In their book An Everyone Culture, Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation, Kegan and Lahey describe how the most powerful way to unleash an organisation’s pursuit for better performance is to realise the full potential of its employees, in other words, to help them grow and develop.
Corporate culture is a winning strategy and Kegan and Lahey illustrate this through 3 case studies of successful organisations that have walked that path: Decurion, Bridgewater and Next Jump. Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend 3 days in complete immersion at Decurion’s Arclight Cinemas on multiple locations in California. I shadowed crew members and management in their daily activities, participated in all meetings, and explored the world of an organisation “creating places for people to flourish”.
Here are 3 lessons I learnt:
- At Arclight, everyone I met was connected to the brand purpose of providing “an uninterrupted movie experience” and used this to guide their everyday decisions and tune to their behaviour in service of their guests. Although such a culture takes time to build, I was impressed how effective this form of alignment can be as it proves much more powerful than following rules. Staff members were fully aware of the achieved performance -guest attendance to the movies- and constantly sought ways to enhance it, in service of their customers. This was one of the first times I experienced complete alignment between the organisational values posted on the walls and daily behaviours. I can assure you, it feels good! Working relationships seemed to much easier to build and sustain because everyone was focused on the well-being of the customer (and not their own department, process, silo, etc.). Effective and focused collaboration is very powerful indeed, even –or maybe I should say especially- if everything is not running smoothly
- “Creating places for people to flourish” had generated quite a romantic vision of personal development in my mind. I found that it takes place in very practical ways. Two crew members told me how they had joined Arclight with the intention of making a little money before moving on, and how 3 years later, they were not apply for a position as manager. The developmental process has changed their life, boosted their self-confidence, taught them new business skills, and they find the continual learning process extremely stimulating. Flourishing, growing, learning, developing were all part of the vocabulary used by all those I talked to as they described their Arclight experience. Right next to the customer experience was their own personal experience of working for a company that enables them (and sometimes pushes them) to grow. It’s not necessarily an easy road to travel as each and every person is held accountable to his peers and the organisation for working on aspects where they can improve. However, even though it may be tough sometimes, those interviewed all told me it was well worth it in the long run.
- I have changed companies a number of times in my career and each time I experienced that first month of not knowing what is going on, not understanding the vocabulary, feeling lost in meetings grasping at whatever pieces of information I could, and generally feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the whole experience. At Arclight, I was given an introduction and context to each daily activity. I would enter a meeting, be introduced to all members, be explained what the meeting was about, given context to the greater meaning, and then the meeting would start. This was true for me, but also for regular staff members, it’s just a way of working: “Sheryl, you were absent at the last meeting, this is what happened and these decisions were taken”. This may sound like a little tedious but I found it incredibly effective, after 3 days, I felt completely included as a member of staff and felt like I was ready to contribute to the business!
I am very grateful to Decurion for allowing me to see how they work from the inside and to all the staff at Arclight who just went about their daily business and yet taught me so much in such a short time. So, is everything perfect in the Decurion world? Thankfully not. That would have left me with a distorted impression and maybe some doubts as to whether I would have been in contact with the real thing. I was relieved to find that not all goes smoothly at Arclight, however, my overarching feeling of this immersive experience was that of great hope and inspiration:
- Culture as a strategy truly works and is the most effective I has yet seen to deal with our world’s complexity.
- When things don’t go as planned, a strong sense of purpose, and a culture in which people thing of the big picture really does help to recover and learn from what just happened.
- Helping people to flourish can be done in a very practical way, based upon their daily job, nothing extra.