Unleashing people’s potential at scale
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Creating company growth from the inside out.
You don’t have to look far- the next source of organizational growth is already there, hidden inside your company.
The best way to unleash an organization's power is to realize the full potential of its individual employees
The case for personal development as a driver of performance is supported by much research. For example, data from the “Leadership Circle Profile”, one of the best established 360 assessment tools, has established a very high correlation (R=0.93) between a person’s level of personal development and their leadership effectiveness, which in turn is strongly correlated with business results.
Yet, the current state of realizing people's potential within companies is shockingly different. Gallup’s 2022 edition of its annual report “The State of the Workplace” finds that only 21% of employees are engaged at work. “Living for the weekend”, “watching the clock tick” and “work is just a paycheck” are the mantras of most workers. Gallup estimates that the cost of disengagement related to the resulting reduced productivity, higher turnover, and weak internal and external collaboration is USD 7.8 trillion. And that’s 11% of global GDP.
Of course, those are averages, and in some companies employees are more engaged. But even those who are engaging often spend a lot of time on what Harvard adult development experts Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call “our second job: covering our weaknesses, trying to look our best, and managing others' impression of us”. They conclude: “There may be no greater waste of a company’s resources. The ultimate cost: Neither the company nor its people are able to realize their full potential”.
Over the past decade, companies have been addressing the “people issue” by increasing budgets for learning and development and by adding more change programs. Some were partially helpful, but not able to fundamentally shift this situation. In fact, McKinsey & Company research shows that “70% of all organizational change programs fail to meet their objectives”.
This is why Egon Zehnder does not only consider “unleashing people’s potential the biggest opportunity” but also “the biggest leadership challenge of the 21st century”.
The missing quadrants
Sending people to skill training, increasing benefits, adding wellbeing initiatives, more cultural and organizational change programs- there is no lack of effort put into the attempt to make people thrive. Yet, the results, as noted above and in many other reports, are sobering. What are we missing?
Ken Wilber, one of the world’s leading contemporary philosophers, has developed a “4 quadrant model” to look at things through different perspectives. Each quadrant is a combination of individual vs. collective, and exterior vs. interior.
Looking at businesses’ current common approach to people development, it appears that they are overemphasizing the “exterior” dimension: skill training and learning on the “individual” level, and top-down driven change initiatives on the “collective” dimension.
The recent boom of wellbeing and mental health apps and services indicates an increasing awareness of the need to invest in the “individual/interior” quadrant. Supporting employees in preventing and treating mental illnesses is certainly a good move. At the same time, mental health and wellbeing initiatives alone significantly fall short of the ambition to “unleash people’s potential”.
Most of our approaches to develop leaders are inadequate. They are episodic, not systematic; individually focused instead of individually and collectively focused; they are too often superficial, lacking the depth required…
Let’s zoom into this quadrant using Bob Anderson’s “Leadership Circle Profile”. The key measurement of one’s personal development level is the ratio between the person’s creative competencies and reactive tendencies. In our creative mode, we act out of purpose, and demonstrate collaborative, strategic and authentic behaviors.
In our reactive mode, our key concern is our safety, and we tend to fall into one or several behaviors aimed at protecting our identity (our “second job”). This might show up as being controlling, perfectionist, or overly driven. Or, alternatively, as being complying, pleasing or conservative. Or, for others, as being distant, or maybe even coming across as arrogant or cynical. All of these have a demonstrated negative correlation with our effectiveness as leaders and collaborators, and they do affect business results.
Moving from reactive toward more creative behaviors is not primarily a matter of discipline and skills. The Kennedy School’s Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky call this an “adaptive” (as opposed to “technical”) challenge.
The most common leadership failure stem s from trying to apply technical solutions to adaptive challenges
Adaptive challenges require us to rewire our beliefs, values, emotions and habits. And this needs deep inner work.
A holistic approach to inner work at the workplace
When a group of leadership trainers, executive coaches, psychologists and entrepreneurs came together to launch soulchat.co, we were inspired by a vision of personal and organizational growth becoming one. We saw our contribution in coming up with a service that would enable everyone in a company to do their “inner work“, and thereby to live and contribute more fully.
In order to achieve this result at scale, our approach needed to be a) easily and anonymously accessible, b) highly adaptable to individual situations, c) deeply transformative, d) fostering connection and safety and d) cost-effective. After much experimentation, we discovered that meeting these seemingly incompatible goals requires both a unique methodology and an innovative delivery model.
We will describe our “deep coaching” methodology in detail in an upcoming article. In short, we combine the best of psychotherapy, leadership coaching and mindfulness in an unorthodox way. This developmental and trauma-informed coaching approach has proven to shift the creative/reactive ratio. It does so by creating self-awareness, strengthening self-regulation, integrating stuck emotions that block development and by updating old, limiting beliefs and habits.
