To grow and develop at work we must quit our second job, the one we spend so much time on yet don’t even realise we are doing. It’s this second job that literally sucks the life and engagement out of workers and the productivity and profits out of companies.

So, what is this insidious second job? It’s the time and energy each of us puts into covering our asses and trying to look good at work. Notice how much time and emotional energy most people put into covering up their weaknesses and projecting a positive image at work. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Imagine instead, a workplace where you’re encouraged to share your weaknesses and all that negative energy is now being channelled into helping you to learn new skills and to grow as a person. A workplace where it is safe to be you.

Such places do exist according to Harvard Professor, Bob Kegan but they’re not for the faint hearted. Kegan has been studying these companies for the past few years. The ‘second job’ concept comes out of this research.

I recently attended a talk Kegan gave on this subject, he’s onto something big.

Kegan says this is a story about the future of work. We know the predictions that up to 50 percent of jobs may be replaced by technology in the next two decades and that 40 percent of companies will not exist in 10 years’ time. There is an urgent need for individuals to learn new skills and reinvent themselves and for companies to embrace a culture of innovation if we are to survive in this volatile and uncertain world.

Puzzled by the fact that so few companies have succeeded in creating the developmental cultures needed to survive, Kegan took a deep dive into this thorny issue. He set out to identify and hopefully to study, examples of companies who might be getting it right. Fortunately for us Kegan’s treasure hunt led him to three companies who have succeeded.

Kegan terms these companies, DDO’s or deliberately developmental organisations. The three he uncovered are DDO’s ‘in the wild’; they learned how to do this with no outside assistance. Having now spent hundreds of hours studying these DDO’s, Kegan and his colleague Lisa Leahy have established a consultancy committed to teaching the rest of us how to do this.

What characterises a DDO is their commitment to developing everyone in the company and to creating a culture where everyone is also committed to their own development and to that of their colleagues. Hence the term, a deliberately developmental organisation.


DDO’s in the wild

The three DDO’s in the wild Kegan and his team based this research on are:

Decurion – a family owned business employing 1,100 people across several industries: movie exhibition, real estate and senior living

Bridgewater – the world’s best performing hedge fund

Next Jump – an e-commerce company whose platform, generates billions of dollars in revenue



Kegan identified 10 things DDO’s do differently

1. A DDO is for everyone

In most companies, only 5 to 10 percent of the workforce gets access to meaningful training and even then, most of that investment is wasted. The half-life of most executive learning and development programs is just three weeks.

A DDO is committed to developing everyone in their workforce. More importantly, a DDO is committed to developing you as a person. Everyone comes to work to work on themselves, to build a better ‘me’ not just to learn new skills.

Everyone is committed to their own development, to that of their colleagues and to the business, as a whole.


2. Take a growth mindset towards talent

As Bryan Unguard, CEO of Decurion puts it, ‘It’s better to feast on your weaknesses than to starve on your ego.’

A DDO only employs people who are committed to admitting their weaknesses and have a growth mindset.


3. Quit your second job

In a DDO everyone admits their weaknesses and shares their development plan to get better not only in terms of learning new skills but also their plan to grow as a person. This means team members no longer need to spend time hiding their weaknesses and managing impressions.


4. Don’t run around on your backhand

Using a tennis metaphor, we all have a backhand in our work; an area of real weakness. In a DDO you identify and admit your weakness and then look for opportunities to constantly practice that skill – you don’t ignore it, nor do you hide it.

For example, Next Jump identified that people tend to lean either towards being over-confident (arrogant) or under-confident (insecure). People freely admit their leaning and this forms part of their everyday dialogue. In a meeting, it’s not uncommon for someone to say, ‘As you know, I tend to lean arrogant which means I might talk too much or talk over others – please pull me up if you see me doing this.’ Or conversely, “I lean insecure, so please pull me up if I’m not contributing enough or you feel, I’m not saying what I really mean.’

They even have an app which allows them to rate each other’s performance during the meeting. This takes feedback to a whole new level.

The key is, because your colleagues know you are working to improve this skill, the feedback is given and received with good intent.


5. Fail fast and forward

In a DDO it’s OK to fail, and when you fail, fail fast and fail forward, ie. make sure you learn from it.

A DDO is a safe place to fail but it is by no means a comfortable environment in the sense that people discuss their failures and their learnings openly. This is not easy to do. As Ray Dalio from Bridgewater puts it:

Pain + Reflection = Progress


6. Use your job as a tow rope

Your job should not feel comfortable in a DDO, it is meant to stretch you to your growing edge – this is how you learn. Your job literally pulls you into greater capabilities.


7. Give continuous and candid feedback

DDO’s thrive on giving regular and candid feedback.

Interestingly, the origins of the word ‘candour’ traces back to the Latin verb candere (‘to shine or to glow’), the same root as the word, ‘candle’. Candour brings light into darker places.

Some might see the level of feedback in these companies as brutal but the trick is they play the man not the ball.


8. Well held vulnerability

DDO’s are all about learning how to be vulnerable in the service of what matters most to us. This is a skill which does not come naturally to most people.


9. Rank doesn’t have its usual privileges

The same rules apply to everyone from the CEO down. In a DDO, you lead from the front and model the behaviours you are seeking to instill across the organisation.


10. Work is not a performance

In a DDO you don’t come to work to do a ‘performance’ each day, you come to work to practice getting better at who you are and what you do. You bring your authentic self to work, faults, vulnerabilities and all.


Paradoxically, an ‘everyone culture’ as Kegan calls it, is not for everyone. What these companies have learned is that it’s hard to find people who fit this culture but it’s worth the challenge.

Next Jump, for example, comes from a sector where there is an average 40 percent staff turnover. Their experience is they do lose a lot of people in their first 12 months but in years two and beyond, their turnover rate drops to just 4 percent.

Kegan observes that DDO’s have a robust and rigorous recruitment process. Knowing that not everyone is going to fit this culture, they become obsessive about assessing cultural alignment as a part of the selection process.


My Experience

My own experience is that the DDO concept is great in theory yet will be hard to apply in many organisations. Kegan has developed a model to help companies move in this direction through evolution, not revolution.

I’ve booked in to attend a two-day workshop Kegan is running on this process; I should be better informed after that.

For now, the big stumbling block I see in many companies is that it’s hard to get buy-in from the board and the senior leadership team to embark on such a massive culture change process.

My suggestion is that if you want to experiment with the DDO model, start in one small business unit where the people already have a developmental orientation. Begin with introducing ‘DDO Lite’ and monitor the reactions and results. The challenges will be different in every company and I suspect it’s about learning, through experimentation, what works best in your own culture.


Rob Davidson is the Founder and Director of Growth at Davidson. He describes his main role in the business as ‘the thinker’ and he constantly searches local and international markets for growth opportunities. His role connects him to a myriad of recruitment industry leaders and he is passionate about creating a sustainable future for the industry through building better entrepreneurs. He is committed to life-long learning and sharing that knowledge.  Follow him on LinkedIn