Rand Stagen and Brett Thomas are significant innovators in the application of integral perspectives and approaches to organizations and leadership. I have wanted to interview them for some time, particularly since interviewing two of their clients. Here is an update on their innovative activities.
Russ: I welcome this wonderful opportunity to talk with two business partners whom I’ve known now for a number of years. They’ve been important supporters of Integral Leadership Review—Rand Stagen and Brett Thomas, thank you very much for joining me.
Rand: Thank you, Russ.
Brett: Good to be here.
Russ: It’s been about five years since I met both of you. You’ve been forming Stagen (http://www.stagen.com/) now for how long?
Brett: We’ve been partners for about eight years together.
Russ: When was Stagen formed as an organization?
Rand: It was initially incorporated in 1999 while I was still in the publishing business. I had a small publishing company in Dallas that created newsprint, a weekly publication and a couple of glossy publications. At that time, Brett and I were fairly deep into a relationship where he was my coach while I was in the media business and we’d become very close friends. While Stagen as an entity was being started, I was still transitioning from publishing into this new business and Brett was advising me. In the fall of 2000 we did our first project together which ended up being a catalyst for Brett and I becoming partners in this business.
Russ: And was the original intention to get involved in leadership development in some fashion?
Rand: One thing that brought us together was a shared passion for the idea of developing others. Our original inspiration was this idea of bringing spirituality into the workplace, since both Brett and I had grown up in the business world. Many of our friends and associates were business people. Each of us also had experienced the human potential and personal development movements. We had done a lot of reflection and contemplation on our own. We wondered if the timing was right to bring this idea of meaning and purpose to business leaders.
At the time, I think we were referring to an overly simplistic version of spirituality. We wanted to bring that into corporate America through leadership training and development, so that was a big part of the initial inspiration for me. That started the organization and brought Brett and I together.
Brett: We also sometimes talked about it as raising consciousness in corporate America. Having that inspiration had a lot to do with wanting to see consciousness increase among business leaders, corporations, etc.
We had a bit of a retreat together in those very early days, and we reflected on what would be most meaningful for us. We ended up with leadership development, working with people who were open and who had some influence in their organizations. We knew a lot of entrepreneurs at that time and so we initially kicked off our leadership programs eight years ago with a lot of our friends that were small business owners. Eventually, we evolved into working with mid-sized companies. We went up the food chain fairly quickly and cut our teeth doing leadership development. We got some recognition for that work from a lot of folks, including Ken Wilber, and that motivated us to do more.
It was this idea of a practice-based, discipline-based, structured program with weekly rhythms. We came up with the idea of not just proposing leadership development, but proposing behavioral change, and behavioral change doesn’t happen at an event, no matter how good the content or teachers are.
Russ: The thing that struck me when I first heard about your program was that it was a year long program for CEO’s, very much an elite leadership program. The very fact that it was a year long was incredible—I’d never heard of such a thing outside of an academic program. How did you manage to put that together?
Rand: I would say that probably a more precise way of thinking about it was a 52-week program, which has even more intensity to it and which I would consider unique as an offering. What we looked at was the different ways in which leaders were being developed or educated. We were very inspired by what the University of Phoenix was pioneering with their distance learning, list serves and basically a virtual classroom environment. We thought it was pretty powerful—it was academically focused, but we liked the structure.
We looked at executive coaching which Brett had been doing for many years and we thought that was an important piece of training and development. Then we looked at more traditional types of curriculum-based, print-based materials, audio and video materials. We did a massive audit of all the different ways in which leaders were being developed that we could find. Then we asked ourselves what our ideal program would be if we could create it.
We started with a blank piece of paper—we wanted to be completely innovative and have no legacy issues to deal with. We really looked for inspiration from our common interest in martial arts. I’ve played around with it some, and Brett has accomplished a major feat in acquiring his black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu. So we had this passion around mastery, discipline and high performance. We looked at martial arts and Special Forces—a number of our friends were former Special Forces, Navy SEALS and Army Rangers and we interviewed them—and high-performance athletics.
We thought about what it is that brings all these different dimensions together in these different areas. It was this idea of a practice-based, discipline-based, structured program with weekly rhythms. We came up with the idea of not just proposing leadership development, but proposing behavioral change, and behavioral change doesn’t happen at an event, no matter how good the content or teachers are. If you go to a Harvard leadership program, many of them are 3-5 day programs, and it’s unlikely that someone is going to experience sustained behavioral change in that kind of structure.
Brett: Much less long-term vertical development.
