How workplaces can build success by unlocking the potential of every employee
Many workplaces claim to be committed to fostering the personal growth of their employees. But few are deliberately organized to put employee growth at the very center of their mission. After all, when was the last time you worked somewhere that asked you to talk several times a day about your progress on personal-improvement goals, to undergo a formal review in front of colleagues (who discuss your performance with total candor), or to recognize that longtime leaders may be demoted by their peers at any time?
It may sound shocking. But imagine if, at the same time, your colleagues were excited to celebrate your personal accomplishments, your supervisor was eager to make your development one of her top priorities, your organization's leaders prioritized trust and held themselves to the same standards as others, and that everyone in your workplace was fully committed to the success of both the company and each other?
Organizations that engage in practices like these — called “deliberately developmental” in a new book exploring the topic — have embraced the “simple but radical” conviction that they will thrive only if and when every one of their employees does.
And as the authors of An Everyone Culture found, these companies appear to have charted a new and distinctive path to success, one that lays out a new definition of what it means to be at work. In the process, they broaden the notion of a “learning organization,” making the case that any workplace — including, but not limited to, schools — can be a site of deep learning and personal growth.
The benefits for the three deliberately developmental organizations (DDOs) the book profiles are staggering: increased profitability, improved employee retention, better communication, reductions in employee downtime, less interdepartmental strife, and faster solutions to tough problems, such as how to anticipate crises, create valuable leadership, and realize future possibilities — to name a few.
These companies offer a model for the rest of us — for organizations and schools seeking to grow, for leaders wanting to make a cultural change, and even for individual employees who may feel stuck, say Lisa Laskow Lahey and Robert Kegan, who wrote An Everyone Culture with fellow Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty Matthew L. Miller and Deborah Helsing and with organizational consultant Andy Fleming.
It turns out, says Lahey in a recent EdCast interview, that “when you support people’s development, it allows the organization to better and better deliver on its mission.” When employees overcome their barriers to success — facing their vulnerabilities and offering support in kind — organizations clear hurdles, too.
Five Qualities that Make a DDO
In their analysis of these DDOs, the authors demonstrate to other organizations how they, too, can maximize their outcomes by helping employees overcome personal challenges and amplify their potential.
A key finding: Development does not happen on its own. Engrained practices — or specific routines that emphasize growth in every aspect of the workday — are key to ensuring that employees will keep growing.
What types of practices encourage growth?
- Practices that shed light on internal struggles. The DDOs the researchers studied all invited employees to share challenges and goals that, typically, might be considered irrelevant to a professional environment. By helping workers overcome internal or personal struggles, the organizations helped them address longstanding limitations in the way they approached their work.
- Practices that connect professional and personal work. This same focus on surmounting personal challenges was not a separate part of the work day, but integrated throughout. For instance, rather than host an annual session on how to receive feedback, the organizations made feedback and coaching a fundamental part of every meeting.
- Practices that shift the focus from outcomes to the processes generating those outcomes. All three DDOs were less concerned with correcting an unhelpful behavior than they were with changing the mindset that created that behavior. This perspective helped emphasize the importance of achieving long-term goals above short-term ones.
- Practices that give employees a common language. Each organization wound up with its own “language” used to describe its many practices and norms. While perhaps confusing to outsiders, these languages both built community within each workplace and helped further integrate the developmental practices into the workday.
- Practices that exist every day, at every level. Personal development was always an essential goal — for entry-level new hires and for the most senior leaders alike, in meetings and on individual assignments, every day of the week.
- Learn more about deliberately developmental organizations.
- Learn more about An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.
- Listen to an EdCast interview with Lisa Laskow Lahey about An Everyone Culture.
- Read more about how individual change can push organizational growth.
Get Usable Knowledge — Delivered
Our free monthly newsletter sends you tips, tools, and ideas from research and practice leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sign up now.