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The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business Hardcover – March 13, 2012
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There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are. In this book, Lencioni brings together his vast experience and many of the themes cultivated in his other best-selling books and delivers a first: a cohesive and comprehensive exploration of the unique advantage organizational health provides.
Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified.Â Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave. Lencioniâs first non-fiction book provides leaders with a groundbreaking, approachable model for achieving organizational healthâcomplete with stories, tips and anecdotes from his experiences consulting to some of the nationâs leading organizations. In this age of informational ubiquity and nano-second change, it is no longer enough to build a competitive advantage based on intelligence alone. The Advantage provides a foundational construct for conducting business in a new wayâone that maximizes human potential and aligns the organization around a common set of principles.
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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.