“any organization that really wants to maximize its success must come to embody two basic qualities:
it must be smart, and it must be healthy.”
The Advantage, page 16
In his brilliantly structured guidebook, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, bestselling author and leadership giant Patrick Lencioni categorizes Organizational “Smarts” and “Health” as follows:
- Minimal Politics
- Minimal Confusion
- High Morale
- High Productivity
- Low Turnover
So here’s my question to you – where are you (and your leadership peers) spending most of your time and energy?
In possibly his most content-rich and action focused book to date, Lencioni (author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting) draws on his 20+ years of leadership consulting experience to make a compelling and (for many) counterintuitive point: companies that thrive in the 21st century do so by focusing their efforts on Organizational Health over Organizational Smarts.
The Business IQ Multiplier
“a good way to look at organizational health – and one that executives seem to respond to most readily – is to see it as the multiplier of intelligence. The healthier an organization is, the more of its intelligence it is able to tap into and utilize.”
The Advantage, page 22
As Lencioni says, most business leaders will look at the list of factors for healthy companies (above) and agree that they are important and that having them in place in their organization would positively impact bottom line. And yet, shockingly few companies actually work to improve these areas, instead choosing to spend their time focused on the less-messy and, frankly, safer areas of Strategy, Marketing, Finance and Technology. In most cases, this is due mainly to the fact that the “softer” health related factors (minimizing politics, improving morale, etc) are more ambiguous and messy; they require more thought, reflection and effort – three things that most busy executives are short on. So, understanding the importance of Organizational Health, but knowing how busy we are as leaders, where do we start?
In addition to being an enjoyable read, full of anecdotes and real world examples, The Advantage provides leaders with a road map to Organizational Health; four disciplines that management teams can focus on to improve the health of their own companies.
The Four Disciplines
Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
Discipline 2: Create Clarity
Discipline 3: Over-communicate Clarity
Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity
Though the list looks deceptively simple, the creation and reinforcement of each discipline is as complex as the humans involved. Because, after all, what we’re talking about here is the people side of the business.
Each discipline is explored in great detail in The Advantage, complete with specific exercises that you can use to strengthen the discipline with your own team. While each discipline builds upon the last (meaning that you can’t effectively Over-communicate Clarity without first Building a Cohesive Leadership Team), in this article we’re going to explore Discipline 2: Creating Clarity, so you can get a sense of the type of content offered in the book. And, ideally, you can start putting something into practice immediately.
GEM # 1
The Six Questions
“Getting caught up in word-smithing is often a sign that a team is missing the boat.”
The Advantage, page 97
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Lencioni’s books is their simplicity.
Having worked as a consultant to Southwest Airlines, Nestle, Cisco and other corporate giants, Lencioni has had direct insight into some of the world’s greatest leadership teams. It’s refreshing to realize that the top performing leadership teams in the world operate their businesses with a common sense approach. This is not to say that what they do is easy or typical (quite the opposite, actually), but rather that their practices are ones we can all understand.
When it comes to Creating Clarity in our businesses, Lencioni suggests that we, as leaders, need to answer six simple yet profound questions:
- 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?
Simple questions, but decidedly difficult to answer. As the quote at the beginning of this GEM suggests, the importance here is on answering the questions in plain English; in words that everyone in the company can clearly understand. Far too often we get tripped up by our own intelligence; we dilute and bog down the answers to these crucial questions with jargon and slick marketing copy.
If the goal here is to “Create Clarity” – both for ourselves and our teams, we need to resist the urge to make the answers more complex than they need to be. The language isn’t important. The answers are.
Lencioni suggests that answering these six questions should be a collaborative activity with the entire leadership team, and will often take a two-day offsite (or longer) to solidify. But where do we start?
“So how does an organization go about figuring out why it exists? It starts by asking the question,
‘How do we contribute to a better world?'”
The Advantage, page 105
Start there. Discuss, as a leadership team, the impact that you’re making on the world, and why that gets you out of bed in the morning. If you give everyone a chance to answer this question on their own before discussing, you may be surprised by the variety of answers.
GEM # 2
The Rallying Cry
“if we accomplish only one thing during the next x months, what would it be?”
The Advantage, page 143
Another important aspect of Creating Clarity is clarity around the top priority, right now. Notice I say “top priority”, not “top priorities“. Obviously, different departments have different goals and benchmarks to achieve. We’re not talking about day to day operations here. Instead, we’re talking about growth; progress and accomplishment.
A fantastic unifying experience (that will also positively impact Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Leadership Team) is the collective definition of a “Rallying Cry”, or what Lencioni defines as a Thematic Goal. What is that one thing that, as a company, we absolutely must accomplish within the next 6 months?
Setting a thematic goal for the company is incredibly powerful on three fronts: (a) it provides a crystal clear objective for everyone on the team (b) it gives people a sense of purpose in their work, driving productivity and workplace enjoyment, and (c) it naturally requires prioritization and focus, avoiding unnecessary busy work.
As Lencioni explains, a thematic goal must be “qualitative, temporary and shared by the leadership team”.
I encourage you to think through your own thematic goal. What’s your top priority, as a company? Get together with your leadership team. Discuss. Plan and execute.
The Advantage is a brilliantly written book. Full of enough stories and examples to keep it engaging, loaded with enough guides and exercises to make it actionable, and littered with Lencioni’s trademark humour, it’s as enjoyable a read as it is impactful. It’s also Lencioni’s first departure from business fables, which made me a little nervous. After all, Lencioni’s fables are some of the best out there. I shouldn’t have worried. The examples and stories – which crop up every ten pages or so – provide insightful and often hilarious examples to the points he makes. In fact, I think I enjoyed the stories in this book more than the fables, knowing them to have actually happened… proving that the old adage may very well be true, and that truth really is stranger than fiction.