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June 2016


An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016)


What are the big take-aways?


The bottom-line message, and the biggest idea the book offers, is that – in most organizations, everywhere – there is a huge and unnecessary waste of time, energy and human potential that results from a pervasive but totally avoidable dynamic.  The authors refer to it as each employee doing a “second job” (p. 1):


In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for.  In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and nonprofits, and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.  Hiding.


Sound familiar?  If it does, there is nothing abnormal about you or your organization.  However, Kegan and Lahey would say that your organization could halt this massive, needless drain by becoming a “deliberately developmental organization” or DDO.  DDO’s build the best practices of human development into all of their systems, up and down and across the org chart, and embody an “everyone culture.”


Why do I like it?


I like this book in large part because of the clarity and comprehensiveness with which Kegan and Lahey offer case studies and individual profiles of real leaders in three DDO’s: a technology company called Next Jump, an entertainment company called The Decurion Corporation, and a financial services company called Bridgewater.  You have probably at least heard of one or two of them.  All three DDO’s are not only profitable, but – the authors cite intriguing evidence to conclude – they are profitable because they are DDO’s and do not separate the development of their people from the successful development of the business.


I also like the passion of the authors, although I was disappointed that they did not get into much of their own adult development theory – which was one of my original attractions to the book – and they even used some specific terms-of-art from Kegan’s model (e.g., the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind) without sufficient context.  That said, Kegan and Lahey did go into just the right amount of detail about how to apply the theory to the dynamics of personal and group change resistance, via powerful examples of their “immunity to change” mapping process in Chapter 6, “Uncovering Your Biggest Blind Spot.”


I do not see myself recommending this book to many of my clients right now.  The vast majority of sizeable organizations will want to see a lot more evidence, over a longer time period, that the enormous commitment – to systems-wide transparency and vulnerability and a number of other fairly radical business practices –required to even begin laying the groundwork for becoming a DDO is worth it.  However, on a personal note, I found the book useful in terms of thinking about how to “scale up” adult development beyond individuals and teams and organizations.  I am curious about how – for those of us who believe in, witness, consciously support, and study this expansion of capacity-for-complexity in our clients – we might be able to inspire widespread adoption of cultural habits that foster the collective growth of humans across entire regions, or industries, and nationally or even globally.  An Everyone Culture gave me a welcome glimpse of relevant strategies.


In what situations would this be useful?


While this book would be an inspiring call-to-action for the unusual leader at the extraordinary organization who is ready to begin thinking seriously about transforming to a DDO, realistically – until the case for DDO’s gets even stronger – the great value of An Everyone Culture to the general readership of business books is as a heads-up.  In fact, it’s a very important heads-up because (as regular readers of this blog know) I do think that adult development theory is the “wave of the future” for leadership.  Indeed the wave is already swelling beneath us!


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Comparing this book with another book that offers a very similar argument, Anderson and Adams’ Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Results (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library last February), An Everyone Culture is much more accessible but Mastering Leadership makes a more compelling business case.


Other great pairings include: Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux (Nelson Parker, 2014); Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger (Stanford University, 2012); and of course Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Press, 2009).


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