Vitalizing Work Design: Implementing A Developmental Philosophy — Part 4

Carol Sanford
6 min readMay 16, 2019


Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

This is the fourth and final piece in a series on developmental work design. We’ll review the six performance targets detailed in the last two parts of the series and see how they can be used together to assess work design improvement plans.

Assessing Your Work Design or Process

No matter what the work design or improvement program is called — High Commitment, etc. — you can tell what potential it has by reflecting on which foundation the design is built. The fundamental differences can be discovered by asking:

1. Expansion: Are people expected to expand their contribution and develop their capability from within a preset system? This includes a provision for annual review or other updating processes. Or, are the work systems designed to evolve as a result of the ongoing development and contribution of people?

2. Identity: Are people expected to identify with a set of acceptable behaviors that are exemplified by role models, in evaluation systems, and with a work unit who shares a rotating set of tasks? Or, are people developed for their uniqueness and as an opportunity to contribute their essence to the business?

3. Order: Is order maintained by creating increasing numbers of procedures, standards, and classification systems around which people are expected to organize their work and to which they are to match their performance? Or, is order developed through having all members of the organization connected to the generation of synergy, and to the self-organizing, and symbiotic relationships that need to be maintained between the organization and its stakeholders and a mutually desired future?

4. Freedom: Do attempts to gain freedom from surprise come from multiplying the data and information across the organization? Or, do they come from enabling people to view reality from different levels of understanding that make complexity and rapid change the source of challenge, creativity, and innovation?

5 Interaction: Are interactions and communication sourced from a desire to provide external motivation and reinforcement for organizationally– approved behavior? Or, are they sourced from increasing capability to be self-managing and self-evolving in the context of the emerging values of the stakeholders with which the business transacts?

6. Concentration: Is work based on using a reductionist view of the world that breaks every whole into its parts to work on it, organize it, and evaluate it? Or, is capability built to work from an understanding of wholes and how different wholes relate to one another?

A Learning Organization Is Not Necessarily A Developmental Organization

Although I would be the last to disparage the pursuit of a Learning Organization — it is moving many people away from the shortcomings of the behavioral era — I do not believe it has a philosophical or technological base that can ensure that it naturally evolves to a developmental approach for the creation of work systems. The triad of interaction, concentration, and freedom is not carried out in a Learning Organization in a way that would lead to this result. The technology that springs from a Developmental Philosophy is fundamentally based in the development, not just the use, of intelligences. To be able see life and reality through the ascendancy of different planes of the thinking or mental frameworks, as discussed in the freedom giving element, is fundamental to our becoming different beings and different organizational entities. Otherwise we view everything the same as everything else with no higher ordering influences from which to make sense of the world. If this capability is not developed, the nature of interactions used to move toward self-evolving, self-organizing processes do not have sufficient power for people to transform their world-view or paradigms away from the two-term models with which we view most of the world (e.g. right/wrong, good/bad).

The systems thinking models normally used in Learning Organization processes are drawn from a cybernetic system framework. This framework was developed for creating artificial intelligence in computers but it has insufficient diversity and complexity to transform human consciousness or even for the understanding of human consciousness. To enable evolution to the levels of spiritual and intellectual capacity needed for a developmental approach, a more extensive step is needed toward building the capability of all the intelligences necessary to understand and utilize transformational and evolutionary systems thinking processes.

Learning Organization theory and practice contains the vision, but not yet the science and technology required to actualize the vision.

If organizational leadership continues to be hypnotized by the functional changes that can readily be produced with behavioral models, business enterprises and, therefore, society run a risk of losing the potential of several more generations of workers beyond those we have already lost. As you contemplate this summary, I suggest you consider my words from the level of an individual, a business organization, and at the level of society, or even Earth. As Joseph Chilton Pearce says in his book Evolution’s End, we lose the freedom that comes from a grander framework for understanding the field of life when we do not develop the capacity of the total brain — maybe even the loss of the human race if he is right (Freedom).

Without the faith that comes from seeing others as capable of being self-reliant, within the context of the whole, we tend to see a need for some of us to teach, judge, and/or reinforce appropriate behaviors in others, thus creating a need for more disciplinary means and institutions. With an intellectually developed, self-managing society, even the prison inmates can help evolve the systems that govern them into ones that are developmental. (Interaction) An undeveloped mental capacity leaves us seeing ourselves, as humans, being something separate from all other living systems. We can not see the essence of the role of each life form and the intricate role it/he/she plays in the web of all life and, thus, too often inadvertently or even intentionally obliterate the physical life or at least the spirit and potential of that life, thereby reducing the possible futures for all (Concentration).

When the above capabilities are insufficiently developed, we ensure the very outcomes we seek will not be realized. In the immediate as well as distant future we lose the innate will human beings have to make a difference with their lives through expansion of their contribution and the means of contributions (Expansion). We foster an entire society which is driven from our lower nature (e.g. defensive and egoistic), which is exemplified in succumbing to peer pressure rather than drawing from an internal sense of what is right and ethical (Identity). We diminish the diversity and creativity that results from tapping the uniqueness of each person and may even be robbing ourselves of the sacred possibility that each human life brings. When any entity can not walk the path for which it was intended and can not make the difference it uniquely is capable of making, the whole does not become in totality what it could (Order).

These are the outcomes we lose — contribution to the greater scheme of things, the internal response to what is right for all, and the evolution of the whole that comes from the uniqueness of the part.

The Regenerative Business

If you want to know more about my approach to work design from the living systems paradigm, see my award winning book The Regenerative Business. It shows how businesses are able to cultivate human potential to achieve extraordinary outcomes through the stories of organizations that have taken the developmental path.

About Carol Sanford

Carol Sanford is a regenerative business educator, the award winning author of The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes, and executive in residence and senior fellow in social innovation at Babson College. She has worked with fortune 500 executives and rock star entrepreneurs for 40 years, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Learn more about Carol and her work at her website.



Carol Sanford

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator