Easier Said Than Done: Taking Advantage of the Obvious
“The Advantage — Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” is American author Patrick Lencioni’s latest best-selling business book. His previous best-sellers included “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “Death by Meeting.”
Lencioni’s introduction to this book starts on an autobiographical note, beginning with his childhood observations of his father’s frustration with his job, and then his own experience as he transitioned from part-time jobs (busboy, bank teller) in his school days, to his first job after university with a management consulting firm.
His observations convinced him that companies faced a big problem with the way they managed. He tried to interest his bosses at the management consulting company in taking a closer look at the issues he was focusing on, but they were not interested. Eventually he and some like-minded friends started their own management consulting company. This book is an outgrowth of their work.
The author states his intention that this book be a comprehensive, practical guide to realizing what he calls the single greatest advantage any company can achieve: organizational health. He cautions that this simple, free, and widely available advantage is ignored by most leaders.
Lencioni states that this core premise — the overriding importance of organizational health — has also been the most fundamental management learning of his career.
Once understood and placed in context, he argues, organizational health will surpass everything else in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.
He flags the most common signals of organizational health as minimal corporate politics and confusion, a high degree of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among key employees.
Most leaders focus on improvements in the classic areas of strategy, marketing, finance, and technology, because these are more familiar, comfortable, measurable, and data-driven.
Lencioni observes that when comparing successful companies with mediocre ones, the big differences are usually in the area of organizational health rather than effective mastery of the classic business disciplines.
Healthy organizations get smarter over time, because they learn from one another, identify critical issues, and recover quickly from mistakes. With minimal internal politics and confusion, they cope with problems more effectively and rally around solutions more quickly than rivals who are slowed by internal dissent and friction.
“Most organizations exploit only a fraction of the knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to them. But the healthy ones tap into almost all of it.“
Almost anyone with working experience can relate to the hassles of working in an unhealthy organization, because corporate politics, dysfunction, bureaucracy and confusion create daily headaches. The financial impact is undeniable: wasted time and resources, muffled productivity, higher employee turnover, and customers heading for the exits.
The first step according to Lencioni is for the organization’s leadership team to make itself more cohesive, which requires a strategic decision to function as a team. That requires trust-building as well as changing compensation and rewards structures to recognize the importance of the team’s achievements in addition to any one individual’s performance.
Along with greater trust comes adapting a management style where dissent and disagreement are embraced as an essential part of effective decision-making, and where peer-to-peer accountability is embedded in the behavior of the leadership team. Most people assume that the leader should be the primary source of accountability, but this is neither practical nor efficient.
Leaders need to accept that their accountability includes confronting colleagues about performance issues which are not easily measurable, such as behavioral problems.
It’s of course much easier and more comfortable to rely on data-based performance metrics when giving feedback or doing appraisals; which is why most leaders would rather avoid dealing with the more difficult subject of behavioral problems. And yet, as Lencioni argues, these problems are often the direct cause of downturns in corporate performance and results, and must be included in the conversation.
Lencioni’s advice is divided into four core chapters in the book: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team; Create Clarity; Overcommunicate Clarity; Reinfornce Clarity.
‘Creating Clarity’ is all about achieving alignment, which must begin with the leadership team. All too often, clarity and alignment are handled in a superficial manner, often with high-sounding buzz words and slogans, without answering important practical questions about what will be done, what is most important right now, who will do what, etc.
‘Overcommunicating Clarity’ posits the view that great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers. Many leaders mistakenly assume that just because they made a good speech to their employees, the employees will then understand, digest, and embrace the intended message.
‘Reinforcing Clarity’ restates the importance of tireless and repetitive internal communications, in an effort to institutionalize the organization’s culture without bureaucratizing it.
The beauty of Lencioni’s latest book is that it shows us an obvious and intuitive way to dramatically improve our organizations, which most organizations and their leaders fail to embrace. This has application for organizations large and small, in the private as well as public sector.
It would be a mistake, however, to confuse what’s obvious with what’s easy.
While the improvement steps outlined in this book would undoubtedly be applicable to and effective in almost any organization, the degree of challenge for leaders to embrace them will vary considerably from one culture to another.
Those with the will and determination to succeed are likely to accrue major benefits and obtain a powerful competitive edge.
Another useful lesson from this book relates to career planning. Lencioni has built his very successful career around pursuing a topic he began paying attention to as a very young man, and eventually became passionate about. That interest began long before he had formal schooling or experience in management.
Young people, take note. Great careers often revolve around something we become passionate about, and that may or may not arise from formal schooling.
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