I am passionate about the concept of Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs) offered by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in their book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Overall, their research aims to identify the most powerful ways to develop the capabilities of people at work in the twenty-first century.

The book studies three “DDOs” as models of the twenty-first century way to create a robust incubator for people’s development. Ultimately, they offer the DDO vision, challenging us to, “Imagine so valuing the importance of developing people’s capabilities that you design a culture that itself immersively sweeps every member of the organization into an ongoing developmental journey in the course of working every day.”

One key aspect to these DDOs is being deliberate about a culture of practice. These organizations are, “continuously engaged in getting over themselves – identifying their weaknesses, seeing deeply into the ways they’re stuck, and having regular opportunities to move past their limiting patters of thinking and acting.”

In exploring this concept of a culture of practice deeper, Kegan and Lahey expand by describing the following.

Consider what it means to practice, to have a practice, and to be practicing. Perhaps the central idea is that we’re doing something repeatedly, with the intention of becoming better at it. In other words, when we’re practicing, we are not expecting (and others are not expecting us) to perform perfectly. In naming what we’re doing, practice, we signal that we’re experimenting, trying something on, working at improving. And we clarify that practice is what we’re supposed to be doing – trying hard at something to get better at it. We’re creating conditions in which we won’t feel pressure to demonstrate expertise, conditions that will allow us to experiment, that will allow us to gather feedback, that will help us learn.

Practice also suggests we’re doing something routinely, regularly, as a normal part of our lives. We think that the way to get better at something requires us to make learning it part of our routine. We expect to be practicing today, tomorrow, and on into the foreseeable future. Although we’re trying to become proficient, we never reach completion. Our practicing, and therefore our learning, never stops.

The culture of most organizations is not designed for practice; it’s designed for performance. Everyone is trying to look good, display expertise, minimize and hide any mistakes or weaknesses, and demonstrate what they already know and can do well. In a culture of practice, in contrast, everyone is learning and growing.

Since reading the book, I’ve reflected lots on how we can better enable a culture of practice within our organizations.

Questions to Ask Ourselves

I’ve captured several questions on an index card during recent reflections on this idea that I think apply to all of us and our organizations:

  • Where does our organization fall on the performance-practice spectrum? Where should we? Where do we want to be?
  • How can we create a practice culture? What attitudes, values, behaviors, activities, and systems do we have within the organization now that supports it? What else do we need to improve and reinforce it?
  • How do we create a commitment among all our people toward practicing and improving?

Ideas for Consideration

While the idea of this practice culture may resonate, there is a big difference in liking an idea and committing to actioning it. We must consider how we will foster such a culture; I offer several key activities that I continue to think on as mechanisms to adapt and apply:

  • The impact of education as the practice / learning process – leaders are teachers.
  • Ways we can leverage mentorship and coaching into our peoples’ development (explore coaching here, here, and here).
  • Ensuring we implement quality and robust feedback loops in our day-to-day business (here and here).
  • Cultivating and modeling a growth mindset to encourage a readiness for development and practice.
  • Making it safe and acceptable for our people to practice (psychological safety).

I hope we can all begin to think on the value of practice within our organizations as a means to improve. Just like a sports team, to improve performance, we must commit to routine and deliberate practice. Does our culture enable and even encourage our people to practice in order to perform? Or do we merely expect performance without affording those growth opportunities. And if we think we do facilitate practice within our organization, I bet we can all honestly admit that we can absolutely do so more.

So, what does your organization’s culture of practice look like? And what is it doing to develop your peoples’ capabilities each and every day?

Lead well this week, friends.


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