Russ: Right. The old saw around it is that in 3-6 months, most people drop virtually everything they’ve learned in one of those short-term programs. Was this 52-week program a hard sell for CEO’s? Were they hesitant to immerse themselves in such an effort?
Rand: As Brett mentioned we entered this business model in a pretty unique way in that we started with small business owners that had companies with 0-50 employees. These were personal relationships; many of them came from a group that I was associated with called the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. There was a very strong chapter in Dallas.
I went to my friends who were learners and were passionate about improvement and personal development and enrolled them in this idea of a 52-week program. At the time, it was not that difficult to form our first few classes, because we were so passionate and we were attracting people who fit the profile of the ideal program participant.
The evolution of those early days to where we are now has been much more challenging, experimental and messy. But in the early days, it was a kind of inspiration. We were attracting people who were up for the challenge. It was almost like the metaphor I use a lot about going to the gym. You can join a gym and go a couple of times and say you’re a member of a gym. Other people can join the same gym, have self-discipline and go every week. If you really want to get the best results, you find a serious trainer, sign up for regular sessions and go three times per week for a year. If you do what the trainer says and follow a developed nutrition plan, in most cases, the trainer can guarantee positive results.
We went to our early clients and guaranteed them that they would see results. We said, “If you do this program for 52-weeks and don’t achieve some type of transformative outcome, then we won’t charge you for the tuition.” Since these were our friends, we were very clear on the kinds of people we were bringing in and the level of commitment we hoped that they would bring to the program. It was pretty exciting, and it wasn’t that difficult to enroll the first few classes.
Brett: At that time, Rand and I were really inspired. We had spent many years learning about various parts of the human potential movement and many practices. By this time both Rand and I had been professional public speakers for years and we had worked with a lot of groups. I had been doing organizational consulting and OD-type work on a small scale. But we came in with this passion of all these things we’d been introduced to, including things that we think of as integral theory, psychology and the personal development movement, and we wanted to bring this to our friends who in many cases probably hadn’t been introduced to these concepts.
Our very first leadership program—we had an early version of the same type of learning modules that we have today— was practice-based, so we got them doing things weekly: new practices, new ways of communicating, new ways of interacting. They were practicing “attention management,” which is a corporate version of introspection and reflection. And we taught them mindfulness as well. We were doing it in a corporate-friendly way. In this case it was small businesses, but it was a workplace setting.
What happened is that even after the very first class, people were getting tremendous results. We know George Leonard and mastery and how people approach practice—it’s understandable that if you practice new practices and you do it consistently for a year, you’re going to get some phenomenal growth and development in at least one or two developmental lines and a few capacities. You’re going to be a better communicator, more self-aware, improve your relationships, possibly think more strategically, etc. The results were significant—it really did work in terms of that.
The referrals were huge—we got tons of referrals by people who were truly pleased by the outcome they experienced. Graduates of the program were telling friends, “Trust me, this will change your life.” It sounds a little hyperbolic, but that was exactly how they described it. It’s a “leadership program” to be applied in the workplace and yet many of our graduates really think of it and talk about it as really a consciousness and life transformation program that changed their lives or helped them transform their business.
The buzz started fairly quickly—it was clear that what we were doing was working and exciting. We were excited and passionate about it and so were our graduates and our students.
There are a lot of people doing important work theoretically at the second tier with each other. We wanted to have one foot in that world and one foot clearly grounded in the business world and really to be a conduit for those two worlds.
Rand: We were very naïve in the early days. We didn’t know what we couldn’t do, so we went out and started doing it. We were idealistic, and the idealism of many small businesses is necessary to get something that would seem almost illogical off the ground. The challenge that we had as we’ve grown as a firm is balancing pragmatism with idealism, not letting either one have too much emphasis. One of the perspectives that I’ve gained from the integral community is that all that passion, enthusiasm and idealism in theory needs to be translated into a practical application for people in positions of power and influence.
I’m sitting here in Dallas talking to you on the phone and looking out the window at a handful of office buildings that house some of the most powerful, influential and wealthy people in this city. They go to work in these particular office buildings. I looked at those buildings years ago and thought, “If we can bring Ken Wilber and other types of fairly enlightened tools to people in positions of real power, we can change the world.”
There are a lot of people doing important work theoretically at the second tier with each other. We wanted to have one foot in that world and one foot clearly grounded in the business world and really to be a conduit for those two worlds. Eight years later, that combination has relabeled itself as conscious capitalism; it’s the consciousness piece and the capitalism piece. What I see is a lot of integral practitioners overly preferencing the consciousness piece and not realizing that they need to take their ideas and make them into something that can move and change things.
