Dr. Bob Kegan, the famous Harvard developmental psychologist, was the closing keynote speaker at the ICF Midwest conference in Pittsburgh last week.
Highly regarded in his adult development theory - development beyond adolescence, Dr. Kegan captured the full attention of the 300 people in the audience.
Kegan talked about the future role of work in human affairs. He envisions a new way of thinking about work as “a message from the future”. He has been working with various organizations in studying such “new ways”, and how such deliberately developmental cultures have been contributing to their strong business performance.
“A message from the future...” At first it will sound very foreign and typically it will take some time to become a reality.
In the early 1900’s, surgeries had 50% death rate and surgeons didn’t understand they were actually a big part of causing patient death. Later on, the theory of germs and infection became more known and accepted, and it took 30 years to integrate the theory into surgical procedures.
In Kegan’s envisioned future, in 10 ways we will think of work differently than today. I have to be honest, though I easily embraced the first 9, I struggled with #10 for a while.
Companies will have a growth culture where everyone (not just high potentials) are being deliberately developed; learning and coaching happen every day and not in special times in specially arranged off-sites for a specific group.
We don’t hire people because they are perfect for the job but because we think they are good and can get better.
Everyone quits their “2nd job” - which is the energy wasted on trying to look good, covering our butt, and managing our “stock value”.
People don’t run around with their “backhand”. People are transparent and not ashamed of their less-developed side.
People are encouraged to fail frequently, fast, and forward. In such cultures, people grow faster and innovate better.
People’s job roles are “tow ropes” that pull people forward, and people continue to grow respective of their roles.
People give continuous feedback, both supportive and challenging with a balance between care and candor.
People are willing to show well-held vulnerability, a sense of authenticity that is both high in care and candor.
Rank doesn’t have its usual privileges. Everyone plays.
We no longer look at work as “performance” but look at work as “practicing”.
On #10, having been very results-oriented and having professionally “grown up” in results-driven high performing corporate cultures, I have always viewed “performance” as the ultimate goal. Even when we “practice” and learn, the end goal is still to improve our performance.
Clearly, Kegan’s vision is challenging my belief system. I would need to shift perspective in order to fully appreciate his view point.
After a few days of trying to open my mind and shift perspectives, I have come to see that “performance” is not static. It has short-term and long-term dimensions as it evolves. With Kegan’s perspective of looking at work as a practice vs. performance, organizations can actually improve its collective performance long term.
Having intellectually engaged in an active internal debate about it, now #10 is what I remember the most from Kegan's presentation.
Kegan further suggested a few questions for organizations to ask themselves to see if they have a growth culture, a deliberately developmental culture:
Can you name your personal improvement goals?
Who else’s personal improvement goals can you name?
How often do you have a chance to work on your personal development goals? Ideally, the answer is every day.
What’s your view of Kegan’s “message from the future?”
In what ways do you believe in a deliberately developmental culture?
What good practices can you share?