“No company growth without personal growth”

Being the rebels that we are at Captain & Stoker, we have a soft spot for organizations that approach things in a slightly different, more rebellious way, too. That’s why Deliverect is high on our list: a scale-up from Ghent that optimizes restaurants’ digital processes. In times of Covid, the tech start-up quickly evolved into an organization with over 500 employees. Chief People Officer Ingrid De Clercq keeps her cool, and she and her team swear by the ‘Learning Organization’ principles.

Growth as deepest drive

Most leading organizations invest in the growth of just a few of their employees. They do so through support beyond regular working hours, including executive coaching, high-potential programs, mentoring, and leadership development. However, a new generation of companies is increasingly committed to the development of all employees, by creating a culture of continuous growth. This is the principle of the ‘Deliberately Developmental Organization’ (DDO) or ‘Learning Organization’. The core idea is that organizations thrive most when they are in harmony with people’s deepest drive: growth. This means that growth is not just a personal ambition, but also the driving force behind the company culture and strategy. In other words, the organization is imbued with the belief that individual growth is essential for achieving business success.

Continuous improvement

In Learning Organizations, employees are encouraged to take initiative, even when they make mistakes. The most important thing is to learn from those mistakes. Active efforts are made to overcome personal obstacles and to embrace the growth opportunities that mistakes and weaknesses offer. This creates a culture where employees are motivated to continuously improve. Human growth drives business success, and each employee is therefore encouraged to contribute to the improvement of processes and structures. Individuals’ growth becomes the center of business success, creating an environment that embraces openness, vulnerability, and continuous development. It’s not just an approach to business; it’s a philosophy that defines the future of the business world.

Reflecting on development

“When I first learned about the concept of the ‘Deliberately Developmental Organization’, I was sold immediately,” says Deliverect’s Ingrid De Clercq. “It had long been clear to me that investing in employees’ growth implies growing as a company, too. The two are intertwined. Personal growth is highly important to many employees, and that’s why we decided at Deliverect to mainly focus on that. We zoomed in on two key aspects: 1) encouraging our people to think about their own personal and professional development, and 2) building a strong feedback culture. We don’t hand our employees their careers on a silver platter, they are the owners of their personal growth. We help them explore their strengths and areas for growth, and then we figure out the best approach together. We use the HiBob platform to shape the conversations with the team leaders, ask the right questions, and so on. We also organized a ‘road show’ to clearly explain the concept to our employees. That’s pillar one.”

“I like to compare our feedback culture to the puff pastry dessert ‘millefeuille’: a layered process to achieve the growth goals of both the individual and the organization.”

Strong feedback culture

“Our second pillar as a Learning Organization is building a strong feedback culture,” Ingrid continues. “When the team leader is the only one giving feedback, progress will be slow. We encourage our employees to share personal growth goals with each other and to bring these up in conversation. Do you know that puff pastry dessert ‘millefeuille’, with its many layers? Well, to me, our feedback culture is a millefeuille: a layered process to achieve the growth goals of individual employees and, consequently, the organization.”

First and foremost, Deliverect taught its employees to master the rules for providing good feedback. A second initiative were the ‘empathy feedback sessions’. “In group sessions, our employees describe their own strengths and weaknesses, what they need in a collaboration, and what drives them,” Ingrid explains. “We noticed that when people have already identified their own pitfalls, it becomes easier for others to give feedback. And our third tool are the actual ‘group feedback sessions’. The idea is to prepare feedback in advance for everyone in your team. For example: What do you appreciate in the collaboration? What can be further improved? And do you have any suggestions for improvement?”

Online exit coaching

Deliverect also applies the ‘Learning Organization’ principles in other pillars of its business operations, including online exit coaching, offered by Captain & Stoker. “Listening to an employee’s reasons for leaving is extremely valuable,” according to Ingrid. “You can learn so much from that as a company. For employees leaving the organization, it’s also useful to get a clearer idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and of what their future role may be. We want to pay warm attention to that. Being a scale-up inevitably brings a lot of pressure, but I really want to make sure that those Learning Organization principles are in our company’s DNA and don’t get sidelined as soon as other so-called ‘priorities’ arise.”

“If you don’t want to hold development conversations or implement a feedback system, your Learning Organization is stillborn.”

No half-hearted work

Can all organizations become Learning Organizations? “Yes, provided that the management team is willing to fully commit,” Ingrid believes. “If you don’t want to hold development conversations or implement a feedback system, your Learning Organization is stillborn. You really don’t need a full-fledged Learning & Development department in your organization to offer your employees a solid growth path.

To conclude: I think the Learning Organization only has benefits, at least, if you don’t approach it half-heartedly. I truly believe that when you help people grow, you also grow as an organization. That’s the approach of the future.”