Brett: I don’t know if every reader is familiar with 2-1 and 2-2. Ken Wilber talks about second-tier people having a conversation with other second-tier folks. That happens a lot in our leadership conferences and integral theory conferences and among academics in academia. But what about having a second-tier conversation with people that are still mostly identified with first-tier values, worldviews and priorities?
This is where I think Rand shined in the early days and continues to be quite a pioneer. We often refer to it as “translation” and we also often refer to it as “skillful means:” to translate and bring these concepts, principles, models and ideas into a language that is first-tier, but it’s informed by second-tier.
Clearly, we didn’t know very many second-tier people when we started this. Since getting involved with the integral community, we know and employ quite a few, but our clients are decidedly grounded in identifying with more first-tier priorities, as much of business is in the world. So how do we translate it and make it meaningful? That translation—that ability to repackage the message and bring forth tools—reminds me of our early days.
We used to use this metaphor based on a story: someone I knew went to buy some exercise equipment and asked the guy at the store which equipment was the best. His answer was, “The one that you’ll use.” Our goal was to create curriculum, tools, concepts and ideas that our clients would actually use and find practical. That’s been a struggle over these eight years. We’ve had to water a few things down. Some things have had to be removed entirely that never quite stuck—things about integral theory that necessitated us creating a new way of explaining it because the orthodox integral theory way wasn’t sticking. That skillful means piece is a big theme that runs through our story, what we try to do and what we’re sometimes successful at doing.
Russ: I’m reminded of a keynote speech that Bob Tannenbaum gave to the Organization Development Network back in the eighties in Portland, Oregon where he was expressing some concern about how the field had put all their energies into the development of tools. He reminded all of us OD practitioners that we are the most important tool we bring to our work. It sounds to me like you bridged that distance between the tool and the self—that they go together—and they’re not two separate things.
Brett: Absolutely. That’s definitely a way to describe at least what we’re aspiring to do.
It’s one thing to do a great structural design and have a workshop, whether it’s one day or four days. It’s a whole different animal to be holding the development of another human being for 52 weeks.
Russ: It also strikes me that what you were formulating is kind of a precursor to all the integral life practice and integral transformational practice kinds of programs, but over a much longer period of time than a week-long session.
Rand: Obviously George Leonard and Michael Murphy have been doing work in that domain for decades. While integral life practice is becoming more popular within a certain community now, we were really inspired by the early work. I would absolutely agree with you that the practice-based philosophy and having a rhythm should be combined with what we brought to the table, which is unique, and that’s accountability.
It’s one thing to do a great structural design and have a workshop, whether it’s one day or four days. It’s a whole different animal to be holding the development of another human being for 52 weeks. When we have our programs and there are 15-20 participants, we see them one day per quarter in Dallas; they fly in from different cities for that. That’s where we introduce the content, the curriculum and the tools that they’ll be studying for the upcoming quarter. During those 90 days—which is really the implementation period—we are not only providing structure in the form of list serves, teleclasses and 1:1 executive coaching via phone every two weeks and a variety of different field work that is tool-based, but they’re actually applying in their business…
Brett:Including practices that they have to do every week.
How do we give them the structure that they need for the freedom that can come from this vertical development, but do it in a way that challenges them and supports them simultaneously? It’s definitely an ambitious endeavor that we’re now eight years into.
Rand: Yes, including those practices. Then the commitment we ask of them is not just, “What can I take from this leadership program?” which is very common, but, “What can I give to the community that I’m now a part of.” If somebody just shows up to the workshop and does not attend teleclasses, doesn’t contribute via the list serve, the email bulletin board, does not contribute in other ways that are implementation plan-driven, then we will ask them to leave the program. It’s very unsettling when a CEO writes a check for a one-year program, and then s/he decides to only take from it. We’ll sit down with that CEO 3-6 months into the program and ask if the timing is really right for him/her, and ultimately encourage them to withdraw from the program. If that CEO can’t make a commitment to the other members of the class, this is not a good fit.
We’ve had to hold very high standards in who we’ve graduated from the program. That bar has gone up and down as we’ve learned and the bar is very high now. It’s very difficult to get into one of our programs and it’s harder still to stay in it if the person is not committed to their own development, their own practices and the development of their peers. It’s an unusual model because a business that just wants to maximize revenue and profit—and Brett and I talked about this for years—would just do the quarterly workshops, provide the content and curriculum and say, “Hey, good luck, we’ll see you in 90 days.”
