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The Advantage to The Advantage
on October 3, 2012
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
By Patrick Lencioni
Patrick Lencioni is a proven master of the business fable--a short story that provides a lesson that can be applied to the business world. His numerous bestsellers, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," "Death by Meeting," and "Silos, Politics and Turf Wars," among others, each focus on providing the reader with a lesson on a particular business topic.
In his latest book, "The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business," Lencioni pulls together the many separate themes of his previous works and weaves them into a comprehensive business theory. And despite his expertise as a storyteller, in this book he chooses not to use the business fable.
Perhaps the fable format is not extensive enough to meet his needs. Whatever the reason, the insight and strength of this book prove that he made the right choice. The result is first-rate writing that supports discerning insights about the essentials factors for business success.
The opening line in the first chapter captures the premise of the book, "The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to everyone who wants it."
Organizational health is readily accessible, the author argues, but most organizations choose to be smart rather than healthy. Smart may include a great marketing plan and cutting edge technology. It focuses on "tweaking the dials," in these and other areas, rather than on overall health of the organization. Studying spreadsheets and financial statements is relatively safe, Lencioni suggests, unlike the messier, unpredictable ways of establishing the health of the organization.
The healthy organization is the victim of three strong biases: The Sophistication Bias (organizations often ignore that which is simple and straightforward); The Adrenaline Bias (most leaders suffer from chronic adrenaline addiction, the stress rush of fighting fires every day); and The Quantification Bias (the difficulty of measuring it in financial terms).
Lencioni suggests there may be a fourth reason for such bias: no one has ever presented it as a simple, integrated discipline. In doing so for the first time, the author believes that it is the practice that will surpass all other disciplines in creating competitive advantage.
This foremost advantage, organizational health, is about integrity, Lencioni says. Integrity in this context is defined as an organization that is whole, consistent and complete, "when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense."
Health can be recognized by reading the signs within an organization that include, minimal politics, low confusion, strong morale, high productivity and very low turnover.
The author suggests an organization becomes healthy in much the same way as a couple builds a strong marriage or family--"it's a messy process." It involves doing several things at once.
He outlines four disciplines to do this:
* Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Team. The leaders of any group, whether a church, school, or international corporation must build trust, master conflict, achieve commitment, embrace accountability and focus on results. "Teamwork is not a virtue," Lencioni says. "It's a choice."
* Discipline 2: Create Clarity. Six questions help to clarify, including, "why do we exist? What do we do? Who does what? "What is new is the realization that none of them can be addressed in isolation; they must be answered together," the author says. "Failing to achieve alignment around any one of them can prevent an organization from attaining the level of clarity necessary to become healthy."
* Discipline 3: Overcommunicate Clarity. Clearly, repeatedly and enthusiastically give the answers created to help clarify. There is no such thing as too much communication.
* Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity. Critical systems must be implemented to reinforce clarity in every process. Every policy and program should be designed to remind employees what is really important.
The book also contains practical structures gathered from Lencioni's previous books. For effective communications, for example, a healthy organization deals in daily check-ins, weekly tactical staff meetings, monthly strategic meetings, and offsite meetings.
The author's enthusiasm is more than compelling; it is contagious. "Is this model foolproof?" he asks about the healthy organization. "Pretty much," is the response. If leaders are aligned around a common set of answers, communicate those answers repeatedly, put effective processes into place that reinforce them--they effectively "create an environment in which success is almost impossible to prevent. Really."
That would indeed be a healthy organization.