A work culture of personal development

February 24, 2016

Is it the responsibility of a company to dig into your childhood stories, so you can become a better employee? Is it even desirable? 

Lonely ChildAt the company Next Jump they think so – they actually see it as fundamental to their success as a business. So you might be an engineer, whose responsibility it is to develop platforms for new products, but you also have to dig into your personal story, reflect on your upbringing, what has influenced you, and the situations that shaped you as an adult. It is in fact a part of your job.


Why? Because personal story matters. It is our personal story that determines the judgment calls we make. Regardless of whether it is at home or in business, our judgment calls almost always comes down to the same default decision pattern, which originates in how we see the world. So yes, our judgment calls affect the success of the business.

Let’s say for instance, that at one point something significant happened in your childhood – maybe your parents divorced or an event shook up the stable family life that you had known. This can cause you to always seek towards creating stability in your decision-making. For someone else it can cause a different pattern of judgment. It all comes down to the personal story you carry with you.

And sometimes it will be the right decisions and sometimes it will be wrong. But to be successful in our own lives as well as in business, we need to get more right than wrong.

To do that we need awareness! Awareness of the narrative that runs in our heads, so we can recognize what is at stake, step back, and look at things from more perspectives. Then we start to make wiser and better judgment calls. And that is good for the individual and for business.

At Next Jump, they want a successful business and successful employees. So they might make you drill down your personal stories, but they also give you the space to take those lessons and practice on the things that you don on a day-today basis. They provide the environment for all employees – not just leadership – to continue to grow their self-awareness. They actually pay and expect you to do it as a part of your daily activities.  So whereas many take time away from work to get training, at Next Jump they have integrated it into the daily work life – as the managing director Kevin McCoy told me:

“If you are using that time to work on yourself, you just become better. And when you actually work in the business, you are more efficient, and you are developing yourself to a different level and potential. And how many millions of dollars would CEOs spend to get these elite corporate athletes to perform at a higher level. That’s how we look at.”

They do this in many ways  – but I’ll share just three examples with you here.

1. Cultural Initiatives

Foremost Next Jump has developed a business model, which allows for continuous personal and leadership development for all employees. As an example, they have no HR department, but have made all employees responsible for the culture by delegating the usual HR initiatives to employees. This includes recruiting, onboarding, learning and development, recognition and performance evaluations as well as ‘giving back’ where employees do voluntary work in the community. So in addition to working on the core business, all employees also work on a cultural initiative (and by the way, 50% of their evaluation is focused on cultural initiatives)

When working on a cultural initiative you also work on yourself and your leadership skills, which make you better at working on the core business. So it becomes a nice loop where the cultural initiatives are used as training ground for business, and business is training ground for life, as Kevin McCoy explains.

“So it is all mixed together, and this whole notion that you are working on yourself and developing yourself is something that as you take it forward – working at yourself at home, at the gym, in these cultural giving back initiatives – you progress yourself to higher and higher levels, and the idea is that these giving back pieces becomes who you are.“

2. Co-mentorship talking partners. 

Feedback is also an essential part of working for a company like Next Jump. All employees are paired with what is called a ‘talking partner’. The idea is that you meet daily to talk about problem solving, development, situations etc. And you hold each other accountable in terms of growing and reaching goals. Looking at something in pairs make one more efficient and better.

Kevin McCoy explains that they for instance will pair a more arrogant person with a person, who is more insecure. The more arrogant person can push the insecure person and the insecure person might in return challenge the arrogant person by saying ‘why did you make that decision, why didn’t you take at least two more data points instead of just one data point and making rushed judgment call.’

So the idea is that if one of them succeed, they both succeed, if one of them fail, they both fail. It really is a symbiotic relationship that you are building. “

The people paired will often have somewhat of the same business focus or cultural focus and work on things together, so they can call each other out on the decisions and also on the actions that they take.

3. Situational workshops
At Next Jump they have at least weekly sessions of situational workshops. These are learning situations where employees for instance can bring up challenges they have experienced. They get to share their story with a senior person, who can observe the situation. The important thing here is that focus is not on telling others what they should have done, but it is an opportunity to think about and see things from another person’s point of view.  So an employee gets a chance to see the situation through the senior persons eyes and get other potential views or alternatives and vice versa. As Kevin McCoy explains, the situational workshops also tie in with the focus on judgment calls, and they are quite powerful because over time you start to see patterns in behaviors and decision-making.

Courage to invest in the long-term
There is an old joke about a CFO and CEO discussing investment in employees, where the CFO says something along the lines of “what if we invest, and they leave…” and the CEO replies, “what if we don’t and they stay”. Unfortunately there is still to many companies that are still stuck in the middle of that conversation. Maybe they invest in senior management, use sporadic annual off-site retreats, one off-training programs etc. which are all great. But they don’t really move the needle significantly when it comes to harvesting the full potential of investing in employees. Conscious Companies manage to invest heavily in employees and grow financially at the same time. They do it because they look at their business with a long-term view instead of short-term view, and they have the courage to put their money where their mouth is. And one important point to mention is that they encourage personal growth in an environment of safety and trust, and where revealing your vulnerability is not seen as a weakness as a strength. My hope is that more traditional companies will be inspired by the many great stories of companies who challenge the definition of success and are able to create well-functioning work cultures where people thrive.

Please let me know your thoughts – is it where employee development is heading or not?
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