There are a number of other leadership programs out there that follow that model. The idea that we’re going to hold the group individually and collectively in our minds and in our hearts through their development for an entire year is a very intense emotional commitment for us as a team. The team might be one facilitator and two or three executive coaches for a group of 20 CEOs. We haven’t figured out how to scale this in a way that maintains the integrity of the work while also bringing the program to more people. This is something that we’re going to be very deliberate and very disciplined about, because we’re committed to doing both—as Brett said earlier—the horizontal development of new skills as well as the opportunity for vertical development for some of our attendees. When that happens, the reason that we’re so committed to this process is because, as you know, vertical development can many times be accompanied by anxiety, uncertainty, fear—and how do we hold that for them in a way that honors the importance of productive distress, paradoxically? How do we give them the structure that they need for the freedom that can come from this vertical development, but do it in a way that challenges them and supports them simultaneously? It’s definitely an ambitious endeavor that we’re now eight years into.
Russ:I’m aware that in at least one of your client systems, you’ve brought in a second-level program that is based on the leadership work that the CEO and COO of that company did with you. That’s at least a step in the direction of making it accessible to more people. Was there anything from that experience that you learned and that you might be able to leverage to move further along that line.
Brett: I think Russ is referring to taking it beyond the executive team and starting to offer it to the managers and even down to individual contributors. We have experimented with corporate Integral Leadership Programs (ILPs). We have everyone on the management team of a mid-size company going through the program. We did that for a number of years and one of our clients just insisted on having all his managers go through it, senior-level or not. We reminded him that the program was originally designed and written for CEOs of small and mid-size companies and senior executives, many of whom have a lot of business training and acumen and certainly many of them have higher degrees.
This particular organization was insistent that their entire team should have the Stagen language and understand these practices. So we went to mid-level managers, and they kept pushing it down, all the way to the point that we ran several of these Integral Leadership programs for folks that didn’t have any direct reports—they weren’t even managers—just individual contributors. We did some modification and it was successful, but I would point out that first all the senior-level execs went through, then mid-level. By that time, others in the culture were almost asking for inclusion to be able to understand the lingo and terminology. In those lower-level classes, those folks still had to apply to attend. They had to be nominated by their bosses. It was a real privilege for them to attend this executive development program.
That experiment worked, but we’ve tended to remain focused on the CEO programs and then the corporate Integral Leadership programs where you work primarily with the senior managers. Rand can speak to this and this may lead to how we started taking pieces of the Integral Leadership program and content and intellectual property out of that and then using it piecemeal in a consulting capacity on an as-needed basis; that’s the way the consulting part of our business was born.
How do you get leverage? One way is to work with the CEO of a business and the top executive team to use their positions of influence to leverage hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that literally influence the culture and the environment of their organizations.
Rand: There has been so much learning and experimentation, and honestly a lot of pain in trying to figure out the model, a way that works for our clients and for us. The thing I’ll return to throughout this conversation is, it’s in service of what? What are we trying to accomplish? If we’re trying to just raise consciousness in individuals, then we can do that in a direct-to-consumer model. We could do that as public speakers or as authors.
We felt—and we continue to feel—that leverage is the strategy that we want to pursue for our business. How do you get leverage? One way is to work with the CEO of a business and the top executive team to use their positions of influence to leverage hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that literally influence the culture and the environment of their organizations. We jumped around; we started with small businesses, went to mid-sized businesses and then decided we would go to Starbucks and Southwest Airlines and work with the biggest companies on the planet. We knew that we could bring this leadership development program that is incredibly tuned to building capacity and new perspective and different vertical development.
What we found is that in the public environment of most public companies—as well as those that are owned by private equity owners or other passive owners—there was a lot of change in leadership at the top. One leader could have an agenda around developing their employees and another CEO could come in three years later and have a different agenda that may not include people at all.
It became clear after 4-5 years that to do the real work that was going to be done in a sustained and effective way, we wanted to work in business environments that had a higher likelihood that there would be continuity of leadership. This landed us in a position of working mostly with founders and family businesses that have long-term—and in some cases, indefinite—horizons, where they want to build a great business over five, ten, 15, 20 years. In the context of a family business—and we have many clients that are second or third generation, one of our clients is fifth generation—these are companies with hundreds of million in revenue.
As long as we have the buy-in as well as the embodied modeling at the top of an organization and I as the CEO and her direct reports have not only seen the leadership curriculum, they’ve done the practices, they’ve walked the talk, and now they want to bring it to the rest of the organization, our goal—and we’ve done this dozens of times—is to cascade the principles to all levels of a company.
