In 2016, UMG, which used to be a vertically integrated holding company with a managing company and mining assets, adopted a new business strategy, and the company started to transform into an investment one. That decision resulted in significant changes in both the business model and the team. UMG Investments’ investment business required an absolutely different level of thinking, not only from the top managers, but also from all of its employees. Some people had to leave, but lots of new people with extremely different mindsets and culture joined us, so we needed to create a cohesive whole, i.e. our own corporate culture, out of that variety of cultures.
It was decided at one of the first strategic sessions that the spiral dynamics model would be used. According to the model, while a person is growing and developing, his or her values are changing. The higher their level of development, the more empathy the person has. The person gains a deeper understanding of management and leadership, knows how to encourage and interact with other people, and becomes better at conflict management. The spiral dynamics model is formed of colours, each representing a different value. There are eight stages of values.
We have decided that, as well as focusing on results, our critical values will be a person-centred approach, a culture of unity and co-creativity. These are key values of the green and yellow stages, which are our targets. In order to establish our current stage, we conducted quality research and observed the entire spectrum, from the culture of ownership to the culture of creativity. That situation existed even at the top team’s level. Accordingly, the first task was to plunge the managers into the uniform conceptual environment so that we could have the same views on the development of relations, decision-making and response and create the target corporate culture we desired.
It is common knowledge that neither a company nor its staff can exceed the collective performance of their senior executives, and no culture can be altered without changes at the management development level. In consideration of the above, our CEO asked to offer the programme that would enable our global leap, a shift in the thinking paradigm so that our top managers would be ready to think differently.
There are two ways of development. Most programmes available on the market offer a horizontal path: we read books, attend training sessions and develop our skills. MBA programmes also pertain to classic, horizontal development formats. However, there is another way: in IT terms, it enables people to obtain the different operating system that will help them find another way of understanding reality. We desired to achieve such a transformation, to change our operating system within the programme we had selected: the vertical leadership development programme.
The vertical development theory defines the growth of people, growth of adults or growth of ego. In other words, it shows how our ego, or we as humans, can become more independent, learning how to act in a much more constructive and adaptive manner and how to think in a more complex and nuanced way. According to the theory, there are a number of levels, a number of logics, the same way as in the spiral dynamics, which help people to grasp the world, to confer meaning to the world essentially and perceive it.
As we have made a coordinated decision to move towards organisation with a corporate culture between the green and yellow levels, we must maintain a very high personal maturity level among the senior executives. You cannot skip a stage, and it is very difficult to go up even one step. Nobody can help a person in that. The only thing that can be done is to create the environment that maintains the space in which people can try to see themselves from the outside, recognise their psychological barriers, see how they interact with the others and make decisions, i.e. start to reflect and understand how the upper logic can be reached. Then the person can try to experiment, live through and be in the conduct and perform tasks from upper logic. This is the very thing offered by the vertical development programme called The First Dozen.
Knowledge is not the only element describing the vertical development stage: the authors of the theory treat it much more integrally. The stage can be described via three key aspects:
- Action: how a person manifests himself or herself, what he or she wants and what goals he or she sets, what he or she does to achieve them, how he or she interacts with the others and feels his or her body.
- Emotions: how a person feels his or her life, what he or she thinks of it, what emotions he or she lives through, and how he or she is self-aware, how ready he or she is to reflect, and how openly he or she interacts with others in terms of emotional openness.
- Mindset: how a person can gain a grasp of reality in terms of intelligence, what layers of reality he or she sees, how integrally he or she can evaluate the situation, whether he or she can see the system, how he or she perceives his or her own experience, and what logic is a basis for specific actions.
There are nine stages of vertical development: impulsive, opportunist, diplomat, expert, achiever, individualist, strategist, alchemist, and ironist. Today two principal researchers who study these stages are Susanne Cook-Greuter and Bill Torbert. Susanne calls them ‘development stages’ while Bill says they are ‘action logics’. The key aspect of both cases is that performance of more complex tasks set by present-day life takes a more integral complex mindset, which appears at later stages. A person at a later stage is capable of understanding the logic of actions of all the previous ones because he or she actually includes all these elements. This person is better aware of himself or herself and the team, understands how to manage energy and how to help the other team members, and can be self-supporting. As a result, more can be achieved in harmony with his or her own self and the world.
Before the programme started, each participant had been assessed with the Leadership Circle methodology. They received the findings and the detailed analysis of elements during the personal meeting with the coach.
