“What if we saw work as an essential context for personal growth? And what if employees’ continuous development were assumed to be the critical ingredient for a company’s success?”
Does Your Company Make You a Better Person? – Harvard Business Review – by Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, and Andy Fleming
The article linked above focuses on the concept of a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO). I highly recommend taking a few minutes to check it out. It lays out a core element of what I consider a life-affirming work experience.
While I don’t think I’ve ever fully experienced this kind of organizational culture, I have dreamt about it and attempted to do something similar when given the chance. The personal mission statement I carried around earlier in my career included the phrase, “to help people realize their true value and release their full potential.”
In employee meetings, I stated my intention to create a work environment and experience that they would look back on and appreciate as a positive and rewarding time in their lives. I asked if they would join me in making that vision a reality.
What does that look like?
Imagine working in an organization that considers your growth and development integral to the company’s mission. That challenges you to grow personally, not just professionally and that gives you the support, time and tools to make that happen.
Your leader is not only concerned with your well-doing but also your well-being. They help you work through performance issues and growth opportunities from the inside-out with effective coaching. You and your team members learn to collaborate with each other and experience the benefits of working for each other.
You can feel a sense of community, caring and shared growth. There’s safe space for learning and you can trust the intention behind the feedback you receive. Fun is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Even if the work itself isn’t inspiring, you feel valued and empowered and that makes a huge difference.
There is a core belief in the organization that helping people improve their lives benefits the organization and everyone it touches, including customers. And it’s backed up by action.
Is it perfect? No. But you know it’s real.
“The way we lead impacts the way people live.” – Bob Chapman
I once spent an entire year taking small groups of employees through a full day discussion of Stephen Covey’s – 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Many of them had never been exposed to these principles and it was great fun and great learning for everyone involved. I was the senior leader of the company and I could have paid someone else to do it but I wanted to show that I really meant what I said in those meetings.
One of the most important ways you add value as a leader is by investing in the lives of the people you lead. In fact, that’s the only value that will live well beyond the time you spend in any role or organization. And if the people you pour yourself into pay it forward? Just wow. I don’t think it gets any better.
Here’s another statement from the HBR article that stood out for me:
“If work and life are separate things—if work is what keeps you from living—then we’ve got a serious problem.”
OK, I’ve always had a “serious problem” with the imaginary wall between work life and personal life. For me, it’s all life. Short as it is, I don’t want to spend a significant part of my life waiting for the weekend. That’s why I’m so passionate about this idea of life-affirming workplaces. Let’s serve individuals, families, communities – the world – by helping people grow through their work. Not in spite of it.
Millions of people show up for work every day. Are they better for it? And I don’t just mean financially. What would happen if we viewed the workplace as a powerful force for good? It’s time to move beyond the standard monetary transaction and offer something bigger and more valuable to the world.
Leaders carry the responsibility for prioritizing and acting on this opportunity. It’s a big change to switch your focus from organizing and managing tasks to investing in people. It requires a new way of looking at your work, a new way of interacting with your team, and a willingness to take some risks because you believe in the potential in every person.
Maybe you don’t work in a DDO or anything remotely like it. No one around you seems to care about this idea. But you do. Go for it anyway. Start where you are. Do as much as you can with what you have and you never know where it might lead.
At another point in my career, I put together an entire leadership training program for my team and taught every class because my company wouldn’t fund it and we were in a remote site with limited HR resources.
You can find a way if you are willing.
If you are an executive, business owner or otherwise have the power to make it happen, please consider this path. Expand your influence beyond the standard economic boundaries. Let your organization be a source of inspiration and personal growth. The ROI is unlimited.
Work shouldn’t divide your life – it should expand your life.