Their attitude is a stewardship mindset. They want to build a company that is successful not only quarter to quarter, but one that has a foundation for the next generation of employees and leaders. That’s an important context to what Brett just said, which is how are we delivering this work and to what levels of an organization? As long as we have the buy-in as well as the embodied modeling at the top of an organization and I as the CEO and her direct reports have not only seen the leadership curriculum, they’ve done the practices, they’ve walked the talk, and now they want to bring it to the rest of the organization, our goal—and we’ve done this dozens of times—is to cascade the principles to all levels of a company.
Most of the time we’re working with mid-sized companies with hundreds of employees, so relative to a lot of work that your readers do in the Fortune 1000 or Global 2000, we’re working with small businesses. However, we’re now engaged with these small businesses for four, five, six, even seven years where we’ve been in a monthly retained relationship and constantly adding value and creating a more conscious organization in partnership with the top leaders. What’s so important for us, Russ, is we want to do this work long-term. Doing an incredible, integrally-informed leadership program for a couple days is one way to do it; they’re all important, I’m not saying they’re not. Another way is to do a 90-day program in a public company. Our goal was to do multi-year work and not be constrained by external factors of public environments or change of leadership.
Russ: It’s exciting. The reality is that what you guys have evolved is an extraordinarily complex approach to development. There are so many pieces to it, from sustainable growth ideas in operations to individual and team development, and organization development too—not just from a people perspective but also from a revenue perspective, HR practices, strategy—a whole range of what constitutes an integral business. How did that happen?
Rand: We were doing leadership development with our clients as individual CEOs in the early days. They started to come to us and ask us to bring aspects of our training to their companies. We basically stumbled into this organizational development consulting doing work with visions, values and purpose, doing work with team alignment and in some cases doing a curriculum-based program with employees and managers of our CEOs client’s companies. We did that for about 4-5 years and we were really good at it.
This client said, “When I combine the more operational dimensions of business—the systems, the processes, revenue enhancement, cost management, capital structure, strategy, the economics, service model—with what Stagen is doing with business culture and leadership, that creates a really comprehensive solution that addresses many dimensions of a business.”
We were good at being partial within the integral model and this is the ironic part of the integral community: of those that would report themselves as business practitioners, very few of them actually have an integral team. As Wilber says, I don’t expect that we’re going to see a lot of fully integral individuals, but it’s possible to build an integral team that complements each other. We were very fortunate to have a client that hired us to come in and do our work, mostly in the intangible dimensions in the quadrants—the upper-left (mindset) and lower-left (culture) and a little bit in the upper-right in terms of employee behavior with practices and accountability. This client said, “When I combine the more operational dimensions of business—the systems, the processes, revenue enhancement, cost management, capital structure, strategy, the economics, service model—with what Stagen is doing with business culture and leadership, that creates a really comprehensive solution that addresses many dimensions of a business.”
We started to build a deep relationship with this client, and they allowed us to almost pilot the idea of a truly integral offering. Through that experience, we were able to get the president of this company to come onto our advisory board and provide guidance for us on how we might bring this to other companies. He introduced us to a world of former management consultants from companies such as Bain and McKinsey and we started to spend time with traditional management consultants who were focused and trained on the operations and strategy of a business. We realized that if we all brought our tool kits to the table, along with our intangible background and their tangible background—our consciousness background and their capitalism background—we could make something great happen.
We began about four years ago to work with other companies in this more integrated offering. Today, we’re an organization where our revenue is now sourcing from several tangible and intangible dimensions. It’s a very balanced entity. One of my former banking consultants told me that I’m so good at working with executive teams and getting them aligned that if their business is about to drive off a cliff because they’re not paying attention to their profitability or strategy, they just drive off the cliff faster. That’s how aligned they are.
That was a very powerful conversation for me. Everyone has more trust on the executive team. They’re better communicators. They’re more aligned, more inspired and they’re about to drive off the cliff. This happened with a couple of our clients: they ran into significant financial problems. We started to realize that we’ve gained this position as trusted advisor. We had held ourselves off at being their partners and helping them with their business. But there was an enormous gap in terms of dealing with the strategy and operations of the business. We would have our clients so focused on the people dimensions and the organizational development dimensions that they lost their own balance in their own business. We started to recognize the responsibility that we had—if we were going to do deep, multi-year work on the consciousness of leaders and individuals in companies, we needed to balance that with a set of offerings that would deal with the operations.
