The Usain Bolt of Organisations: Behind the Scenes at Next Jump, a Deliberately Developmental Organisation (Part I)
TheUsain Bolt of Organisations: Behind the Scenes at Next Jump, a DeliberatelyDevelopmental Organisation
• Next Jump employees spend 50% of their time on culture and 50% of their time on revenues
• Next Jump are so confident of their hiring process that they have a No Fire Policy.
• Everyone who joins Next Jump must pass through the PLB onboarding process together with their Talking Partner.
• A true DDO functions at the optimum of the company culture spectrum, embedding personal growth and development into every single aspect of the business.
• Next Jump employees develop personal capabilities that they take on and use outside the business and in their personal lives.
Ifirst came across DDOs (Deliberately Developmental Organisations) in An Everyone Culture, a book writtenby Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Robert and the team behind the book came upwith the term Deliberately Developmental Organisation to describe three verydifferent organisations that are, I believe, at the optimum of the companyculture spectrum. An Everyone Culture supplied fascinating insights intowhat a DDO is and how it works.
In most organisations nearly everyone is doing a second job no oneis paying them for - namely, covering their weaknesses, trying to look theirbest, and managing other people's impressions of them. There may be no greaterwaste of a company's resources. The ultimate cost: neither the organization norits people are able to realise their full potential. A DDO is organized aroundthe simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper whenthey are more deeply aligned with people's strongest motive, which is to grow.This means going beyond consigning "people development" tohigh-potential programs, executive coaching, or once-a-year off-sites. It meansfashioning an organizational culture in which support of people's developmentis woven into the daily fabric of working life and the company's regularoperations, daily routines, and conversations.
I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Next Jump LeadershipAcademy in London earlier this year. The Leadership Academy is a three-dayimmersion into what it means to be a Next Jumper. My intention was to attendthe academy, see what this DDO thing really is all about, and then write a blogabout the experience. I had read An Everyone Culture and had watchedmost of the Next Jump videos on YouTube, so I thought I was prepared for theexperience. Boy was I wrong! I was blown away by the brilliance of watching thecompany’s culture in action and at the end of the three days I realised thatthere was no chance in hell I could write a meaningful blog post about myexperience, because it simply wouldn’t make sense. The best way to describe thesituation I found myself in after the academy is to imagine that a company is ahuman body and you’ve been asked to describe, to an alien who hasn’t seen onebefore, what happens in and to the body when it’s running. High leveldescriptions of what the foot does, how the eyes work and what the heart doeswould make no sense, unless you were able to describe the rest of the body andhow everything is interconnected. To complicate matters further, Next Jump isthe Usain Bolt of runners.
I interviewed Becky Gooch and Graham Laming to get a deeperunderstanding of what working in a DDO is like. It was fascinating to learnmore about the company’s astounding culture, so rich and comprehensive thatthere simply isn’t room here to write about it all. In this article, Becky andGraham describe the recruitment and onboarding process and the incredibleimpact it has on the people who work in the company.
About Becky & Graham
Becky and Graham joined the company in July 2015. Becky is 24 yearsold and she is responsible for the revenues of Next Jump UK; Graham is also 24and he leads a tech team. Both joined the company straight out of university andalthough leaders, neither have proper hierarchical job titles — these areirrelevant at Next Jump.
Failure and learning atNext Jump
One of the many strengths of the Next Jump culture is that as abusiness and as individual people they are open about their failures and thelearning from those failures. Take the early days of the company when it wasdecided to hire “the best” graduates from the top schools in the US like MIT,Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Columbia, Georgia Tech.
The team went out and hiredall the top graduates, who were stunningly brilliant people, driven to succeed.After they had onboarded this intake, the team discovered that they hadactually hired a bunch of “brilliant jerks” who turned out to be really toxicfor the culture. The new hires lacked all trace of humility, couldn’t takecritical feedback, weren’t prepared to fail and were stubborn in the way theyapproached their work.
Realising their mistake, Next Jump fired the brilliant jerks anddecided to focus on creating a hiring process that recruited people who GAS(Give A Shit), people who demonstrate Grit and Humility. The company stillhires from the top schools but they make the hiring decision not based on youwho you are today, but who you can become in the future.
What the company looks forin the ideal candidate
Humility is a key metric for company because if you are humble, youhave the ability to fail, learn and grow. To Next Jump, humility means thatsomeone has a student mindset combined with a growth mindset. The companyleadership (which is democratically voted in annually by the entire company)believes that as human beings we are always growing and developing; this is oneof the reasons why the company places so much emphasis on feedback. Humilityalso means that you are grateful, responsible, and will take ownership for themistakes that you make.
