An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
Andy Fleming and Helsing Robert Kegan Lisa Lahey Matthew Miller

Ended: Oct. 28, 2018

In fact, research shows that the single biggest cause of work burnout is not work overload, but working too long without experiencing your own personal development.
One way to look at this book is to see it as a twenty-first-century answer to the question, “What is the most powerful way to develop the capabilities of people at work?”
Imagine making the organization itself—and not separate, extra benefits—the incubator of capability. Imagine hardwiring development into your bottom line so that, along with asking whether your culture is fostering the other elements of business success (such as profitability or the consistent quality of your offering), you ask—demand—that your culture as a whole, visibly and in the regular, daily operations of the company, be a continuous force on behalf of people overcoming their limitations and blind spots and improving their mastery of increasingly challenging work.
Imagine finding yourself in a trustworthy environment, one that tolerates—even prefers—making your weaknesses public so that your colleagues can support you in the process of overcoming them. Imagine recapturing the full-time energies of your employees now joined to the mission of the enterprise.
The intention of every DDO leader in the pages ahead is crystal clear: he or she is working hard on the culture every day as much to enhance the business as its employees. These leaders do not see two goals or two missions, but one. The relationship between realizing human potential and organizational potential in these companies is a dialectic, not a trade-off. We believe these companies have something provocative to teach about a new route to business success.
Gone are the days when payoffs to Economic Man alone—to the material self, to greater agency in the external world—were enough. In those days, conventional incomes—such as paychecks, health benefits, and limits to the hours in a workweek—sufficed. Now we’re seeing the pursuit of new incomes: personal satisfaction, meaningfulness, and happiness. These are payoffs to the Psychological Person, to the intangible self, to fulfillment in the interior world. Paychecks, bonuses, and benefits will always matter, of course, but, increasingly, they’re not enough for many of us. The rise of the new incomes may represent the biggest shift in the work-reward equation since the emergence of the labor movement in the nineteenth century.
Unlike happiness as a state brought on by experiencing only the so-called positive emotions, happiness as a process of development includes the experience of loss, pain, and suffering (rather than standing in contrast to it).
The workplace built for well-being has already begun to claim a space in the public imagination. We believe this is only half the mansion. We invite you to take a grand tour of the workplace built for flourishing, the other half of the house of human happiness.
you will begin to experience the first kind of work everyone must do in a DDO: to take responsibility for the workings of our minds so that we can stay present, so that we can stay at work.
There’s no single right way to be a DDO—no simple recipe of programs, policies, incentives, and perks—but there are deep assumptions that run through all the DDOs: assumptions about the possibility and value of growing in adulthood, ways of structuring people’s growth directly in their work, ways of helping people get the most out of giving and receiving feedback and coaching, ways of making people development and business development all one thing.
Like the two other DDOs, Next Jump challenges employees by moving them into roles for which they’re not yet prepared to succeed and then provides them with steady streams of feedback to help them grow into those roles. In all three companies, if you’re completely able to perform your role, it’s no longer the right role for you; it has no “stretch” left.
As with all companies, the leaders are certainly looking for the right fit between the applicant and the company’s culture and purpose. But like other DDOs, Next Jump is also looking for something more: the kind of person who will grow in an environment of constant practice, failing, and feedback.
Next Jump sums up the belief system behind its culture with an equation: Better Me + Better You = Better Us Better Me signals the importance of constant improvement. You’ve seen it in action in the boot camp experience. Next Jump expects its employees to face their limitations directly and practice to overcome them. When you visit the company’s headquarters, it’s clear that the consistent work on self-improvement extends to supporting healthy lifestyles, in addition to transcending the mind-set you bring to the office. With nutritious free snacks and meals, as well as an on-premises gym and trainers, employees are expected to make a habit of good health. Better You is about the meaning people derive from work through helping others, inside and outside the company. Next Jump’s leaders are struck by the research suggesting human beings are wired to serve others. When jobs are not meaningful, employees are more likely to volunteer outside work to derive that sense of purpose. The Next Jump response? Build service to others, and the resulting meaningfulness people derive from it, into the job. “Bake it into the culture,” says Kim.