Russ: I was going to ask about that because that would seem to me, at least internally to your own operation, one of the biggest challenges is bringing people from these different awareness and knowledge traditions into the same team.
Rand: It has been a challenge. One of the biggest challenges that we still face is staffing and constructing the right teams. We believe that we have the market. There are thousands of companies in the U.S. that are mid-sized—let’s oversimplify this and say 100 to 1,000 employees would be our ideal client—these companies are owned by founders or families with long-term, indefinite horizons that are open to this idea of consciousness. That’s a very selective criterion, but we still believe there are thousands of companies that fit that model. The market is there.
We believe that we have the intellectual property, the tools and the experience in place for really creating value for our clients. The piece that we are still working on—and we think it’s going to take several years to really move through this period—is the people piece. It’s getting the right people on the bus in the right seats and who are willing to work for the economics that are at the mid-market.
If one stays at McKinsey or Bain, their earning potential is significant and in a very different league than what we’re able to compensate people. So we’ve got to find management consultants who are willing to do deep work that they can feel connected to over many years, that they can feel a sense of pride and relationship to the client that’s different than the Fortune 1000. There are trade-offs. They have a psychic income here that they don’t have at the larger consulting firms.
Then we have got to find those needles in the haystack out there and continue to experiment with our model in looking at other backgrounds to bring in to do the consulting work. We’re considering bringing former managers of mid-market companies onto our team who might not have a consulting background but have an operational background and have them work with those that are on the organizational development side, our people side, and those that are on the management-consulting side which is our strategy and operations side. “Complexity” would be a great way to describe the model from an internal design standpoint.
Russ: I wonder, Brett, if there is any application of the approaches to leader development that you can apply to this integration challenge within your own company.
Some of these management consultants can make more money if they stay at Bain or McKinsey. If they come to us, they have the opportunity to be compensated with spiritual compensation, a sense of meaning with emotional compensation because they’re really enjoying what they’re doing and being rewarded. They have fun—they find social compensation since they’re working with a community of practitioners who are like-minded, interested in practice and human potential and integral theory, etc.
Brett: A few thoughts. First, one of the things that attracts people when we find clients for whom we think Stagen is a good fit is our culture. It’s a community of practitioners. You have folks who have a background in integral theory or organizational development that want to learn more about business and they’re challenged by the opportunity to work closely with management consultants with MBA’s. At Stagen we eat our own cooking. We practice what we preach. We are practitioners of the practices, the principles, the concepts in the modules.
We have a learning module on conscious communication. We practice all those same communication practices that we ask our clients to practice, and so that bar for recruiting and hiring is set really high. But it’s part of what Rand talked about in terms of multiple forms of income. Some of these management consultants can make more money if they stay at Bain or McKinsey. If they come to us, they have the opportunity to be compensated with spiritual compensation, a sense of meaning with emotional compensation because they’re really enjoying what they’re doing and being rewarded. They have fun—they find social compensation since they’re working with a community of practitioners who are like-minded, interested in practice and human potential and integral theory, etc.
They also receive psychological income in terms of learning, growing and becoming a better person. I would say that we really do our own leadership development internally in that we hold a very high standard of practicing what we preach and using our tools and techniques. I do think there is a lot of development that takes place, both on the OD side and on the management consulting side. We learn from one another, and that is part of it.
Yes, we can apply leadership development and make that work better. We have a high-performance teamwork module and the foundation of that is trust and trust-based relationships. We do a lot of that, but as Rand pointed out, to quote Jim Collins, we have to get people on the bus and in the right seats in the first place. There are lots of people in the integral community and OD consultants that would love to work for Stagen. Our name is fairly well recognized in a lot of the academic programs and degree programs, and that’s a little easier. The trickier thing is to find the management consultants who have that interest in human potential and interest in this. We’ve been successful, but a big part of this, as Rand pointed out, is the economics of the mid-market clientele we serve. Our clients can’t pay what Bain or Fortune 1000 clients pay them. That affects our model as well.
In several of our engagements, we’re working with our clients’ bankers, helping them to do analysis of the organization and helping our clients advocate for different arrangements with their lenders. The ability to flex and flow—one year we’re doing leadership training and studying Ken Wilber; the next year we’re sitting in a meeting with Comerica Bank officers and having very capable and competent members of the Stagen consulting team be part of that conversation with the CEO and CFO.
Russ: Speaking of economics, how does your work support companies that are being challenged by the economic crisis that we’ve been in?
