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The Whole Person Model: A holistic way to build inspiring leaders and thriving teams

May 13, 2021 - 17 min read

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Re-envisioning leadership development

Drive greater and sustained organizational impact

Provide a transformative and engaging experience for employees

Bring the Whole Person Model to your organization

It was once conventional wisdom that great leaders were born, not made. To succeed at work, one must have certain qualities that help achieve and inspire greatness in others. Over time, through advances in behavioral science and organizational psychology, we’ve actually learned that successful leaders can come from anywhere in an organization. With the right help, we can all cultivate ways of thinking and acting that help us lead. 

That’s good news for your organization, because in the modern workforce it’s not only formal management who need to engage in leadership behaviors — effective leadership is becoming essential for all members of a team. Due to the new hybrid work environment, the way we work and live has changed, and so have the drivers behind employee productivity, job satisfaction, and well-being. With the lines between home-self and work-self blurred, a more holistic approach is needed to thrive in this “next normal.”

Research shows that when we bring our whole selves to work, we’re more creative and perform better. That’s why BetterUp created the Whole Person Model (WPM) to measure the mindsets and behaviors that research shows lead to peak performance, enhanced well-being, and strong company culture. The WPM helps track employee growth over time and better understand ways to drive lasting change for your entire organization.  

Re-envisioning leadership development

While many traditional leadership approaches typically focus on one aspect of an employee’s day-to-day work life, the Whole Person Model takes a more comprehensive approach. When we show up at work, we bring our complete selves, so it’s important to make investments in thriving behaviors like rest and emotional regulation that are proven to impact how we lead and interact with others, along with the quality of our work.

Take rest, for example — it’s not typically measured on traditional leadership assessments but it plays an important role in our success. Studies show that 40% of people in corporate jobs get less than 6 hours of sleep a night, and that even missing one night of sleep leads to decreased innovation2. Rest is just one of many examples that highlight the need for organizations to do more than simply call for their leaders to be innovative and influential. Without strengthening the underlying behaviors that promote that kind of success, organizations miss the first step of what influences how an employee can show up at work.

ven diagram - inspiring meets thriving
BetterUp has gathered billions of employee data points that help us understand the behaviors that lead to thriving as a person and inspiring as a leader.

To re-envision leadership development and assessment, our Whole Person Model was developed by a team of 8 PhDs and 3 MAs with expertise in psychology and leadership, drawing from literature in management science, organizational psychology, and positive psychology. In addition, the WPM was reviewed by members of BetterUp’s Science Board — including the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, PhD

Our Whole Person Model was specifically designed to reflect behaviors that:

  • People can change
  • Directly or indirectly impact others, and
  • Are linked to individual well-being, effective performance, collaboration, and leadership

    "BetterUp developed the Whole Person Model to address a critical gap in the leadership development space by combining essential skills with the psychological resources that allow individuals to adapt to change and sustain performance over time."


ven diagram - betterup whole person model

BetterUp’s Whole Person Model accounts for mindsets, behaviors, and outcomes that drive employee success. 

The Whole Person Model has three core components:

  1. Mindsets - which are goals, beliefs, and emotions that motivate individuals to achieve an optimal state of functioning (e.g., growth mindset, optimism, self-awareness).  
  2. Behaviors - which help enable individuals to act on their full potential. Starting from a place of strength, employees can focus on building and improving behaviors that are lacking. Behaviors fall under two categories:

    • Thriving Behaviors support personal thriving in all domains of work and personal life and across cognitive, emotional, social, and physical dimensions (e.g., rest, focus, strategic planning, and emotional regulation).
    • Inspiring Behaviors enable employees to empower others to perform at their best, either in a formal or informal leadership capacity (e.g., motivating others, guiding others, and including others).   
  3. Outcomes - which are the beneficial results associated with positive mindsets and behaviors (e.g., resilience, productivity, performance, engagement, job satisfaction).

When employees complete their initial Whole Person Assessment, their results will help them and their BetterUp Coach identify areas of focus for their ongoing work together. Rather than uncovering static, fixed qualities, the WPM allows both the employee and the organization to receive and act upon regular pulse insights of behavior change. 

Drive greater and sustained organizational impact

BetterUp Labs research has found that several of the top predictors of employee productivity and performance — the thriving and inspiring behaviors above — tend to be underemphasized by organizations. Traditional assessments and leadership approaches fail to account for these predictors, and accompanying training seldom drives long-term and sustained impact. Here’s how the Whole Person Model helps change that:

Understand where employees are strongest and where they can develop further

The Whole Person Model helps organizations and their employees better understand the attitudes, beliefs, and skills associated with thriving and optimal performance, like growth mindset, optimism, and resilience. This insight paints a more accurate and complete picture of a person’s strengths and areas for development. Paired with BetterUp coaching and BetterUp’s behavioral insights, the WPM offers a more effective method for developing a person’s abilities to succeed.

BetterUp coaching improves leadership skills by 29% for those who start low. Those employees with higher inspiring leadership skills are 1.5x more likely to lead agile teams, 1.4x more likely to have high team engagement, and 1.6x more likely to have high team innovation. 

"BetterUp’s Whole Person approach, focused on addressing how individuals thrive as people while also inspiring as leaders, also aligns closely with our company culture and values."

Michelle Johns, Senior Manager of Talent Management, Equinix

Read case study

Drive ongoing and sustained results

A key strength of the Whole Person Model is the personalized development plan it provides.  Every employee receives the clarity needed to create an impactful coaching relationship. Unlike traditional assessments, the WPM helps employees sustain progress over time, because learning is tailored to their needs and goals. This personalization helps make coaching engagements just as scalable but also more effective than company-wide training. 