Through the interview process, the company weeds out the people witha sense of entitlement and the people who think they know it all. During thehiring process (a process that everyone at Next Jump is trained and involvedin), the interviewers look for the candidate to demonstrate humility.Specifically, they’re interested in how the candidate takes ownership of theirfailures, and will ask candidates how they have failed to understand if theyare able to take responsibility for their mistakes. They ask how they handledthe situation when it happened and how would they handle it differently now.Essentially, they evaluate the candidate’s real capacity for humility and howaware they are of themselves and their weaknesses. Being aware of and workingon your strengths (their forehand) and weaknesses (their backhand — even moreimportant) is a key part of daily life at Next Jump.
As part of the recruitment process, Next Jump do also look fordemonstrated confidence. But rather than just look for how confident someoneis, they look for candidates with grit, and to have grit the candidate has tohave overcome some obstacles in their life. Grit is not the confidence you getfrom being bright, gifted and having it easy; grit is the confidence you getfrom pushing through difficult or challenging situations and then coming outwiser on the other side.
The Super Saturday interviewprocess
The company is constantly iterating and improving its processes, sono Super Saturday is ever the same. The structure of the most recent SuperSaturday held in London was described to us during the Leadership Academy. Theday is designed to be a 9 to 10-hour marathon starting at 9:30am with breakfastfor the candidates and the Next Jump team. The Next Jump team all take part inSuper Saturday interview process, and they are evaluating the candidates fromthe minute they walk in the door without any respite. The company testscandidates for the right “student mindset,” a mindset that demonstrateshumility and the ability to learn from your mistakes.
There are two streams of candidates for Super Saturday: theengineering candidates and the business candidates. The morning starts with akick off and introduction to the company. The engineers then proceed to skillstests and coding exercises and the business candidates are tested withpractical exercises, with a ten-minute break in between the exercises. Lunch ishalf an hour and then the candidates have company presentations and then go tofour one-on-one interviews in succession. At the end of the day there is a teamchallenge followed by presentations. The day comes to an end at 7pm after aculture tour and discussion with the company CEOs/leadership.
The company evaluates and scores the candidates from the very firstmeeting at the university campus, to the pre-screening interview and through tothe end of the Super Saturday. Every interaction that takes place is consideredand the candidates are rated via a mobile app. The interviewer may beinterviewing for grit but could red flag a candidate who they think should beinterviewed further around humility and that someone should follow up on that.The company gets an understanding in real time during the Super Saturday whothe top candidates are, and who they need to follow up with and what they mightneed to dig further into
The team challenge is the last component of the interview process,which is designed to see how people respond when they are tired and put underpressure. The candidates are put into teams and they are told that they aregoing to be presenting against another team in an hour. The aim of the exerciseis to observe how the individuals work together in a team situation and then,to see how they react and behave when they make the presentation. Theindividual performer who has great skills and interviews well, may not performas well in the pressurised group dynamic, which is what Next Jump is testingfor in this scenario.
During Super Saturday, the company sets up a war room where they canview the data and analytics being collected in real-time on a big screen, whichallows them to ensure that each candidate is being interviewed thoroughly. Atthe end of the day the Next Jump team meets up in the war room and discusseseach of the candidates in detail and a decision is taken on who to make anoffer to.
Their environment for recruiting, particularly for softwareengineers, is hugely competitive. During Super Saturday, the company showcaseswho they are and how the company is unique. By the end of the day, candidatesshould know one way or the other if they fit in with the culture andrequirements of the Next Jump environment and whether they want to join thecompany or not. The company appreciates that each one of the candidateshas invested a day of their time, so they give every candidate who attends aSuper Saturday event access to their feedback, whether they receive an offer ornot. This is another area where Next Jump is different; in most cases theinterviewee doesn’t hear or understand why they did not get the job offer. Thecompany is open to candidates re-applying, especially if the candidate candemonstrate that they have taken the feedback and worked on themselves in theinterim. This practice has had the added benefit of creating strongrelationships on the university campuses the company recruits from.
Onboarding and the Personal Leadership Bootcamp
The candidateswho successfully pass through Super Saturday receive an offer to join thecompany and enroll in the Next Jump onboarding program. They will then join the"Personal Leadership Bootcamp," or PLB, which is when the company’sNo Fire Policy takes effect. When you tell people about the No Fire policy, they automatically think thatemployeeswill abuse the situation, because they know they won’t get fired, but thatisn’t the case. If someone breaks any of the fundamental rules likeharassing someone, breaking the law, or stealing from the company, they would obviously be fired.The No Fire Policy doesn’t fully exempt anyone, but it does mean you won’t be fired forperformance related issues.
Creating andbuilding a successful onboarding program is hard and Next Jump have investedsignificantly in the PLB program, which is designed to be simulating, engaging,happy, fun, challenging, productive and deliberately stressful. The company hasevolved PLB over the years, developing a program of doing versus showing, specificallyworking on emotional and character development by injecting stress early intothe onboarding process. During PLB, the new joiners are educated in Next Jump’shistory, learning about the origin of the company and how it got to where it istoday, gaining an understanding of what the challenges and struggles were andwhat the vision is for the company.
