By Pratap Nambiar for The Business Times

Embedding a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO) culture into the company may be the best way to face the future.

I WAS having a chat with one of Singapore’s leading chief executive officers (CEOs), when she asked me what legacy she needed to leave behind once she retired from her organisation. I thought long and hard and came up with this: “Create a unique growth culture that will stand the test of time; one that allows your people to continuously evolve and flourish to maximise their performance potential.”

The core message is that it is the building of a growth culture that will set the company apart and allow it to thrive and prosper long after the CEO has retired. That she would be remembered for sowing the seeds of this culture and allowing it to take root, thereby delivering sustainable competitive advantage for years to come. Culture itself has to be seen as a business strategy.

I recall a conversation I had with Robert Kegan at Harvard some years ago when he helped train me on his Immunity to Change coaching process. Do you realise, he asked, that in most organisations people have two jobs?

The first, of course, is their defined role, for which they are being paid. The second relates to what people do with their time at work. They spend most of it hiding their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves at their best advantage, preserving their status and power, playing politics, hiding their limitations, hiding their anxieties, weaknesses… hiding. Increasing their individual stock value while they are busy covering their backs.

This is a full-time job and costs the organisation millions of dollars that ambitious chief financial officers (CFOs) have no clue about, while they chase every dollar that can be squeezed out of the business that can help CEOs achieve their profit objectives.

Prof Kegan was referring to the need for developing a culture where people do not need to perform this second job. This was when he and his colleague Lisa Lahey were working on their new book about Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs). It was the first time that I had heard this term.

DEVELOPED STRUCTURE OF THE MIND

Later I had several opportunities to interact with Bryan Ungard, chief operating officer of Decurion Corporation in California, whose success Kegan had studied and referred to in the book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.

Prof Kegan and Ms Lahey had also studied the work of two other successful US

organisations – Bridgewater Associates led by Ray Dalio and Next Jump led by Charlie Kim, both of whom ardently believe in Prof Kegan’s axiom that adaptive challenges can only be met by people and organisations exceeding themselves.

Mr Dalio has since written about his operating principles and his book has sold over a million copies around the world. Embedding a DDO culture into the organisation may be the best possible means for its ability to meet adaptive challenges.

Two recent incidents come to mind. The first is the CFO of a multi-billion dollar company who refused to participate in any people developmental efforts of the CEO because it did not help him improve his technical competence in any way. In fact, he refused to even provide feedback to one of his senior colleagues who was interested in creating his profile based on 360 degree feedback because he felt it was a waste of time.

The second was the CEO of a large Japanese trading company who contacted me after developing scenarios based on how the China-United States trade war will potentially play out in the next few years. He wanted to work with his leadership team to help them prepare for a very different kind of world.

Two different minds, two different perspectives, two very different views of the world. One closed, steeped in arrogance and unable to appreciate the relevance of consciousness with its underpinnings of values, beliefs and assumptions, and how it can derail competencies. The other – a much more developed structure of mind, willing to invest and grow the complexity of thinking to be able to address the inner operating system and overcome adaptive challenges and the ever-increasing complexity of doing business. It is a structure of mind that will drive superior performance.

THE ADULT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

Adult development is a continuous phenomenon; we just cannot stop growing our mind. Who is going to take responsibility for becoming a better version of ourselves? Some leaders do so on their own and work with the help of a coach; some also invest in their top leadership, or the high potentials, but rarely do we see the CEO taking responsibility for embedding a deliberately developmental culture throughout the organisation. The single biggest impact in terms of mental development happens in the work place where people spend so much of their waking hours.

Unfortunately, the workplace mostly addresses horizontal development with an emphasis on technical competence rather than vertical development evolving from a reactive socialised structure of mind to a self-authoring creative structure and finally a self-transforming integral structure.

People develop vertically through a series of developmental stages characterised by a distinct set of beliefs, assumptions, and values. Vertical development means shifting and evolving our mindsets, behaviours, worldviews, and expanding our capacities to engage with more complexity. Our assumptions, as Prof Kegan says, are the mother of all our actions.

AN EVERYONE CULTURE

Mr Ungard has always maintained that it is necessary to overturn the assumption that work is public and the personal is private, and so the personal should not be part of work. We bring our whole selves to work every day: “Wherever you go, there you are”.

The core assumption of a DDO is that pursuing profitability and human growth is one and the same. A better me with a better you equals a better us. People development has to be hardwired to the bottom line. There is as much interest in how the profit motive is a spur to development as there is in how development is a spur to profit. So it is not enough to see how much I have changed, but to also get rewarded by how much I have been instrumental in helping my colleagues become a better version of themselves. Organisations develop much as people do: they move through successive stages of development by increasing their capacity to deal with greater complexity, deepen their understanding, and making wiser choices.

The vertical development of organisations requires methods, processes, practices, and structures that are consistent with individual development. It really does not need anything that has to be done as an “extra” over and above what the work requires. A nurturing environment with a continuous process of providing support and encouragement devoid of the anxiety of failure will enable the knitting of development into the process of work itself.

The potential offered by DDOs is enormous. Baking a coaching culture, a growth culture, an every-one culture where everybody works to fulfill their potential and transform themselves from caterpillars to butterflies, is what will enable organisations to thrive and prosper in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world.

In the words of ex-General Electric leader Jack Welch: “Great strategies don’t lead to great performance. It is the flawless execution of strategies built around the organisation’s culture that drives results year after year.”

Combining care (support) and candour (challenge), as Prof Kegan says, by investing in transforming the process of how individuals grow and flourish, allows businesses to go through evolutionary leaps as people achieve greater meaning from work, become more motivated, powerful and free.

Pratap Nambiar is the founder and chairman of Thought Perfect (Singapore), dedicated to coaching CEOs and senior leaders transform themselves for better performance. 

This article was originally published in The Business Times on July 13, 2019.

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