Employees lose up to 75% of the information they receive through traditional approaches to learning and development (including learning management systems, episodic trainings, and workshops) — an effect known as the training transfer problem. Because of the steep forgetting curve, short and spaced learning episodes result in more knowledge retention and greater results. 

Many of today’s leadership approaches also miss a key factor for developing leaders who can sustain high performance year after year, especially in the face of uncertainty: the psychological resources needed to continuously learn, stay socially receptive, and sustain high levels of performance. 

Our Whole Person Model is designed so that employees start by building the right mindsets that will drive ongoing growth in crucial leadership behaviors. The personalized context of BetterUp’s coaching is what makes this successful. We see around a 2x increase in self-efficacy in the employees who started out with initially low levels. 

in-app image of employee experience index

Track employee outcomes in real time.

Ninety-six percent of employees say BetterUp is a valuable use of time, which leads to ongoing engagement with their coach and the repetitive spacing in learning that results in lasting behavior change for them and ROI for your organization.

"Development is an individual process. People have different needs, personalities, and readiness levels, and need to be met where they are."

Frankie Rae Callahan, Head of Learning and Development, AppDynamics

Read case study

Get insights you need to measure effectiveness and ROI

Each employee starts their BetterUp journey with a confidential Whole Person Assessment to get a baseline of their development. The results of your employee assessments feed into an aggregated and anonymized dashboard that visualizes the real-time effectiveness of BetterUp and its impact on your people.

You’ll also get access to BetterUp behavioral insights to help you understand performance with each group's baseline results, benchmarked against your industry and their leadership level. These benchmarks help you to track trends and progress related to how far your team has come and understand how to invest in further learning and development initiatives at an organizational level.

Image of Whole Person Model in tablet and mobile copy

Get access to trends and data your organization needs.

"The cohort-level insights and observations that were surfacing with the Coaches and from the Coaches were really strategic. They help us understand what we should focus on next from a People Team perspective."

Michelle Kemling, Head of Talent Development, Twilio

Read case study

Provide a transformative and engaging experience for employees

By highlighting key growth opportunities for each individual, the WPM helps inform a tailored developmental journey that employees engage with through coaching, content, and resources.

Here's how it works for your people:

Assessments backed by science

For employees, getting started with BetterUp means taking the Whole Person Assessment. This 15-20 minute exercise is an engaging way to help measure key mindsets, behaviors, and outcomes while boosting awareness of strengths and opportunities for further development. From the information that employees share in their Whole Person Assessment, BetterUp personalizes their experience with unique Coach match suggestions (with 97% accuracy), content aligned to their needs and goals, and various coaching engagements to meet them where they're at. 

image of in-app article

A development journey tailored for every employee’s needs.

We collect over 150 additional unique data points, compared to traditional coaching arrangements, from your employees, Coaches, their teams and managers, and from our platform itself. We then stack up reports against industry benchmarks for leader behavioral skills most critical for the workforce today. 

"My results woke me up. My lowest scores were in self-compassion, resilience, and authenticity. I realized that I spent so much time prioritizing my ‘corporate skills’ that I neglected some of my most ‘human skills’ … and it was affecting how I show up both at work and at home."

BetterUp Member

Seamless onramp to coaching

The Whole Person Assessment provides a jumping off point for the coaching relationship. The personalized results help each employee and their Coach customize learning and set focused goals with a plan for growth and development — whether it's to increase focus, strengthen communication skills, learn to manage stress, and more. The WPM allows employees to hone in on how they can best show up in their personal and work lives and develop mindsets most vital to them. By unlocking the best version of themselves, your organization is helping to empower employees to reach their fullest potential. 

coach and coachee on video call within app

"Amazing first session! Already unpacking actionable steps to reach my goals!"

BetterUp Member

Ongoing check-ins and accountability

To provide sustained impact and accountability, leadership training and learning needs to be ongoing. Unlike other assessments, the WPM is continuous and evolving, which provides employees with opportunities to check in and adapt with their goals along the coaching journey. 

Periodic assessments occur every four months to help track progress over time, and 360° feedback allows employees to collect necessary input from colleagues on key leadership behaviors that provide accountability to their teams and help further inform the coaching process. 

"Picture me, week over week, working to become a more patient, calm, clear, understanding, wise version of myself in partnership with my Coach."

BetterUp Member

Bring the Whole Person Model to your organization

Whether your organization aims to increase productivity and resilience, boost diversity, belonging, and inclusion efforts, or drive peak performance, how every individual shows up in all aspects of their life plays a significant role in achieving those goals. Through personalized, ongoing coaching, organizational leaders finally have the tools, techniques, and data at their disposal to create lasting change and leadership development at scale. 

 1 Debebe & Reinert, 2014; Wright & Cropanzano, 2000

Barnes, Christopher M. (2018). Sleep well, lead better. Harvard Business Review

3 BetterUp Labs member data, 2021

4 Murre, J. M., & Dros, J. (2015). Replication and analysis of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. PloS one, 10(7), e0120644

5 Baldwin, T. T., & Ford, J. K. (1988). Transfer of training: A review and directions for future research. Personnel psychology, 41(1)

Lead with confidence and authenticity

Develop your leadership and strategic management skills with the help of an expert Coach.

Lead with confidence and authenticity

Develop your leadership and strategic management skills with the help of an expert Coach.

Published May 13, 2021

Adam Wood

Adam has over 15+ years of content and digital marketing experience. He's worked with some of the world's largest brands helping to bring their stories to millions of people.

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