Ilan Mochari Senior Writer for Inc, has a question. “Show of hands: Are you doing a second job no one is paying you to do? Namely, are you always trying to mask your weaknesses and manage others’ impressions of you?”
Your hand is likely in the air, if you work for an organization (like most) that doesn’t exactly make it easy for employees to admit when they need help–and when they are overwhelmed.
The goods news is that there’s apparently a solution to this seemingly universal employee-employer dilemma. In their forthcoming book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey take a deep dive into several companies where employees are expected to learn about their pain points–and promptly address them. The authors call these companies “deliberately developmental organizations,” or DDOs for short.
Here’s a list of techniques you can borrow from the DDOs to make your own culture one where employees are less abashed about admitting their shortcomings.
1. Incentivize contributions to culture. At Next Jump, a New York City-based e-commerce company that handles loyalty programs for Dell, AARP, Intel, and other large companies, contributions to company culture figure prominently in employee performance evaluations. Specifically, in the salary review process, an employee’s contributions to company culture are weighed at 50 percent. (The other 50 percent is an employee’s contributions to company revenue.)
2. Provide practice grounds for employees to work on their blind spots. How do employees contribute to Next Jump’s culture? Next Jump creates teams–called “follow-leader organizations” or FLOs–to implement cultural initiatives. Each team has a four-person leadership group, consisting of four roles: captain, coach, right hand, and left hand.
The captain heads up whatever cultural initiative the FLO is trying to implement. The coach is the person who most recently captained the same initiative. “Her job, above all else, is to coach the captain in leadership and provide feeback that will help the captain develop,” write the authors. The right hand is a team member who works very closely with the captain, since she will soon take over as the next captain. The left hand is next in line to succeed the right hand.
The intervals of succession vary, depending on the initiative and the team. Yes, you could argue that the initiatives would get implemented more efficiently if the captain simply remained the captain. But implementing the initiatives is not the most important facet of the FLOs. Rather, the FLOs are designed to cultivate teaching-learning dynamics and empathic role-reversals among the teammates. An organization gets stronger not only if every employee takes turns being a captain, but also if every employee takes turns coaching the captains. To be a captain is to get coached on your blind spots; to be a coach is to coach the next captain on his or her own blind spots.
3. Reward linebackers over quarterbacks. This is Next Jump’s football-lingo shorthand for saying it values employees who quietly help others win more than it values marquee “star” employees who are out for their own headlines. For example, Next Jump has a leadership group called MV21. Members of the group are not picked by executives; instead they are selected and/or removed by employee vote.
How does this help employees identify and work on their weakness–and thereby come closer to reaching their potential? The authors tell a story about an employee named Jackie who’d become the leader of the marketing group and a member of MV21. When her colleagues voted to remove her from MV21, Jackie called it a “crushing blow.” But it was a wake-up call, too. Jackie realized that her peers viewed her as someone who rarely offered help or replied to requests for help.
At a company event called 10X–an all-hands meeting at which employees give presentations and receive feedback on their cultural contributions–Jackie admitted that she had become a selfish employee. After the presentation, she began coaching others in once-a-month sessions. Soon she was virutally coaching peers at the London office. After a while, Mondays became all-day coaching sessions for her colleagues. And less than one year after she was removed from MV21, she was voted back on. She had become a linebacker.
4. Make meetings more personal. At another DDO called Decurion, an 1,100-employee real estate and movie theater company based in Los Angeles, meetings are an intentionally prolonged occasion. The reason? All meetings begin with a process called a check-in. One by one, going around the table, employees say, “Hi, my name is ____,” and then say whatever they need to say in order to be fully present in the room. It could be a revelation of a mood, of a stressful situation at home, or a concern about a work-related matter. COO Bryan Ungard told the authors: “Our full humanity is required, and to have that, you need authentic engagement.”
One of Decurion’s axioms is that “people are not only means but also ends in themselves.” The company defines itself by allowing its employees to express themselves as people with emotional needs, rather than employees who are playing robotic roles in a revenue-generating process. Though the check-in slows meetings down–it can take as long as an hour–the process reinforces the company’s axiom of making its people feel like ends in themselves, not just means by which the company can make money.
5. Give your job away. At Decurion, the leadership urges employees–especially high-ranking ones–to always be “giving your job away.” What they mean is this: Instead of standing behind your job title or authority, stand behind data, or the wisdom of the decision.
As commonsensical as it sounds, the company’s “give your job away” mantra has created a culture in which entry- or mid-level employees do not hesitate to call out leaders on their shortcomings. For example, Nora Dashwood, COO of the company’s ArcLight Cinemas division, once learned from a theater assistant manager in his early twenties that “he could feel the air in the room go cold” around Dashwood whenever a problem arose. He felt Dashwood imposed a barrier between herself and the employees to whom she was delegating tasks, and that the barrier only stiffened when things weren’t going well.
Dashwood now considers this employee her “canary in a coal mine.” She told the authors: “To be more effective as a leader and more of who I wanted to be as a person, I needed to be with the people as they engaged with the work.” It was the first step in Dashwood learning about one of her weaknesses and addressing it–and fulfilling more of her own potential, in the process.