Around the room, posters remind employees of the beliefs and values of the company. Decurion calls these its “axioms”—statements of the company’s “fundamental beliefs about people and work.” We believe that work is meaningful, that work gives meaning to people’s lives. For us, meaning comes from three things: developing oneself, creating something excellent and enduring, and contributing to other people. We believe that people are not only means but also ends in themselves. Most businesses view people (employees, customers, suppliers, and others) as a means to some end, such as completing a transaction or meeting a goal. We feel that reducing people to a role in a process dehumanizes them. While honoring the roles they play, we approach people as fellow human beings, as ends in themselves. We believe that individuals and communities naturally develop. Much of the literature on development ends with the teenage years. But we know that adults continue to develop. Our structures and practices create conditions that pull people into greater levels of complexity and wholeness. And while we did not begin with this belief, our experience has shown us that pursuing profitability and human growth emerges as one thing. They are part of a single whole, not two things to be traded off or two elements of a “double bottom line.” We capture this axiom by saying that nothing extra is required.
A saying at Decurion is that you should always be “giving your job away.” Rather than stand on the authority of expertise or title, everyone should try to share hard-earned wisdom. It’s an alternative to the view that an individual’s knowledge is power and that one should take advantage of information asymmetries to gain the advantage in a corporate jungle.
Do you worry more about how good you are—or about how fast you are learning? —Ray Dalio, Bridgewater
As you meet some of the people at Bridgewater, you learn how an unrelenting search for truth—including the often painful truths about one’s own limitations—is at the heart of every meeting, indeed every exchange of ideas. The company’s leaders will tell you this search for radical truth and radical transparency is not merely an important aspect of the culture but the heart of the culture and the reason for the company’s unparalleled success.
Constantly get in sync. Talk about “Is it true?” and “Does it make sense?” Be assertive and open-minded at the same time. Don’t treat all opinions as equally valuable. Consider your own and others’ “believabilities.” Spend lavishly on the time and energy you devote to getting in sync because it’s the best investment you can make.
Recognize that people are built very differently. Understand what each person who works for you is like so that you know what to expect from them. Don’t hide these differences. Explore them openly with the goal of figuring out how you and your people are built so that you can put the right people in the right jobs and clearly assign responsibilities.
Manage as someone who is designing and operating a machine to achieve the goal. Constantly compare your outcomes to your goals. Conduct the discussion at two levels when a problem occurs: (1) the “machine” level discussion of why the machine produced that outcome and (2) the “case at hand” discussion of what to do now about the problem. Hold people accountable and appreciate them holding you accountable. Logic, reason, and common sense must trump everything else in decision making.
Design your machine to achieve your goals. Remember: you are designing a “machine” or system that will produce outcomes. Most importantly, build the organization around goals rather than tasks. Build your organization from the top down.
Recognize the power of knowing how to deal with not knowing. Remember that your goal is to find the best answer, not to give the best one you have. Constantly worry about what you are missing.
In sum, groupthink and obedience to authority may owe their origins less to culture and more to complexity of mind.
It’s easy to see how someone having a self-authoring mind could demonstrate an admirable capacity for focus, for distinguishing the important from the urgent, for making the best use of her limited time by having a means to cut through the unending and ever-mounting claims on her attention. This speaks to the way the self-authoring mind is an advance over the socialized mind. But the self-authoring mind may also be a recipe for disaster if her plan or stance is flawed, if it leaves out a crucial element of the equation not appreciated by the filter, or if the world changes so that a formerly effective filter becomes antiquated.
The Self-Transforming Mind and Information Flow In contrast to the self-authoring mind, the self-transforming mind also has a filter but is not fused with it. Someone with a self-transforming mind can stand back from his own filter and look at it and not only through it. And why would he do so? It’s because he both values, and is wary of, any one stance, analysis, or agenda. He is mindful that, powerful though a given design might be, it almost inevitably omits something. A self-transforming mind is aware it lives in time and the world is in motion. It is aware that what might make sense today may not make as much sense tomorrow.
Therefore, when communicating, people with self-transforming minds are not only advancing their agenda and design but also making space for its modification or expansion. Like those with self-authoring minds, what those with self-transforming minds send may include inquiries and requests for information. But rather than inquire only within the frame of their design (seeking information that will advance their agenda), they also inquire about the design itself. They seek information that may lead them or their team to enhance, refine, or alter the original design or make it more inclusive. Unlike the socialized-minded person, for the self-transforming person, information sending isn’t about being included in the car; and unlike the person with a self-authoring mind, it is not only about driving the car, but also about considering whether to remake the road map or reset the direction.
