The Usain Bolt of Organisations: Behind the Scenes at Next Jump, a Deliberately Developmental Organisation (Part I)
In 2016, a team of Harvard professors published An Everyone Culture citing Next Jump as 1 of 3 companies globally that represent the future of work – what they call: Deliberately Developmental Organizations (or DDOs for short).
The Usain Bolt of Organisations: Behind the Scenes at Next Jump, a Deliberately Developmental 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.
I first came across DDOs (Deliberately Developmental Organisations) in An Everyone Culture, a book written by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Robert and the team behind the book came up with the term Deliberately Developmental Organisation to describe three very different organisations that are, I believe, at the optimum of the company culture spectrum. An Everyone Culture supplied fascinating insights into what a DDO is and how it works.
In most organisations nearly everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for - namely, covering their weaknesses, trying to look their best, and managing other people's impressions of them. There may be no greater waste of a company's resources. The ultimate cost: neither the organization nor its people are able to realise their full potential. A DDO is organized around the simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are more deeply aligned with people's strongest motive, which is to grow. This means going beyond consigning "people development" to high-potential programs, executive coaching, or once-a-year off-sites. It means fashioning an organizational culture in which support of people's development is woven into the daily fabric of working life and the company's regular operations, daily routines, and conversations.
I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Next Jump Leadership Academy in London earlier this year. The Leadership Academy is a three-day immersion into what it means to be a Next Jumper. My intention was to attend the academy, see what this DDO thing really is all about, and then write a blog about the experience. I had read An Everyone Culture and had watched most of the Next Jump videos on YouTube, so I thought I was prepared for the experience. Boy was I wrong! I was blown away by the brilliance of watching the company’s culture in action and at the end of the three days I realised that there was no chance in hell I could write a meaningful blog post about my experience, because it simply wouldn’t make sense. The best way to describe the situation I found myself in after the academy is to imagine that a company is a human body and you’ve been asked to describe, to an alien who hasn’t seen one before, what happens in and to the body when it’s running. High level descriptions of what the foot does, how the eyes work and what the heart does would make no sense, unless you were able to describe the rest of the body and how everything is interconnected. To complicate matters further, Next Jump is the Usain Bolt of runners.
I interviewed Becky Gooch and Graham Laming to get a deeper understanding of what working in a DDO is like. It was fascinating to learn more about the company’s astounding culture, so rich and comprehensive that there simply isn’t room here to write about it all. In this article, Becky and Graham describe the recruitment and onboarding process and the incredible impact 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 years old and she is responsible for the revenues of Next Jump UK; Graham is also 24 and he leads a tech team. Both joined the company straight out of university and although leaders, neither have proper hierarchical job titles — these are irrelevant at Next Jump.
Failure and learning at Next Jump
One of the many strengths of the Next Jump culture is that as a business and as individual people they are open about their failures and the learning from those failures. Take the early days of the company when it was decided 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 hired all the top graduates, who were stunningly brilliant people, driven to succeed. After they had onboarded this intake, the team discovered that they had actually hired a bunch of “brilliant jerks” who turned out to be really toxic for the culture. The new hires lacked all trace of humility, couldn’t take critical feedback, weren’t prepared to fail and were stubborn in the way they approached their work.
Realising their mistake, Next Jump fired the brilliant jerks and decided to focus on creating a hiring process that recruited people who GAS (Give A Shit), people who demonstrate Grit and Humility. The company still hires from the top schools but they make the hiring decision not based on you who you are today, but who you can become in the future.
What the company looks for in the ideal candidate
Humility is a key metric for company because if you are humble, you have the ability to fail, learn and grow. To Next Jump, humility means that someone has a student mindset combined with a growth mindset. The company leadership (which is democratically voted in annually by the entire company) believes that as human beings we are always growing and developing; this is one of the reasons why the company places so much emphasis on feedback. Humility also means that you are grateful, responsible, and will take ownership for the mistakes that you make.
Through the interview process, the company weeds out the people with a sense of entitlement and the people who think they know it all. During the hiring process (a process that everyone at Next Jump is trained and involved in), the interviewers look for the candidate to demonstrate humility. Specifically, they’re interested in how the candidate takes ownership of their failures, and will ask candidates how they have failed to understand if they are able to take responsibility for their mistakes. They ask how they handled the situation when it happened and how would they handle it differently now. Essentially, they evaluate the candidate’s real capacity for humility and how aware they are of themselves and their weaknesses. Being aware of and working on your strengths (their forehand) and weaknesses (their backhand — even more important) is a key part of daily life at Next Jump.
