The Basis of Self-Reflection and Self-Governance Is a Developmental Plan (Premise 3)

No More Feedback — Chapter 11

This chapter is an excerpt from No More Feedback: Cultivate Consciousness at Work, the first in a series of books on toxic practices in the workplace. Read the introduction and previous chapter here on Medium, and find links to purchase the full book here.

To work as a self-correcting system, individually or as part of a team, a person must operate from a developmental plan that contains three lines of work, stemming from a hierarchy of values and influences. This means working on expressing one’s own uniqueness (first line) and learning about oneself and the joys and problems of working with others (second line), while all the time searching for opportunities to make a contribution to something greater than oneself (third line).

The only way a person can maintain their inner balance and optimize their ability to be self-governing is by creating and utilizing their own developmentally holistic plan and then continually self-reflecting to stay with the plan.

Cybernetics theory tells us that the isolation of what is perceived to be an unintegrated part in a system, as a way to stay within predefined parameters, will inevitably lead to runaway. In humans, this occurs most frequently due to the well-intentioned provision of feedback from external perspectives. Feedback is useful information to a system only when it can successfully prevent oscillation or runaway. For people at work, any feedback is only even marginally useful in the context of what I call “third-line work.” That is, any assessment is useful only if it serves efforts that are adding value to or benefitting processes and people that a greater whole system contributes to and depends on for reciprocal benefits. For example, when a doctor makes an honest and thorough assessment of her medical practice, she does so not only in reference to the healthcare system in which she works; she also considers its effects on the individuals she serves. She then reaches further and factors in the effects these smaller systems, her patients, wish to have on the larger systems to which they make contributions and from which they receive benefits. These larger systems include their families, schools, workplaces, churches, and communities.

This perspective requires considering the whole of things. In the business world, the value-adding or third-line context comes from the customers and consumers of goods and services produced, as well as from those who hold a stake in a company’s endeavors. In the context of third-line work, an individual can determine what product or service increases the effectiveness of the customer and thereby set an appropriate plan to provide it. Enabling others to move beyond where they currently are always requires us to raise our own level of capability. In the context of all three lines of work, a person is able to discern feedback in the form of information received from external sources and to interpret and make use of it through self-reflection and by further contextualizing it in their own developmental plan. This process requires discovery, leads to further self-reflection, and strengthens and improves the capability to be self-reflective.

The developmental plan is based on aims for customers or consumers that require us to develop beyond our present capability and state of being. We take on these aims because we see things that need doing and that we are uniquely able to do. Based on aims for customers, aims are also set for the organization or business we propose to support, or for the team we can be a part of in service of this business. In turn, we set personal aims that we feel are required of us in order to achieve the other aims we have set — and thus all three lines of work are engaged. Aims are not the same as traditional goals and objectives; they are developmental paths that require us to become something different rather than just do something different, as we pursue them.

What Is Not Developmental?

There are several “categorizing feedback” methods in vogue that are offered as training and development but are decidedly not developmental in their nature. The Myers-Briggs analysis is one example. These models tend mainly to be presented as static and categorical, inviting better understanding of who we are but offering little or no opportunity to see who we could become. They are standardized tests, primarily focused on the personality and functional aspects of an individual, without sufficient invitation to explore the uniqueness we have as whole human beings. In this kind of process, a person comes to see themself as static (what I am), rather than evolving (what I am becoming or could become), as common rather than unique and thus definable by external standards.

When these assessment models are used in organizations they contribute to a field of external judgments whereby we see people as types, exemplars of one or another of only a few categories. Their lives are reduced to boxes or ranks. Such static models are the Lorelei of developmental processes. Just as the legendary beautiful Lorelei lured sailors onto the rocks with enchanting songs, they captivate managers with promises they cannot keep.

Developmental Plans

Many organizational processes are called development plans, but most are really only plans for training, created in response to a core competency or feedback assessment. They are not remotely developmental in the sense of the word as I am using it here. The following additional premises lay the groundwork for a truly developmental plan; they can be used to assess the examples and stories that follow in the next section. It should be noted that individuals, teams and other groups, and whole organizations can create and pursue a developmental plan. I will mainly be referring to individuals in these premises, but most of what I say can be extrapolated to groups and organizations.

  1. A developmental plan is founded on the idea of expressing potential, rather solving behavioral problems or performance shortfalls, or for conforming with other people’s standards.
  2. Thus, the plan starts from the essence, not from behavior or personality characteristics. Essence can be discovered on evoked in many ways, a few of which are hinted at in the upcoming stories.
  3. The person or group making the plan, and those resourcing them, assume that intrinsic motivation is the source of growth and development. They avoid generic, homogenized ideas offered from external sources or people not engaged in this particular developmental process.
  4. A development plan is effective when it includes taking on a challenge beyond the individual or group’s current capability. It becomes even more effective when it is in service of a greater whole, for the benefit of others (people, communities, ecosystems) who are valued and respected. This extension requires that the plan aim at effects beyond one’s own set of friends, one’s family or acquaintances, or one’s co-workers and co-creators, all of whom constitute what we call second-line community.
  5. The structure can be shared across the organization or with the second-line community, but not its content. In other words, a plan’s outline can serve as a blank slate or starting place, unique within an agreed upon framework where there are shared arenas to consider. But the actual content of any individual’s plan is unique to them and cannot be shared with or applied to any other person.
  6. The boundaries of a developmental plan are provided by an organizational strategy — a compelling, meaningful promise beyond the organization’s current capability to deliver unless individuals and work units engage in growth and collective effort. Such a plan cannot be tied to goals or other similar, recurring strategy that serves the stakeholders of the organization.
  7. The personal agency of the individual to whom the plan belongs is the primary guide and driver of the progression of the plan and its accomplishment.
  8. The plan is evaluated and audited by the person who develops, pursues, and achieves its aims and by others invited by this person to share reflections within an agreed upon framework.
  9. Those who are invited to share reflections claim them as entirely their own observations and thinking (as in any active listening process). They do not belong to the person to whom they are offered. Reflections are examined by both parties using a shared framework to assess their pertinence and usefulness.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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