Olena Khomenko, the co-author and leader of the programme, whose unique expertise includes many years of management in multi-national teams on three continents, professional coach training at CTI and coaching of senior executives and their teams all over the world, deserves to be introduced separately. Olena is a professor at Co-Active Training Institute (USA), with the degree of Doctor of Business Administration and Executive MBA Chicago Booth School of Business. Owing to her broad experience, the programme we have been offered has already been tried by the leadership teams in other countries many times.
Co-author and leader of the Vertical Development Programme, coach
The programme has four logically inter-connected modules. Our team had a personal meeting of three or four days every three months in the format of field sessions. We started by getting to grips with the logics of actions, mental models we were guided by in life, automatic ordinary reactions: the first module was called Growing Ourselves. It was the first time many of the participants could plunge into themselves, consider and assess their models from outside.
The second module called Growing Others was about moving towards the individualistic and author logic of action, and we worked in pairs a lot to develop partnership.
The third module called Growing Systems suggested that the participants should try interacting with the social systems. That level was quite complicated. It took us to the philosophy of systemic thinking regarding organisations. In the fourth module, having gathered all the skills, all the channels for emotional and physical interaction with the world, we worked to develop the sustainable strategies for perceiving the future, for creating conditions for all people and organisations to develop; the module was called Creating the Future.
Each day of the programme was thoroughly developed. We started very early with the embodiment and meditation practices. We awoke our body, mind and energy. Embodiment is a new practice for managers that provides for the intrinsic union of corporeality and consciousness. The body affects our thoughts and self-perception, and our internal traits can only be changed if we learn how to manage them. Our embodiment sessions were attended by the sensei and involved aikido practices.
There were reflection breaks following each work session. In fact, we introduced reflection as a discipline for our team. We learnt how to reflect individually and jointly. The programme has numerous rituals and structures that can later be used by the participants in their daily life: taking care of energy, thinking over events.
After each module, we as a team were asked to trace patterns of conduct in our current interactions, ask each other questions and remind each other of arrangements, so we integrated the knowledge we had gained into our daily experience. The participants could also select individual experiments to be taken and discussed with the coach.
An important element of the programme was interaction between the coaches and participants of the programme in between the modules in the format of joint online sessions and personal work. Discussing the insights, reading the books and watching the films carefully selected for the programme, and working with the special ‘experiments’ were of great help in stirring up the current logics of action and trying more complex logics in the safe environment with the colleagues.
I would like to pay special attention to the book proposed as preparation for the fourth module. I used the quote from that book as a sub-title of the material because it was a real discovery for me personally, “We know a great deal about what leaders do and how they do it. But we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate.” When I first started my career in HR, business and anything connected with emotions, spiritual practices and meditation were absolutely incompatible. However, the trend that makes these areas closer to each other is now evident, which is very inspiring. Let me repeat that most development programmes teach the leaders what to do and how to think. Unfortunately, they do not teach how to feel, they do not help to find this source inside, this internal base that makes you think and act. The question we have asked ourselves as a team, which we find important, is as follows: does the internal condition of the leader and his or her traits (attention, mindset, consciousness) influence his or her team and result more than all of his or her knowledge and skills? Today we are sure that it is true.
In a year, the programme enabled us to create the uniform information environment, the common conceptual construct and our common language. The practices and experiments we have had are now a part of our life rather than theory. The enhanced inter-module support has helped us stay on our path and turn to daily routine. The proposed structure of the course has given us an opportunity to change in one year.
I think one of the main reasons is that the entire programme is the top level for reflection. We have managed to find and obtain very important and valuable knowledge both as humans and experts and top managers. There is no denying that we had some doubts and questions in the beginning, but each participant was ready to change; otherwise, our team would not have reached such efficient interaction. The role of the team leader, i.e. the CEO, in this programme should also be emphasised because he was the ‘customer’ and the active participant. Involvement in such a long-term programme, in-depth transformation and changes in the mindset are impossible with any other approach.
Now we know how important it is for the entire company to be guided by the principles and practices developed within the Vertical Development Programme, so we will scale it up for our employees and portfolio companies. The investment business provides for the culture of searching for ideas, freedom of expression and co-creativity. We do wish to create such an environment. Thus, we are changing not only the work style of our senior executives, but also their internal condition since, as I have already said, it has a direct impact upon team work, performance and future business results.
The speed of changes, the scope of information and absolute unpredictability make us look for ways to find adequate solutions and to feel them. As Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And we are happy to have made our first step on this journey.