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The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business Hardcover – Illustrated, March 13, 2012
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From the Inside Flap
This is the promise of The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni's bold manifesto about the most unexploited opportunity in modern business. In his immensely readable and accessible style, Lencioni makes the case that there is no better way to achieve profound improvement in an organization than by attacking the root causes of dysfunction, politics, and confusion.
While too many leaders are still limiting their search for advantage to conventional and largely exhausted areas like marketing, strategy, and technology, Lencioni demonstrates that there is an untapped gold mine sitting right beneath them. Instead of trying to become smarter, he asserts that leaders and organizations need to shift their focus to becoming healthier, allowing them to tap into the more-than-sufficient intelligence and expertise they already have.
The author of numerous best-selling business fables including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting, Lencioni here draws upon his twenty years of writing, field research, and executive consulting to some of the world's leading organizations. He combines real-world stories and anecdotes with practical, actionable advice to create a work that is at once a great read and an invaluable, hands-on tool. The result is, without a doubt, Lencioni's most comprehensive, significant, and essential work to date.
- Item Weight : 1.01 pounds
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0470941529
- Product Dimensions : 9.1 x 6 x 1 inches
- ISBN-13 : 978-0470941522
- Publisher : Jossey-Bass; 1st Edition (March 13, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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What is the advantage? He defines it as a "healthy organization," which consists, basically, of systems that enforce good management practices based in psychology and science, clear and decisive values and purpose, and a well-oiled organizational machine for meetings and communication. This is—as he says—pretty simple stuff to understand, but it all needs to be done together to be effective, lest any one part short-circuit any other. Correct.
What else he got right:
- The overall premise. With improvement of people management, and a few easy-to-understand, basic concepts done well, vast improvement is possible.
- Most of the psychology of teams, individuals, and dysfunctions thereof. Especially in noting Attribution bias.
- Framing of performance reviews as a process for improvement, not as a means for, well, anything else.
- The idea that no one part, on its own, is the key to success—that you must look at the health of the whole organization.
- The clear outline of purpose, values, and alignment, and the no-nonsense discussion of the humanity thereof. Spot on.
Shaky ground (one star deducted for these purposes primarily).
- The whole discussion of Accountability. I'll write a bit about this, since it's a big misstep, even though few understand why. One gets the impression that this is an old concept of his that he hasn't fully developed, and that even he, the master of his own book, is uncomfortable with the premise. He should trust his own instincts! Accountability is the wrong concept, and in the entire chapter he wavers back and forth between various definitions and examples that don't support what he's saying and sometimes have nothing to do with the concept at all. What's the right way to look at accountability? Forget the concept entirely. Toss it in the trash. It's a useless concept grounded in ancient management practices of command-and-control, founded in the idea that punishment for sub-par work is the best way to motivate people. This is an idea that Lencioni himself disproves later on in the book, when he talks about performance management—the goal is always to improve, not to blame or punish, and Accountability ruins the trust necessary to improve. It conflicts with the rest of his model, and it's out of place because of it. I have a feeling the inconsistency will dawn on him soon, as it's clear from the rest of his model that he's very close to the whole deal.
- The—it's hard to describe—hubris, self-importance, the lack of humility shown in the whole model and his presentation of it. What he's landed on here is not all that new or original, as he implies it is. It's the same core concept that Deming landed on, and Ackoff, and Juran, and a few others. It contains elements of Lean management, of the Toyota way, of Peter Scholte's interpretation of Deming, and of many concepts from other systems thinkers and organizational modelers that have—albeit perhaps less accessibly—rounded out the same model that Lencioni has. He mentions none of them. He gives the impression that he's landed on all of these concepts all by himself, which is either true (someone observing reality can reach the same conclusions), or demonstrates either ignorance (unlikely) intentional simplification (perhaps) or willful disregard for the great management thinkers who came before him. No matter how you slice it, it's irritating.
As much as those minor flaws annoy me, this is, overall, a mostly right-side-up view of organizations and how to work them, with a whole lot of positive ways of thinking that would help many a company work better and, as W. Edwards Deming said, to find "joy in work" that is the true indicator of a healthy company. Managers and leaders would do well to read this and take its concepts to heart. It is, overall, a good intro to a series of learnings on the path to a more enlightened organization.
Your next reads, (the Big Kids' Bikes, if you will):
- The Leader's Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done (absolutely essential)
- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (an alternative model, with much more insight and innovative thought)
- The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer (how to really drive a "healthy organization" with a systems view)
- Dr. Deming: The American who Taught the Japanese About Quality (a deep dive on Deming, who is the true father of the "holistic organization" systemic health that Lencioni talks about)
- Thinking in Systems: A Primer (how to think about organizational—and any other—systems, in concrete and useful terms)
This is the right way to proceed. Get started with Lencioni if you like his style, and don't stop there. Good luck.
A key point of the book is that it is organizational health that is the key thing to manage for in an organization. The first chapter makes the case for that. The next chapter introduces the four discipline model, which is followed by one chapter per discipline. These are (1) build a cohesive leadership team, (2) create clarity, (3) overcommunicate clarity, and (4) reinforce clarity. After these chapters is a chapter on following a certain meeting structure, followed the traditional closing and actions chapter.
