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All organizations must be both smart and healthy in order to be as successful as possible.  So what does smart and healthy mean?  Well for example organizational smarts would comprise strategy, marketing, finance, technology, or other physical assets.  These are important and key areas for any organization and they are also highly quantifiable or easy to measure.  Aspects of organizational health look like minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover of good people.  These are also important and key areas for organizational success, yet most often the areas of organizational health are ignored as much as possible.  Why?

Most executives focus on organizational smarts because they are much more comfortable in these areas.  And comfort comes from the ease of measurement, you can condense all these areas to a neat and tidy spreadsheet and easily track improvement or decline.  And despite the great power of organizational health, many leaders do not embrace it simply because they believe they are too busy, too analytical, or even too sophisticated  for it. The factors that add up to organizational health are often deemed as soft and unimportant, and all too often, many leaders see it as beneath them.

And unfortunately I have a real hard time blaming them.  How many ropes-courses, scavenger  hunts, trust-fall exercises, and other touchy-feely nonsense do you have to sit through until you finally say enough!  Let me get back to the relative comfort of my spreadsheets and Gantt charts.  But here’s the thing.  Real organizational health and corporate culture is not made up of employee yoga retreats, crazy office furniture, or bring your pet to work days.  In fact organizational health is not touchy-feely at all and is even bigger than the idea of corporate culture, although your culture does play a part and is so much more positive in a healthy organization.

Patrick Lencioni says that “More than a side dish, or a flavor enhancer for the real meat and potatoes of business, it (organizational health) is the very plate on which the meat and potatoes sit.”  I think this statement says a lot about the importance of organizational health because it shows how “health” sets the tone and the context for all of the “smart” activities your organization employs.  Organizational health can be a multiplier of your strategy, marketing, finance and technology or it can be the stone around the neck that drags departments into mediocrity and sometimes outright failure.

So what are the biases that get in the way of embracing organizational health?  If you are humble enough to admit that you suffer from one or more of the following biases, you’ll be on your way to harnessing the great power of organizational health, and you’ll be able to gain a real and significant advantage over your competition.

  • The Sophistication Bias: The components of organizational health are usually so simple that many people can’t see how it would lead to any advantage at all.   And that is true, healthy organizations do not posses any more intelligence or sophistication than other organizations.  But they do have to have tremendous levels of courage, discipline, persistence and common sense to put these simple ideas into practice and ingrain them into the organization as a whole.
  • The Adrenaline bias: Becoming a healthy organization takes time and is not always the most exciting process.  It is one of those classic Important but not urgent  priorities that Covey talks about.  Are you an adrenaline junkie?  Are you hooked on handling the crises and firefighting in your organization?  It’s easy to do, we all like to feel like we’re highly competent,  able to rise above chaos and take care of business when the stakes are high.  I like to ski, and part of that is going fast, there really isn’t anything like it.  But I’ve learned that it’s important to slow down sometimes and work on my skill and technique or else the going fast part is going to result in some pretty disastrous results.
  • The Quantification Bias: Again, the benefits of organizational health are extremely difficult to accurately measure.  Because it affects so many areas of a company or organization it is almost impossible to be able to break it down into a simple chart.  But the impacts of health are massive, real and tangible yet difficult for overly analytical leaders to accept.  It’s sort of like the old definition of pornography, “I can’t exactly tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.”  Well, organizational health is very difficult to chart or measure financially, but people recognize the difference between a healthy and unhealthy company.  Especially the employees and customers.

The power of organization health is great, precisely because so many organizations are not harnessing the power.  This is usually because one of these biases gets in the way, so what exactly is organizational health?  Well that will be the subject of my next post.

The ideas that I am writing about have been brilliantly discovered and written about by Patrick Lencioni in many of his best selling books.  I am convinced that he is correct in his belief that “organizational health will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.”  In fact it’s the reason I’ve dedicated my consulting practice to helping organizations understand and implement these critical ideas.