Why Should a Company Invest in Personal Growth?

Formal coaching, mentoring and Learning and Development are very important for employee retention.

The School of Personal Growth was an offering by Google to help its employees “grow as people," offering courses such as "The Neuroscience of Empathy" and "Search Inside Yourself." The main goal of this school was to promote happiness among the employees and allow them to understand themselves in a deeper way in order to foster creativity and cooperation.

Big Think had the opportunity to speak with Monika Broecker, who co-founded the school and who has gone on to found her own Personal Growth Program. 

Here is our interview. 

You are a pioneer in corporate personal growth. Can you describe your view of that concept?

Maybe I’ll start by telling you how I came to this. In 2007, after a long-term career in Learning and Leadership Development, I was hired into Google to lead People Manager Development within Leadership Development, which was part of what was then called Google University.

Google University had 4 Schools: the School of Leadership Development, the School of Workplace Essentials, the School of Google Life and Culture and the School of Personal Growth.

The Director of Google University at the time, Peter Allen, was looking to hire someone to build and lead the School of Personal Growth. This role seemed like a natural fit for me. In my personal life, for my own development, I had taken Personal Growth workshops, particularly those that explore the bodymind connection whenever I could. For example, I had been a frequent visitor to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I had pursued training in psychotherapy for years. I had been certified as a Systemic Therapist in Germany. So I took on this role and started building the vision, mission and strategy, the curricula and programs of the School of Personal Growth.

I had help from my colleague Meng who had created a course called Search Inside Yourself, a Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence Course. Meng was still an engineer then, but we hired him into People Operations to work with me in the School of Personal Growth. He wrote a book about Search Inside Yourself last year, which became a bestseller. Meng is also Google’s Jolley Good Fellow and he hosts celebrities who come to visit Google. He has a now-digital wall at Google showing many pictures of himself with famous religious and political leaders, movie stars, etc.

The mission of the School of Personal Growth at Google was to develop Googlers as whole human beings on all levels: emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. So we built 4 curricula: Mental Development, Physical Development, Emotional Development and Spiritual Development. Since we had some resistance to using the word spiritual in the business context, I came up with the phrase Beyond the Self.

How essential is the inclusion of a personal growth curriculum to the success of companies? Do you see it as a make it or break it element of training? How do you convince decision makers that it’s not a fad?

I think it’s absolutely essential. In Google, we were asked to build a business case to substantiate our argument that we needed to provide Personal Growth. Why would a company like Google invest in Personal Growth of their employees? Can’t people do this in their leisure time? The most important argument we made was the health care argument. What are people going to the doctor for? We looked into the costs for medical claims and prescription drug claims. We found that a considerable part of health claims were for psycho-physical problems such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, etc. Emotional and marital problems ranked particularly high. What also tied our goals to the Leadership Development framework: Personal Growth skills are Leadership Skills. By supporting the goals for Leadership Development, Personal Growth supports the most crucial business goals.

How often do you find clients need this to be backed up with data? Are you resistant to that or do you find that data opens the door for you to expose organizations to these ideas? How often do you have to make a business case for it? Is the data there?

Since leaving Google, I’ve been helping other companies build Personal Growth architectures. This is the main charter of the Agency for Corporate Wellness™, which is part of the Center for Personal Growth™, the business I started after I left Google. I am highly intuitive and creative and for me the benefits of certain Personal Growth programs are obvious but companies want metrics. Most clients have asked us to provide a business case based on hard, quantitative and qualitative data. And there is plenty of data regarding health costs, costs of presenteeism and absenteeism, reduced creativity under stress, retention or turnover, etc.

And there is plenty of research about the benefits of Personal Growth programs. Alexander Technique was one of the most successful programs at Google because it addresses the psycho-physical problems so directly, in a short-period of time and with lasting effects. At the Center for Personal Growth, it is still our most successful program. And there is solid research how Alexander Technique helps with the health issues most prevalent in Silicon Valley companies.

A few companies, particularly start-ups are more adventurous when it comes to exploring Personal Growth, and simply ask us to bring in specific workshops rather than talk about data. They have more flexible structures and less intricate approval systems.

In any case, we always measure the impact of Personal Growth programs, and the results have always been very positive. While data is still important, it’s easier now, I feel, to convince decision makers. And there are many more activities in the area of Personal Growth in the business context than there were when we first entered into this adventure of Corporate Personal Growth at Google.

Can you respond to a recent survey in the Harvard Business Review, on why companies are not retaining top-talent, which suggests that employees are leaving companies if they are dissatisfied with their internal development programs?

Yes, I believe this to be true. It is my experience as well that formal coaching, mentoring and Learning and Development are very important for employee retention. Employees who have access to those forms of development will feel more valued and feel they are growing personally and professionally.

There is another study that states that people have said in exit interviews what they will miss the most are the Personal Growth programs. At Google, we had feedback like that. Before taking our Personal Growth programs employees were considering leaving the company but after taking our courses they felt much happier at work and wanted to stay now. 

 Today your work seems focused on the use of Somatic Psychology, can you briefly describe the theory behindAnalytic Somatic Therapy?

While I was still at Google, I went to talk to California Institute of Integral Studies, CIIS, to see if we could bring Somatic Psychology programs to Google. I was aware of the benefits of Somatic Psychology and wanted to make somatics courses accessible to Googlers. While at CIIS, I signed up for a movement class. It wasn’t very good. But the program director then, Ian Grand, suggested I give it one more try and to take one more class. That was a class by John Conger called Somatic Approaches to Emotional Expression. I fell in love with this work and took some other classes, too; then a few more. Finally, without ever fully realizing it, I ended up with a second Masters degree. I am now working as a Somatic Psychotherapist in addition to my work in the corporate world. For me, the most convincing work in this field is still the work of John Conger who created Analytic Somatic Therapy. I started working with John about 4 years ago. I am about to finish the advanced training program in Analytic Somatic Therapy. Analytic Somatic Therapy is a further development of Bioenergetics and also teaches cutting-edge psycho-analytic concepts, newer forms of psychotherapy based on recent brain research, etc. The five foundations of Analytic Somatic Therapy are Grounding, Boundaries, Breath, Range of Emotion, Intentional Purpose and Energy. I practice Analytic Somatic Therapy now in my therapy practice but in really informs all my work, including my work in Corporate Personal Growth and Corporate Wellness. In fact, I now have an office in Mountain View near Google in order to make this work accessible to Googlers. 

Aside from trauma recovery, what are other, day-to-day, practical benefits of these techniques?

While Analytic Somatic Therapy is particularly helpful with trauma, both developmental trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc., it is helpful with anything a person might seek psychotherapy for: Anxiety, Depression, etc. One of my special interests is Winnicott calls early injuries to the self. Injuries to the self are injuries that occur within the first 6 month of live when the mother-child connection is broken. That is more common than it might seem. Working with adult clients with early injuries to the self is very challenging and AST is extremely useful.

I get clients often who present with physical symptoms, chronic pain, insomnia, etc. As a somatic psychotherapist trained in AST, I read people’s bodies. I have them do somatic exercises, which include body awareness, movement, postural changes, etc. I also use tools such as a barrel to work toward better body alignment and tools, which aid emotional expression.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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