During PLB newhires can work on skills development; engineers can take different trainingcourses and if you are on the client facing side, you are offered sales ormarketing training. Each new hire has to pass through and graduate PLB (withtheir Talking Partner) before they can start the job they were hired to do. TheNext Jump team understand that the first months of an employee’s experience atthe company are the most crucial time because they have a significant impact onhow long an employee will stay at the company, their overall engagement andtheir long-term productivity.
New hires at NextJump join the customer service team irrespective of the role they were hiredfor. The company sets targets for the number of tickets a new hire is expectedto close, which increases each week. At the same time that the new hire islearning about customer service, the company will throw in culture developmentinitiatives, team challenges or surprise side projects that the new joiner hasto complete and then present to the team on. PLB is a significant upfrontinvestment by the company as it can take 3+ months to graduate.
A lot of the PLBprogram is designed to help the new hire understand what personal behaviours orpast experiences could hold them back from being the best they can be. NextJump use the Performance = Potential – Impediments equation to help communicatewhat could get in the way of a new employee fulfilling their potential. Thecompany uses culture development initiatives and projects to allow the new hireto practice their fledgling skills and learn how to overcome their impedimentsin a “safe” environment where a “failure” will not affect the revenues of thebusiness.
The company looksfor the individual to understand both their strengths (their forehand) andtheir weaknesses (their backhand), as well as how their leaning towardsarrogance or insecurity affects their behaviour. Next Jump wants the new hireto be able to understand their true person. The company hires not for who youare today, but who you could become, and the PLB program is specificallydesigned to help the new hire explore and understand their potential. Next Jumppays for each new hire to attend Simon Sinek’s online "Start withWhy" course so that they can craft their personal purpose (their “whystatement”). This helps new hires understand what their purpose is and howtheir impediments might be getting in the way of them achieving that purpose.
Next Jump showseach new hire the feedback they received during the initial interview and SuperSaturday sessions. They get to see the thumbs up or thumbs down they receivedon the recruitment app, as well as any additional comments and whether theywere perceived to be more confident/arrogant or humble/insecure. The companyuses the feedback from the app as a starting point to develop the individual’sself-awareness and develops this further through situational workshops (more onthis later), feedback from their peers, working with their coach and their TP.Over time, the new hire starts to develop a clearer understanding of whatnegative behaviours or tendencies (backhand) present themselves in certainsituations and how they can work on and improve them.
Becky and Grahamare Talking Partners (TP). The Next Jump TP sessions are daily opportunitiesfor the individuals to share their issues, frustrations and thoughts about thecoming day before they start work — essentially, a deliberate release valve.Talking Partnerships are formed during the Personal Leadership Bootcamp (PLB)onboarding process, and they are ideally but not always, formed between onepartner whose personality traits lean arrogant and the other partner whosepersonality traits lean insecure. The company wants to see how the partnershipdevelops during PLB and crucially TPs have to pass through graduation together.
New employees arealso paired with a coach during PLB — someone who is a relatively a new hireand has recently graduated through the onboarding process. They have weekly orbi-weekly sessions with their coach talking about what they have experienced inthe process of answering customer service tickets or in the cultureinitiatives. The coach helps the new hire to probe into what they havestruggled with and why, exploring the impediments to their potential success inthe company. In this way, Next Jump takes a normal situation that would happenin any job and helps the individual think it through, learn how to do the jobbetter and just as importantly, develop themselves.
One of the thingsI really admire about Next Jump is the way they build self-development intoevery process in the company. For example, the PLB coach role achieves twooutcomes: it helps the new hire progress through PLB and at the same timerefreshes the memory of PLB process for the coach. This reminds the coach ofwhat they personally went through and keeps the coach accountable for their owncontinued growth within the company.
At the end of thefirst three weeks of PLB and every three weeks until graduation, the new hirepresents to a panel of judges, sharing five things: what they have been workingon; what they have learned; the mistakes they have made; the progress they believethey have made to strengthen their backhand, and; the work they have done onbalancing their arrogance/insecurity.
The judges then give feedback. In orderto graduate, a new hire needs to be passed by all three judges unanimously. Ifa judge decides that they are not ready to graduate, the new hire andtheir TP, return to the PLB and will do another three weeks of the program.
PLB is a truly fascinating process. It is not aboutticking boxes and simply moving through the process; it’s more complex thanthat. PLB is essentially the individual person’s personal journey tounderstanding their backhand and their individual purpose in life, and buildinga natural capability to want to develop themselves, so that when they graduatethey will not need the PLB structures to be in place to continue theirdevelopment. Each person’s process is unique and cannot be compared to anyoneelse’s, and in most if not all cases, it’s difficult to know if someone isready to graduate and what ready really means to them. That’s what makes PLB sounique and what makes it so valuable for each person.
Find outmore about Next Jump: www.NextJump.com