Deep coaching combines the best of psychotherapy, leadership coaching and mindfulness into an integrated practice
Deep coaching works great, if and whenever a client is seeking coaching. However, most employees today are not eligible, and even amongst those who are, the uptake is low: passive coaching offers in companies mostly lead to an engagement of a lower single digit percentage of all employees.
In order to significantly increase the share of workers doing inner work, and in order to afford continuous learning, we came up with a multi-channel delivery model offered to all employees:
Workshops, usually conducted online for an hour per month, on personal and relational mastery topics provide an easy entry, provide some initial capacity building and trigger self-reflection
Chat via whatsapp or other messenger apps with our counselors is an anonymous and immediate way to seek individual support (e.g., following workshop reflections or in-between coaching sessions)
Coaching session by video allow to dive deeper, e.g., into trauma-informed and developmental coaching, often over several sessions
Content such as practices or inspirations in text, audio or video files, as well as live mindfulness meditations, support inner work
Peer groups of 4 participants may meet 1-2 times per month for an hour, using a standard protocol with varying topics to explore, to share openly and listen compassionately to each other
Some employees of soulchat.co clients only go to workshops, some use chat ad hoc when needed, and others take up the full offer. There might be phases of intensive inner work, and phases of taking it more lightly. Adjustability to life circumstances is part of the formula.
Soulchat supports the personal growth of our consultants in a way that makes it really easy to engage, even during a busy working day. I like that people can choose and gradually increase the level of depth of their inner work
As are synergistic effects between the different channels: clients’ first contact with soulchat.co is often a mini-workshop in which they have moments of self-awareness. They are encouraged to explore and get initial support via chat with a counselor. If they wish to dive deeper into underlying structures or trauma, they may schedule video-coaching sessions. Between video coaching sessions clients often use our chat to continue their inner process, or to reach out for immediate support in acute experiences of crisis, challenges or questions arising. Our coaches will also share content such as practices or inspirations in word, audio or video files. Furthermore, clients can gain insight, inspiration and community experiences during the monthly held workshops. And if they want to, they can pair up in small peer-groups to share with and encourage each other.
Doing it together, at scale: Unleashing the collective potential
The multi-channel approach, and the fact that the service is deliberately priced so that companies can afford to offer it to all employees, is making inner work mass movement within companies.
Everyone talks about “growing our people” but what if this were the true strategic core of an enterprise?
Some of soulchat.co’s clients want to know the answer. In those companies that make people the strategic core, we find that upto 70% of all employees participate in personal development workshops regularly, and upto a third of all employees seek growth through one-on-one sessions.
But it is not only the sheer number of people working on themselves that creates a collective impact. It is also that doing inner work together connects.
In the September 2022 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Ron Friedman states that “research has shown that employees with close connections at work are more productive, creative, and collaborative. They’re also more satisfied with their job, less susceptible to burnout, and less likely to leave”.
Connection also increases collaboration. In a metastudy published in 2021 (PNAS), Christoph Riedl and co-workers found collaboration to be more important than skills of individual team members in fostering collective intelligence, and in predicting team performance.
Connection is deepened by creating spaces for exchanges on personal topics. Spaces are created in which people show up authentic, vulnerable and supportive of each other. Spaces that enhance trust. When we trust, connect and feel safe, we can give up our “second job”, and we don’t need our reactive behaviors to defend ourselves. We can focus on what is right, be collaborative, creative, and we can grow.
Beyond a certain share of employees engaging in personal development at the workplace we regularly observe another phenomenon: Individual inner work starts to shape the culture of a company. It increases safety and connection, which in turn supports personal development, collaboration and team performance. A virtuous upward cycle of personal and organizational growth begins.
We are committed to growing the potential of our people at scale. Soulchat’s workshops, chat and video coaching provide continuous inspiration and breakthrough transformations. And doing it together, at the workplace, fosters the developmental and connected culture that makes us thrive
While we have much data to show the impact of soulchat-co on an individual level, it is too early to quantify the effects of unleashing people’s potential at scale on a company’s business performance. The good news is that, maybe for the first time, we have a live experiment running with a set of diverse companies from management consulting through manufacturing to tech start-ups who give this approach a very serious go.
If McKinsey, Egon Zehnder and experts from Harvard and MIT are right, we shall soon be able to prove with data what many intuit: That the best way to unleash an organization's power is indeed to realize the full potential of its individual employees. And that inner work at scale, together at the workplace, is the key.
Jens Riese, PhD, is the co-CEO and co-founder of soulchat.co. He also works as an executive coach, therapist and leadership trainer. He is a Senior Partner Alumnus with McKinsey where he served as co-dean of the Leadership Master Programs.
If you are a company interested in your people’s growth, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org