Review: An Everyone Culture

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, Matthew L. Miller, Andy Fleming

Who are you at work? Some adapted version of you, or just yourself? Most people, according to the authors of this book, aren’t really themselves at work: they’re just trying to get by. Imagine all the energy we could unleash if people weren’t spending so much effort on manipulating how others perceive them.

Building on Kegan’s research into adult development and his work with Lahey on promoting development through the ‘Immunity to Change’ approach, An Everyone Culture reviews three organisations that explicitly welcome people’s whole selves at work. And more than that, these companies actively seek to foster employees' development.

What is meant by development? Broadly, it is the way that people ‘construct’ themselves and the world. They describe three stages which people exhibit in adulthood:

  • Stage 3 — Socialized mind: Team player, Faithful follower, Aligning, Seeks direction, Reliant
  • Stage 4 — Self-authoring mind: Agenda-driving, Leader learns to lead, Own compass, Own frame, Problem-solving, Independent
  • Stage 5 — Self-transforming mind: Meta-leader, Leader leads to learn, Multiframe, Holds contradictions, Problem-finding, Interdependent

Despite evidence suggesting that senior executives are more effective when they have reached the ‘self-transforming’ stage, less than 1% of populations studied construct themselves and the world in this way. As employees are expected to be increasingly self-directed, too, we find a developmental shortfall across the spectrum. As the authors put it:

“We expect most workers to be self-authoring, but most are not. We expect most leaders to be more complex than self-authoring, but few are.”

The ‘deliberately developmental organisations’ (DDOs) which they examine have created cultures and practices that intentionally expose the limits of people’s current ways of being, and invite them to grow and change. If that sounds intense, it can be – feedback is constant, and can be upsetting for those not open to it.

The attributes of a collectively developmental environment mirror those at the individual level: holding on, letting go, and sticking around. These also suggest the need for what Carol Dweck has called a ‘growth mindset’ – belief in your ability to change yourself through effort.

They contrast DDOs with ‘high reliability organisations’ (HROs) as investigated by Karl Weick and others. HROs seek to maintain operations and contain unexpected disruptions (e.g. a nuclear power plant). DDOs, they suggest, are better equipped to deal with adaptive challenges, which require innovation and exploration of the unknown.

Most of the book discusses the specific principles and practices of the case study organisations, but this is a key point: for years organisations have been encouraged to become ‘agile’, ‘innovative’, ‘learning organisations’, but what does this actually mean in practice?

Perhaps, as this book suggests, for an organisation to undertake continual change and renewal, it must focus on employees’ growth as much as its own.