most companies, this is a radically different way of approaching limitations and errors. Make the case for a deliberately developmental organization, defend it, and champion it continually.

Choose Your People Carefully: Select people who are willing and able to reflect on their personal and professional selves and explore their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Not everyone fits into a culture like this, but those who do will be more engaged and committed.

Build Relationships: A sustainable culture of continual learning and development depends on relationships. Foster connections and work to retain employees as they build trust and experience with deliberate development practices.

Remember, at the core of a deliberately developmental organization are accountability, transparency, and support. Without these pillars, the entire structure crumbles.

The reality is that, within your organization, most people are working harder at those "second jobs" than they are at their first jobs. Re-channel the effort, time, and resources this consumes to learning and growing. Your employees will flourish - and so will your bottom line.


Larry Hart

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