Rand: The nature of the work and the percentage of the focus with our clients is now in operations, revenue enhancement and especially cost-management. Maybe where two ears ago, clients were having us really spend a lot of time with leadership development and executive alignment, today our focus is on cash-flow modeling and helping them to better understand their current cash situation.
In several of our engagements, we’re working with our clients’ bankers, helping them to do analysis of the organization and helping our clients advocate for different arrangements with their lenders. The ability to flex and flow—one year we’re doing leadership training and studying Ken Wilber; the next year we’re sitting in a meeting with Comerica Bank officers and having very capable and competent members of the Stagen consulting team be part of that conversation with the CEO and CFO. This speaks to the adaptability of the integral model—to be able to move from one dimension to another based on the needs of the situation at any given time. If we were just an OD consulting firm and a leadership development consulting firm, we would not be as sustainable as we are today in this economy. We’re just adaptable.
Russ: What do you see as the developmental challenges that your company’s business model is going to be facing over the next couple of years?
Rand: Staffing will be our biggest challenge—attracting people who can be successful in our model. One of the ways that we’ll do that is to improve the model. We’re planning to improve our consulting methodology each year so that it helps to make our consultants successful. We’ve realized that our model has to be “programized” and it has to be highly leveraged. In our leadership training, we do quarterly workshops that we then complement through a variety of different structures like email, phone, coaching, curriculum, online, access to video and audio downloads.
Brett: And that’s all guided and supported by what we call an “implementation plan.” That’s what makes our leadership program very “programized.” Now we ask ourselves how to make management consulting more “programized” with some type of implementation plan. Our model is very different—in fact, the major consulting firms don’t compete at the mid-market level—and there’s a reason for that. That’s part of not only our awareness, but also the challenge that lies ahead of us.
Our passion has always been around human development and although we did that in the more intangible dimension of executive development in the first 4-5 years, we’ve now moved beyond that to include executive individual development, team development and now this organizational/operational work. Happily, we’ve followed the same philosophy the entire time, which is we want to build capacity.
Rand: Our model is complex in many ways. One of the ways is if the mid-market is limited in its ability to bring in paid consultants, we can create leverage by focusing on building capacity with our clients as consultants rather than focusing on them outsourcing the problem to us.
Pick a Fortune 100 company. When they have a big problem and they hire a group of very talented consultants to come in, for all intents and purposes they are saying that they don’t have the bandwidth in-house to solve that problem. So they’re going to outsource the problem to a firm that is good at solving the problem for them instead of with them. However, that’s a dependency model. When that problem emerges again several years later, they’ll call that consulting firm again and say, “We need you to come back in and solve a problem similar to the last one.”
We’re not interested in being a dependency-based business model and we’re not interested in giving the fish to the client. Our passion has always been around human development and although we did that in the more intangible dimension of executive development in the first 4-5 years, we’ve now moved beyond that to include executive individual development, team development and now this organizational/operational work. Happily, we’ve followed the same philosophy the entire time, which is we want to build capacity.
Building capacity is about providing tools, templates, coaching, work sessions and online access to tools, but ultimately our clients need to lean into their own learning. Let’s say there are eight people running a $50M business, those eight people are needing to develop more skills and more capacity—horizontally and in some cases vertically—to help that organization grow in scale. Our job is to come in as coaches and provide the structured implementation for how they can better operate their business, how they can do different analytics of their business. Instead of us doing it for them, we’re doing it with them. It takes longer to build capacity.
What it may take Bain or McKinsey to do in 2-3 months by working on it full time with a team of people may take us two years. But at the end of that time our client has actually created a new capacity—either because we’ve developed their people or we’ve helped them realize that they needed new people from the outside. We’ve done the organization design with them; we’ve profiled the positions; we’ve run an assessment process that we do in partnership with our clients and actually on-board new talent that they didn’t have prior to working with us. We are in the business of building capacity and we are in the business of helping to transform individuals, teams and organizations—the “I,” the “we” and the “it.” What we’ve been doing has changed names and labels and models, but the essence has been very consistent—transformation.
For me, it’s a continued advocacy for acknowledging the importance of the operations side of the business and not dismissing it. Many organizational development practitioners or integral practitioners that I meet are not academics. These are people who are consultants and coaches who do work using integral theory, but they work in the real world. I’m not suggesting that your readers should aspire to become comprehensive as an individual, but that they acknowledge the importance of the various dimensions: operational, revenue, cost-management, the economics of the business, the strategy of the business. Helping themselves become more conversant at least in those parts of the business, and finding ways either to partner with other consultants, or at least be sensitive to those dimensions—it is integral. That’s where I hope the integral practitioners go in the next decade. I want them to realize that we need to partner with the operations and the “money side” of the business and not dismiss it as bad. It’s part of our work, and it all leads back to integral.