For more than a generation, Argyris (and those who have been influenced by him) has been calling for, in our terminology, a new capacity of mind. This new mind must have the ability to author a view of how the organization should run and have the courage to hold steadfastly to that view. But more, the new mind also must be able to step outside its own ideology or framework, observe the framework’s limitations or defects, and author a more comprehensive view—a view it will hold with sufficient tentativeness that it may discover its limitations as well. In other words, the kind of learner Argyris rightly looks for in a leader may need to be a person who is making meaning with a self-transforming mind.
Consider, for a moment, not only the pervasiveness but also the nature of feedback in the three DDOs. Ordinary organizations seldom make feedback a continuous experience (and in some sectors it can be as infrequent as an annual review), but even in organizations where feedback is frequent, the feedback strongly tends to be oriented to tracking and correcting behavior. In contrast, feedback in a DDO is considered incomplete or superficial unless it penetrates (“probes,” in Bridgewater language) beneath behavior to the assumptions and mind-sets that underlie it. Admitting people’s interior life into the realm of what can be improved, acted on, and managed is what makes a DDO’s culture truly developmental—namely, the development of mental complexity.
But the move from the socialized to the self-authoring mind is not the only passage. For example, a place like Bridgewater—which puts a premium on relentlessly pursuing the question, “How might I be wrong?”—understandably has as much interest in disturbing the self-reinforcing loops of the self-authoring mind. Can the machine idea be as helpful to this later passage? Absolutely. Whereas the machine metaphor forces the socialized mind to look at the result or outcome (the effect) and step back to the level of the bigger system that produced it (the cause), the same idea can lead the self-authoring mind to look at (take as object) not only the result but also the machine itself. The machine idea can raise the question of your responsibility, not only for systematically producing the result, but also for producing the machine.
Running through these glimpses into DDOs is a common thread that distinguishes them from ordinary organizations: DDOs continuously stir things up, troubling the waters; ordinary organizations continuously try to calm things down, instituting repeatable routines. Ordinary organizations don’t move you into a new role as soon as you’ve mastered the old one; instead, they commend you for having mastered it and call you reliable and dependable, appreciating the way you can be counted on now to keep performing the role indefinitely.
Hedge fund managers, movie theater operators, and software engineers would probably not be most people’s first idea of who might be interested in self-reflection and working on one’s weaknesses. But at Bridgewater, Decurion, and Next Jump, respectively, people told us a version of the same thing: “Every day I get up and I am absolutely clear what I am working on—myself.”
every Next Jumper’s compensation is tied 50/50 to performance in revenue (what you contribute to the business) and culture (what you contribute to Better Me and Better You). At Next Jump you can be a revenue hero and still be penalized in compensation if you’re not working on personal growth. The highest bonus and salary increases go to those who improve the culture.
Bridgewater leader Ray Dalio challenged the members of his organization to sit with this question: “Do you worry more about how good you are or about how fast you are learning?” At Bridgewater, learning from one’s mistakes is a job requirement. The company’s culture supports treating errors as opportunities for growth through a variety of tools and practices. First, every employee is required to record problems and failures in a companywide “issues log,” one that requires detailing one’s own and others’ contributions to mistakes. The logging of errors and problems is applauded and rewarded, but failure to record a mistake in the issues log is viewed as a serious breach of duty. The data collected in the issues log is treated as a resource for collective diagnosis of root causes—both individual and organizational—of failure. Another reflective practice involves recording one’s experience of psychological pain at work. The Pain Button app, mentioned earlier, allows employees to record and share experiences of negative emotions at work—especially times when one’s ego defenses are activated by interactions with others. Open sharing of these experiences then triggers follow-up conversations among the parties as they explore the truth of the situation and identify actions individuals might take to address underlying causes. This practice is intended to help individuals work through and actively manage forms of emotional self-protection that can otherwise be barriers to personal growth. In these and other supportive processes, Bridgewater destigmatizes (and even celebrates) making mistakes. More than that, it treats the ongoing, often painful experience of one’s imperfections as valuable data for learning rather than unproductive blame.
