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On Deliberately Developmental Organizations

By Jill Anderson on April 1, 2014 4:36 PM

An article published in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review, coauthored by Ed School faculty members Professor Robert Kegan, Lecturer Lisa Lahey, and Lecturer Matthew Miller, and Andy Fleming, CEO of Way to Grow Inc., explores organizations that promote a culture where employees can develop and pay attention to their personal growth as part of their daily work environment. The article demonstrates the importance of education and adult development being incorporated into businesses.

“In past years, no one in the private sector thought to look to an education school for any reason other than to be of help [to them] — never to themselves get help. As business has come to better understand the importance of developing its people, it is recognizing this aspiration is essentially educational, that it needs to be a better ‘school,’  an incubator — not just a purchaser — of learning and talent,” says Kegan. “This demand on leading schools of education to spread more widely what they know about ‘learning’ is only going to increase through this century as more and more quarters of society recognize their continuing role in ‘teaching’ and the advancement of human development.”

The article -- "Making Business Personal" -- examines two businesses working as deliberately developmental organizations (DDO) where employees’ struggles are used as growth opportunities rather than inadequacies. The authors observe that in normal organizations “everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for” — namely, covering their weaknesses and managing others’ good impression of them.  In the organizations they studied they saw people working together, in meetings, in one-on-one sessions, and in the course of their everyday work, surfacing their weakness, and getting help to overcome them, so that both they and the organization get better.

The idea of the DDO can also be used in public education and the schools. Lahey, Kegan, and Miller hope school leaders will consider how the DDO can help teachers and administrators make leaps in their own capabilities – something needed to help turn around the education sector. Two current Ed.L.D. students, Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, are working on a pilot version of a DDO school in Philadelphia called Building 21.

"Creating and leading a Deliberately Developmental Organization requires a relentless passion for seeing and addressing the gap between good intentions and reality, between rhetoric and results. We say schools are intended to serve all students, and yet the reality is far from that, especially in our high schools,” Lahey says. “The leaders of Building 21, Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, have taken on the challenge of narrowing that gap. They are doing so by building a culture rich with developmental supports and demands in which everyone, including themselves, is expected to learn at high levels. Building 21 couldn’t be a more timely and essential experiment.”

Miller agrees. “In education, many of us find our greatest passion in supporting our students’ development. Building 21 is an inspiring example of seeing how development is important to the entire school community – students, teachers, founders, everyone – as a means of better meeting their commitment to kids, families, and communities,” he said. “We hope that more schools can become a context for the growth and further unfolding of all members of the school community.

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