Though I like most of Lencioni's work, this work left me unimpressed. Perhaps it was that I had read all the earlier books on which the key concepts were based. Yet, I do not think so. He packaged the earlier 'spot' ideas on how to improve one thing into a very traditional feeling management framework. It feels very top-down traditional management style - traditional management consultant recommendations. I was disappointed by that because I had hoped to have a bit more of an insight. So, I left the book very disappointed and look forward to the next Lencioni book which I hope will be back in the usual format. If you read all the Lencioni books, don't bother picking up this one. If you didn't, I'd recommend the other books rather than this one. If you prefer to not read novels, then this might be good. 3 stars.
Top reviews from other countries
The book's first chapter is a bit of a hard sell. No shame in that. Lencioni sets out to sell us the idea that organisational health is the most important thing in business - no, I mean THE most important thing. Really, really the most important thing. Did you know that organisational health will give your business a competitive advantage? I mean a really HUGE competitive advantage? That organisational health trumps everything else in business?
You get the point (you really do!) - the chapter reads like one of those maddeningly successful direct marketing mailshots that has you running up a mental white flag by page three and agreeing that, on reflection, your life has indeed been blighted by the absence of whatever they are selling and that you absolutely must ACT NOW to remedy the situation. But Lencioni soon begins to spell out what a healthy organisation would look like and to set out his action plan for improving the health of any organisation, and I began to be won over.
Many books about organisational behaviour offer a brilliant analysis of what is wrong with the organisation and suggest some profound changes that are needed to remedy this, but leave one wondering just how many companies will actually change their behaviour as a result, no matter how compellingly the author has spelled out the advantages. It's not that the new ideas don't make sense, or are not genuinely exciting, it's just that they often require truly fundamental changes to the way that organisations are structured and run. What Lencioni recommends, in contrast, is relatively simple, clearly understandable, and eminently do-able. I found myself recognising all too many of the aspects of unhealthy organisational behaviour but, more importantly, seeing also how Lencioni's recommended solution was sane, practical and achievable. Although Lencioni is not, on the face of it, proposing a radical overhaul of organisational structure, his programme for a healthier way of conducting business would, in fact, have quite profound effects on how organisations are run.
Lencioni starts with 'building a cohesive leadership team', and has interesting things to say about how this involves building a high degree of trust among the leadership team, which involves a greater degree of interpersonal reaction than is usually considered necessary or even desirable. Senior teams tend to relate to each other at the 'purely professional' level, representing their own departmental interests, vying with each other for the boss's attention and focussing mainly on achieving their own agenda while looking more brilliant than their colleagues. Exactly, says Lencioni. Teams like this are not learning from each other, and are certainly not working together to achieve the overall objectives of the organisation. To do this, the leadership team need to be more aware of each other's personal strengths and weaknesses, more prepared to engage in constructive criticism and debate and, as a result, to be individually a little more vulnerable than we are usually comfortable with. Lencioni successfully paints an appealing picture of the benefits of a genuinely cohesive leadership team, working together to achieve common objectives, holding other team members accountable, playing to each other's strengths and reminding each other, in an intelligent and constructive way, of their individual weaknesses.
And then, of course, the team needs to be clear on exactly what those common objectives are: we need 'clarity'. His recommendation for finding clarity is to answer six fundamental questions: Why do we [the organisation] exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important right now? Who must do what? It's a good and deceptively simple-looking list. The first three of those questions are actually very hard to answer, and any team that knew and fully agreed on all of the answers would indeed have a considerable advantage over the great majority of their competitors.
Lencioni illustrates his points with down-to-earth, recognisable and relevant illustrations from his consulting experience. Having argued for a cohesive leadership team and the need to achieve clarity, the last two points in his four-point action plan seem a little like over-egging the pudding: 'overcommunicate clarity' and 'reinforce clarity'. But the sections addressing these ideas continue to offer sensible, practical suggestions about how to spread a clear understanding of core objectives throughout the organisation and to ensure that the clarity persists.
I especially liked Lencini's focus on 'what is the most important thing right now'. It is difficult, but literally invaluable, for organisations to be clear on 'why we exist', 'how we behave' and 'what we do' but even with clarity on these defining ideals, organisations are often still derailed by failing to focus enough on some fundamental issue that threatens their very existence. 'The high point of being a leader in an organisation is wrestling with difficult decisions and situations,' writes Lencioni, while pointing out that, in practice, leadership teams tend to try to deal with such fundamental, life or death business issues far too superficially in a badly structured meeting that is attempting to achieve several other things at the same time.
His recommendation for a programme of meetings with different purposes and functions is, again, pragmatic and entirely sane. What, as Lencioni says, could be more exciting than addressing a core business issue in a constructive and focussed 'adhoc topical meeting' with a team of committed colleagues, and without anything else on the agenda but finding a solution to the particular business problem? And how often in business does that actually happen?
A deceptively simple and very readable book that offers achievable suggestions for changes to our working practises that would have profound effects on our effectiveness - and on the satisfaction that we get from our working lives.
Jonathan Gifford - author of '100 Great Business Leaders'