It may seem strange to say, but most organizations—even well-functioning, admired organizations—are not actually run on a set of principles, known throughout the organization and visible to even a casual observer, that drive the daily practice of everyone’s work. Yes, most organizations have mission statements. They have purposes. They have goals. They have procedures. They have employee manuals. They may also have mottos or mantras that reflect principles—“the client comes first”; “something only we can do”; “progress is our most important product.” But without a pervasive ecology—structures, practices, tools, and shared language that allow the organization to embody and orient to these values—they become slogans rather than drivers of the culture.
Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio makes the identical point in his own idiom when he distinguishes between a poor outcome and a mistake. “If we relentlessly pursued the truth,” he says, “especially those truths about ourselves and the world that are most uncomfortable and least convenient—if we did our best to uncover what is—and the outcome is still not to our liking, we didn’t necessarily make a mistake. We are not living in a world of certainties and 100 percent probabilities. We stayed true to our process. If we ignore what is, we have, without any doubt, made a mistake—whether we got the money or not.”
Because DDOs regard members’ inadequacies or incompetencies as resources, they actively promote these experiences. At all three companies, if you can perform all your responsibilities to a high level, you’re no longer in the right job. (And if you prefer to stay in this job, having mastered it, you’re seen as someone who prefers to coast, and not at the right company.)
At Bridgewater a lot of attention is paid, as in any organization, to finding the right fit between people and their current roles (finding the “click,” they call it), but “good fit” doesn’t mean, as it likely does in most organizations, “She can do the job as described.” It’s more likely to mean, “She will run into plenty of useful trouble; she will know how to use her trouble to learn and grow from it; she will draw on the resources of a remarkably supportive community to help her.”
DDOs seem to have an especially intense focus on the shared design of work processes. If something isn’t working optimally, it’s not someone else’s problem; it’s everyone’s responsibility. If a new line of business is being launched, a community of individuals will spend comparably lavish amounts of time on designing the right process for doing and managing the work.
In the current literature there is a lot of enthusiasm for strength-based approaches to professional development, assessment, and feedback: “Focus on what people do well, and quit torturing them with their weaknesses. People don’t change much anyway. Leverage their strengths, and forget about the weaknesses.” A DDO does not ignore people’s strengths, and it is not above guardrailing around weaknesses that have no likelihood of improving. But a DDO is about as far as you can get from a strength-based work setting. Call them “weaknesses,” “challenges,” “developmental opportunities,” “growing edge,” or “backhand,” DDOs run against the grain of current fashion as well as the ego’s devotion to looking good; leaders in a DDO have a deep conviction that our weaknesses are pure gold if we will only dig into them. And there is no getting around the fact that this digging can be very uncomfortable.
In sum, companies like Decurion, Bridgewater, and Next Jump systematically work at creating the conditions to drive human flourishing and business flourishing as part of one interdependent and mutually reinforcing set of goals. Guided by growth-focused principles (their edge), they implement a closely aligned and complementary set of practices (their groove), in the context of a community (their home) devoted not only to the learning of their people but also to their further unfolding. Creating conditions where the twelve discontinuous departures described here can take hold requires commitment to nurturing a different kind of culture—one that sees individual growth not only as a means but also as an end; error and inadequacy, as opportunities to transcend current limitations; and powerful communities at work, as homes for the rewarding disturbances that develop personal and organizational potential.
You build the habits of principled people into the everyday work. So there’s no difference between doing the work and managing the work. It’s all the same stuff . . . And therefore, [we] embed those habits in the technology and the tools, so that the way you are doing things is consistent with those principles. You’re building the habits, and you’re building the muscle memory to operate in a certain way. It’s very hard to teach people to be fully transparent, to be all of those ways, and so you really need to help them by creating the ecosystem that almost forces them to in doing their work.
Everyone’s getting and giving feedback on how he’s doing in his job. Jensen is not exempt; there are no exemptions. A sampling from a day’s accumulated dots from June 2014 shows the kinds of feedback he gets from across the company, including from his own subordinates, in evaluative categories such as creativity, conceptual thinking, managing vision and purpose, and process management. Some of the live feedback Jensen got that day reflected frank assessments of his leadership: Let WGOITW meeting (“What’s Going On in the World” meeting, which Jensen is responsible for) devolve into a bit of chaos. Good WGOITW meeting. Greg, you’re too slow in finding a sustainable design for Nella’s responsibility set. Not prioritizing finding a replacement for Nella.
