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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