Russ: That just underscores the importance of that connection between second and first tier and the ability to translate across those presumed boundaries at any given point.
Rand: I feel that with this idea of transcending and including—the whole idea of developmental theory—that when people get to a level of complexity where they’re actually reading your publication or attending conferences that are part of your community, they’ve achieved a lot. In spiral dynamics they might have gotten to green or perhaps to yellow. In Bill Torbert’s model of Action Logics it might be an individualist action logic. I experience many of these people as actually having transcended and excluding as opposed to including, and actually making the lower levels bad or wrong.
One of the things that Stagen is committed to is doing work where there is work to be done. There is real work to be done here in the U.S. The traditional mindset needs to be melded with the transformational opportunities that we have as practitioners. We need to impact those lower levels of development and help them to develop and evolve; that will be a significant event.
A lot of people would like to spend time in Denver and San Francisco and Seattle and parts of Europe going to conferences, and basically being with people just like themselves—that whole second tier to second tier conversation that Brett mentioned. We believe that so much of the work is going into a traditional manufacturing company with maybe religious, Christian-based values in most of the employees, and helping them do their work there.
When I first met the conscious capitalism community and they heard that we were doing several projects with explicitly Christian-based companies, they were struck. I remember talking to an individual and he said, “Rand, you’re doing conscious capitalism work with blue values that are explicitly Christian at a business? How do you do that?” My response was, “Consciousness exists at all levels. The opportunity to grow people from one level to the next is not limited to just one group of people. We can do the work at the levels where so many companies are in this country.”
Brett: Definitely. So much of the power in this country and around the world is situated at a blue meme value structure.
Russ: I find your comments on this so extraordinary because this is really fundamentally what the Integral Leadership Review is about. It’s not just about talking to second tier folks who are interested in leadership and organizations and politics and community, but also trying to bridge between those people who are operating at a first tier and those people who are operating at a second tier to facilitate the evolution and communication of ideas that are going to support sustainability and our ability to work with our own evolution.
Rand: Absolutely. There are people in every major city in the U.S. who are of this demographic: white, male, 40-60 years old, devout Christian, very traditional. Under their particular domain they are either worth hundreds of million of dollars or they run companies that have thousands to tens of thousands of employees and they are huge influencers.
In my personal experience, many people in the integral community are not interested in doing work with that kind of profile because that’s not “fun.” That person isn’t interested in Ken Wilber. That person isn’t knocking on their door asking to do embodied somatic transformational work and consciousness work. But they have all the power, these people—not all of it, but a lot of it. When we’re looking at them we’re saying, “Wow, there are people out there that have tremendous power, so let’s build a firm that is accessible to them. Let’s build a firm that addresses things that are already important to them like revenue and profit. Then let’s start working with them. Over time we can build a relationship with them.”
Most of the time these businessmen are very strong and dedicated, high-integrity people. Their consciousness and complexity may be different than those that are in these 2:2 conversations, but this is the power. Let’s plug in there and bring consciousness to them over a period of years so they can ultimately use their platforms to make a change in the world.
Dr. Bert Parlee is on our team. He’s well-known for his work. Five or six years ago, when I was struggling with this I was looking at President George Bush and I was criticizing him. Bert would always invite me in and say, “Rand, rather than criticizing or contracting over a values system that’s different from your own, how can you see that in yourself? How can you find that traditional dimension within yourself and within the culture at large and really be integral about it and hold all of it as opposed to judge some parts and embrace others?”
Russ, just a general comment: our hope for our fellow travelers on this journey of bringing integral theory to the world is to bring it to all of the world, not just the world that is most interesting and the world that’s just like us. It takes tremendous discipline for most people to do that.
Russ: One of the first principles I learned in OD is that you’ve got to start with where the client is at. This seems like a very important affirmation of that.
Brett: An integrally informed version of that, definitely.
Russ: Well, thank you very much for that. I think it’s so critical. I’m sure that you’re going to find that your perspective will resonate with a good number of our readers. That’s where the work really is from my point of view.
Thank you so much for this interview. I do hope we have a chance to talk again one day soon and I’m sure that the readers will find this piece to be very rich and informative.
Brett: Thanks so much Russ.
Rand: Thanks, Russ. It was a pleasure.