The Issues Log The flow of data about people via the Dot Collector is supplemented by other practices that Bridgewater can use to get at root causes of problems. One tool for perceiving, diagnosing, and preventing problems is the issues log, a digital tool for capturing, from a first-person perspective, questions and evidence about errors, mistakes, and problems. Jensen told us that the issues log “is like our evolution machine” for “watching the progress on any problem that’s ever been raised in the company.” At Bridgewater, making mistakes is expected—and disclosing and reflecting on the causes of errors are a job requirement. Ray Dalio describes the way big and small problems are diagnosed through the issues log. A problem or “issue” that should be logged is easy to identify: anything that went wrong. The issues log acts like a water filter that catches garbage. By examining the garbage and determining where it came from, you can determine how to eliminate it at the source . . . The log must include a frank assessment of individual contributions to the problems alongside their strengths and weaknesses. As you come up with the changes that will reduce or eliminate the garbage, the water will become cleaner.
A common challenge to getting people to use issues logs is that they are sometimes viewed as vehicles for blaming people. You have to encourage use by making clear how necessary they are, rewarding active usage, and punishing nonuse. If, for example, something goes wrong and it’s not in the issues log, the relevant people should be in big trouble. But if something goes wrong and it’s there (and, ideally, properly diagnosed), the relevant people will probably be rewarded or praised. But there must be personal accountability.
In raising this issue, Rohit is doing exactly what every person, regardless of rank, is expected to do at Bridgewater. In fact, it’s called an act of good citizenship to call out things, even the smallest things, openly and directly if you believe someone is acting inconsistently with one or more principles guiding the company. Then diagnosis can begin interactively via the issues log, and everyone can determine what is true and act accordingly.
A baseball card, as Jensen describes it, forms “a map for how to get you from where you are to where you want to be.” The baseball cards, electronically accessible to everyone, integrate all kinds of data about what a person is like—testimonials, the feedback dots, personality inventories (like the Myers-Briggs), surveys of what people are good and bad at (which include forced-ranking exercises). And as you might expect at a successful hedge fund, the company doesn’t place all its eggs (or data points) in one basket. Jensen explains: “We’re connecting information from multiple streams on people. You can’t rely on any one piece of information, or any one information source, to tell you the truth about people.” The baseball card allows anyone at Bridgewater to see where a person’s demonstrated capabilities stack up against all the principle-driven qualities required for success in any role, benchmarked for the person’s given level of responsibility in the organization.
One practice is the submission of daily updates to one’s supervisor. Although regular supervisor check-ins aren’t unusual elsewhere, the Bridgewater daily update makes each employee’s process of getting in sync with his manager a public act. Anyone can see anyone else’s daily update. What kinds of updates are shared in this daily communication? Above all, the updates give people an opportunity to reflect on what they are learning about themselves, any pain they’re experiencing, and ways they’re grappling to improve their application of the principles. At their best, these updates prevent gaps from forming between an employee’s interior struggles and a manager’s understanding of those struggles.
Called the “daily case,” this process is, according to Bridgewater leaders, “the calisthenics of our culture.” For about fifteen minutes every day, people review an actual multimedia case study of a teachable moment in the life of Bridgewater’s culture; the case combines video and snippets of digital documents, e-mails, or other artifacts. Cases are something like teaching cases in a professional school. For example, the details of the case of Rohit, Alex, et al., described earlier in this chapter, are the perfect material for a Bridgewater case.
From the individual experience of probing in every one-on-one meeting, to the technologically integrated processes for discussing dots, issues, and baseball cards, to the companywide practices of daily updates and cases, Bridgewater has built an ecosystem to support personal development. The system helps everyone in the company confront the truth about what everyone is like.
When Next Jump studied how things fail, the leaders concluded that the number one recurring pattern was the inability of people to manage their emotions, what the leaders call “character imbalances.” This inability, they observed, leads to poor decision making. Chief of Staff Meghan Messenger says, “Most companies have super-competent execution people, not super-competent decision makers.” Next Jump discovered that the imbalance between the character traits of confidence and humility led to emotional tantrums, outbursts by the overly confident (or arrogant), and paralysis by the overly humble (or insecure). The growth in the company’s leadership took off as leaders discovered and consistently practiced the development of character as a muscle that could be exercised, helping people become more humble or more confident. (They even created a wallet-size card with tips or reminders for practicing your less-developed sides.