As part of the recruitment process, Next Jump do also look for demonstrated confidence. But rather than just look for how confident someone is, they look for candidates with grit, and to have grit the candidate has to have overcome some obstacles in their life. Grit is not the confidence you get from being bright, gifted and having it easy; grit is the confidence you get from pushing through difficult or challenging situations and then coming out wiser on the other side.
The Super Saturday interview process
The company is constantly iterating and improving its processes, so no Super Saturday is ever the same. The structure of the most recent Super Saturday held in London was described to us during the Leadership Academy. The day is designed to be a 9 to 10-hour marathon starting at 9:30am with breakfast for the candidates and the Next Jump team. The Next Jump team all take part in Super Saturday interview process, and they are evaluating the candidates from the minute they walk in the door without any respite. The company tests candidates for the right “student mindset,” a mindset that demonstrates humility and the ability to learn from your mistakes.
There are two streams of candidates for Super Saturday: the engineering candidates and the business candidates. The morning starts with a kick off and introduction to the company. The engineers then proceed to skills tests and coding exercises and the business candidates are tested with practical exercises, with a ten-minute break in between the exercises. Lunch is half an hour and then the candidates have company presentations and then go to four one-on-one interviews in succession. At the end of the day there is a team challenge followed by presentations. The day comes to an end at 7pm after a culture tour and discussion with the company CEOs/leadership.
The company evaluates and scores the candidates from the very first meeting at the university campus, to the pre-screening interview and through to the end of the Super Saturday. Every interaction that takes place is considered and the candidates are rated via a mobile app. The interviewer may be interviewing for grit but could red flag a candidate who they think should be interviewed further around humility and that someone should follow up on that. The company gets an understanding in real time during the Super Saturday who the top candidates are, and who they need to follow up with and what they might need 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 under pressure. The candidates are put into teams and they are told that they are going to be presenting against another team in an hour. The aim of the exercise is 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. The individual performer who has great skills and interviews well, may not perform as well in the pressurised group dynamic, which is what Next Jump is testing for in this scenario.
During Super Saturday, the company sets up a war room where they can view the data and analytics being collected in real-time on a big screen, which allows them to ensure that each candidate is being interviewed thoroughly. At the end of the day the Next Jump team meets up in the war room and discusses each of the candidates in detail and a decision is taken on who to make an offer to.
Their environment for recruiting, particularly for software engineers, is hugely competitive. During Super Saturday, the company showcases who they are and how the company is unique. By the end of the day, candidates should know one way or the other if they fit in with the culture and requirements of the Next Jump environment and whether they want to join the company or not. The company appreciates that each one of the candidates has invested a day of their time, so they give every candidate who attends a Super Saturday event access to their feedback, whether they receive an offer or not. This is another area where Next Jump is different; in most cases the interviewee doesn’t hear or understand why they did not get the job offer. The company is open to candidates re-applying, especially if the candidate can demonstrate that they have taken the feedback and worked on themselves in the interim. This practice has had the added benefit of creating strong relationships on the university campuses the company recruits from.
Onboarding and the Personal Leadership Bootcamp
The candidates who successfully pass through Super Saturday receive an offer to join the company and enroll in the Next Jump onboarding program. They will then join the "Personal Leadership Bootcamp," or PLB, which is when the company’s No Fire Policy takes effect. When you tell people about the No Fire policy, they automatically think that employees will abuse the situation, because they know they won’t get fired, but that isn’t the case. If someone breaks any of the fundamental rules like harassing 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 for performance related issues.
Creating and building a successful onboarding program is hard and Next Jump have invested significantly in the PLB program, which is designed to be simulating, engaging, happy, fun, challenging, productive and deliberately stressful. The company has evolved PLB over the years, developing a program of doing versus showing, specifically working on emotional and character development by injecting stress early into the onboarding process. During PLB, the new joiners are educated in Next Jump’s history, learning about the origin of the company and how it got to where it is today, gaining an understanding of what the challenges and struggles were and what the vision is for the company.
