What I’m Reading – An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation

What is the ‘new income’ in the world of work today? According to the authors of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation, it is personal satisfaction, meaningfulness and happiness.

The latest book of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey argues that culture can make work meaningful even if the business enterprise itself is not meaningful, and that it is both a business imperative and a moral responsibility for organisations to create a culture of development for everyone – hence the title of their book. They claim that research suggests that the single greatest cause of burnout is not work overload, but ‘working too long without experiencing personal development’ and they define development as ‘becoming a better version of oneself’.

One of the most engaging case studies in the book is of Bridgewater, the most successful investment management company in the world (and for whom James Comey worked for a period!), whose CEO says “we do not think of our culture as a ‘contributor’ to business success; we do not think of it as a ‘factor’. We think of it literally as the cause of our success. We think of the culture as itself our business strategy.”

Are you guilty of having a second job at work? This second job, according to Kegan and Lahey, is spending time and energy covering up weaknesses and managing other people’s impressions – showing (our)selves to the best advantage, playing politics, hiding inadequacies, uncertainties and limitations. And the other pandemic dynamic of organisational life? The “widespread, corrosive, trust-destroying practice of speaking negatively about Co-workers behind their backs.” People, they argue “waste time looking good, and they waste time making others look bad”.

How does an organisation create a culture in which people are encouraged to speak frankly on matters of importance, to draw attention to and deal with corrosive dynamics?? They argue in the book that on a one-to-ten scale, the average score for frank conversations is about 6 – a “pathetic” score they say. Providing a striking analogy, they ask the reader to imagine “your doctor, solicitor, telling you just 60% of what you need to know”. In our work in Adaptive Leadership, we also know how hard this is.

As An Everyone Culture claims, Deliberately Developmental Organisations value disturbances and are designed to preserve them at an optimal level – not overwhelmingly high but never down to zero.

At Adaptive Leadership Australia we recognise that deliberate intervention from a place of neutrality and compassion is a skill essential to develop at all levels. The conversations will continue to take place outside, the dynamics will deteriorate, and the culture will suffer if people are not practiced in diagnosing the dynamics and skilled in providing interventions that will surface the issues. This, we see, is the work of leadership and it is not vested solely in the person with the greatest formal authority. It is the work of all to exercise leadership in creating and upholding a culture in which everyone can thrive.

In contrast to the great buzzword of organisations in the middle of last century – Taylor’s ‘efficiency’ – Kegan and Lahey recast the current watchword for organisations as ‘development’. How refreshing is that?


What I’m reading: An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation – Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

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