The secret to success lies in organizational health

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The secret to success lies in organizational health

By Todd Missel

If you happen to be a parent, then you probably remember those sleepless nights with a wide-awake infant and how you would have given anything to go back to sleep. I think it was during one of those early mornings that I watched the John Wayne classic “The Longest Day” about the landing at Normandy during WWII.  Whether you have seen the movie or not, you can probably envision the typical scene of the medic (with a red cross on his helmet or arm badge) attending to a wounded soldier in battle.

Just like the medic coming to aid the wounded, author Patrick Lencioni gives business leaders some much-needed triage for our organizations in his book, “The Advantage.” Lencioni describes what he calls the last competitive advantage – organizational health. Companies typically employ better marketing, better logistics, better technology and better strategy to get ahead of the competition. But with the information age, Lencioni argues that even the best laid plans are now available on the Internet hours after the boardroom has approved them. The only untapped competitive advantage remaining to differentiate ourselves is organizational health.

Disciplines for organizational health
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
2. Create Clarity
3. Over-Communicate Clarity
4. Reinforce Clarity

Through the use of a fable, which is typical of his writing style, Lencioni describes a healthy organization as one that “has all but eliminated politics and confusion from its environment. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave.”  He goes on to argue that most companies have not fully embraced the benefits of organizational health because “it is hard”. It requires hard work, discipline, maintenance and adjustment. It is not a quick fix or a “let’s get this done as a team” order from the C-Suite. It is also nearly impossible to measure quantitatively and hence not a process that is well covered in a business school curriculum. In his words, Lencioni points out that “the biggest reason that organizational health remains untapped is that it requires courage.  Leaders must be willing to confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their organization with an uncommon level of honesty and persistence.  They must be prepared to walk straight into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Lencioni moves from fable to model by illustrating what organizations must do to take their organizational health off life support and gain competitive advantage over their peers. These disciplines include:

1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team.

This means creating a culture where the leaders of the organization behave in a functional, cohesive way.  “If the people responsible for running an organization, whether that organization is a corporation, a department within that corporation, a start-up company, a restaurant, a school or a church, are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade into the rest of the organization and prevent organizational health.”   He goes on in the chapter to describe how knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, openly engaging in constructive conflict, being accountable to each other and committing to being prepared for group discussions are ways to increase this cohesion.

2. Create Clarity. 

As Lencioni puts it, this means that leaders are “aligned around six simple but critical questions.” They are: Why do we Exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important right now? Who must do What? Once the leadership has discussed and answered these questions, it becomes easier to bring that clarity to the frontline of the organization – where your customers are engaged.

3. Over-Communicate Clarity. 

Lencioni points out that a healthy organization aligns their employees by over communicating through repetition; simplicity; the same message using multiple media; and cascading the message throughout the organization. Call this the broken record discipline, but without being annoying. The best example I can think of is the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. Their motto of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen is over communicated every day in the morning staff huddle. I am certain of its effectiveness, since Ritz-Carlton is one of the standard bearers of excellence in the service industry.

4. Reinforce Clarity. 

Here he describes that all processes that involve people, from hiring and firing to rewarding and recognizing to employee dismissal. All of these should be designed to “intentionally support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization”. This boils down to new hires being intentionally brought up to speed on the mission, vision and values of the organization. Furthermore, human resource systems such as education and training must be designed to reinforce this organizational health.

I won’t spoil the whole book for you, but for you fans of his first book, “Death by Meeting,” Lencioni spends a fair amount of time summarizing the concepts in that book and how they relate to organizational health.

Patrick Lencioni and his organization, The Table Group, laud themselves as “Simple Wisdom for Organizations”. I think you will agree if you take the time to read “The Advantage,” that this simple wisdom might just be the triage that your organization needs. Enjoy the read.



Todd Missel is a construction professional from Springfield.

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