During PLB new hires can work on skills development; engineers can take different training courses and if you are on the client facing side, you are offered sales or marketing training. Each new hire has to pass through and graduate PLB (with their Talking Partner) before they can start the job they were hired to do. The Next Jump team understand that the first months of an employee’s experience at the company are the most crucial time because they have a significant impact on how long an employee will stay at the company, their overall engagement and their long-term productivity.
New hires at Next Jump join the customer service team irrespective of the role they were hired for. The company sets targets for the number of tickets a new hire is expected to close, which increases each week. At the same time that the new hire is learning about customer service, the company will throw in culture development initiatives, team challenges or surprise side projects that the new joiner has to complete and then present to the team on. PLB is a significant upfront investment by the company as it can take 3+ months to graduate.
A lot of the PLB program is designed to help the new hire understand what personal behaviours or past experiences could hold them back from being the best they can be. Next Jump use the Performance = Potential – Impediments equation to help communicate what could get in the way of a new employee fulfilling their potential. The company uses culture development initiatives and projects to allow the new hire to practice their fledgling skills and learn how to overcome their impediments in a “safe” environment where a “failure” will not affect the revenues of the business.
The company looks for the individual to understand both their strengths (their forehand) and their weaknesses (their backhand), as well as how their leaning towards arrogance or insecurity affects their behaviour. Next Jump wants the new hire to be able to understand their true person. The company hires not for who you are today, but who you could become, and the PLB program is specifically designed to help the new hire explore and understand their potential. Next Jump pays for each new hire to attend Simon Sinek’s online "Start with Why" course so that they can craft their personal purpose (their “why statement”). This helps new hires understand what their purpose is and how their impediments might be getting in the way of them achieving that purpose.
Next Jump shows each new hire the feedback they received during the initial interview and Super Saturday sessions. They get to see the thumbs up or thumbs down they received on the recruitment app, as well as any additional comments and whether they were perceived to be more confident/arrogant or humble/insecure. The company uses the feedback from the app as a starting point to develop the individual’s self-awareness and develops this further through situational workshops (more on this later), feedback from their peers, working with their coach and their TP. Over time, the new hire starts to develop a clearer understanding of what negative behaviours or tendencies (backhand) present themselves in certain situations and how they can work on and improve them.
Becky and Graham are Talking Partners (TP). The Next Jump TP sessions are daily opportunities for the individuals to share their issues, frustrations and thoughts about the coming 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 one partner whose personality traits lean arrogant and the other partner whose personality traits lean insecure. The company wants to see how the partnership develops during PLB and crucially TPs have to pass through graduation together.
New employees are also paired with a coach during PLB — someone who is a relatively a new hire and has recently graduated through the onboarding process. They have weekly or bi-weekly sessions with their coach talking about what they have experienced in the process of answering customer service tickets or in the culture initiatives. The coach helps the new hire to probe into what they have struggled with and why, exploring the impediments to their potential success in the company. In this way, Next Jump takes a normal situation that would happen in any job and helps the individual think it through, learn how to do the job better and just as importantly, develop themselves.
One of the things I really admire about Next Jump is the way they build self-development into every process in the company. For example, the PLB coach role achieves two outcomes: it helps the new hire progress through PLB and at the same time refreshes the memory of PLB process for the coach. This reminds the coach of what they personally went through and keeps the coach accountable for their own continued growth within the company.
At the end of the first three weeks of PLB and every three weeks until graduation, the new hire presents to a panel of judges, sharing five things: what they have been working on; what they have learned; the mistakes they have made; the progress they believe they have made to strengthen their backhand, and; the work they have done on balancing their arrogance/insecurity.
The judges then give feedback. In order to graduate, a new hire needs to be passed by all three judges unanimously. If a judge decides that they are not ready to graduate, the new hire and their TP, return to the PLB and will do another three weeks of the program.
PLB is a truly fascinating process. It is not about ticking boxes and simply moving through the process; it’s more complex than that. PLB is essentially the individual person’s personal journey to understanding their backhand and their individual purpose in life, and building a natural capability to want to develop themselves, so that when they graduate they will not need the PLB structures to be in place to continue their development. Each person’s process is unique and cannot be compared to anyone else’s, and in most if not all cases, it’s difficult to know if someone is ready to graduate and what ready really means to them. That’s what makes PLB so unique and what makes it so valuable for each person.
Find out more about Next Jump: www.NextJump.com