My recent post explaining Patrick Lencioni’s difference between a healthy company and a smart company got a lot of views. His message touched a nerve with many printing owners. Now I’d like to further explore his thinking on how to become a healthy organization.
In my previous post, I touched on Lencioni’s comparison between smart and healthy corporations. “Smart” organizations are good at the “decision sciences,” which include strategy, marketing, finance and technology. “Healthy” organizations have minimal politics, confusion and high morale and productivity. Here’s the side-by-side comparison.
Focusing on making your organization healthy can be, as Lencioni puts it, “messy.”
He explains how it can be done using his “Four Disciplines Model.” In this post I’ll elaborate on the Four Disciplines Model, and naturally throw in a few of my own thoughts for good measure.
1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
Holy cow, talk about getting to the crux of the problem right off the bat. We all want the benefits of a team with great chemistry, but many of us fail to take the time to learn how to make it happen.
Isn’t it funny that Phil Jackson, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, is regarded as a mystical figure because of his ability to get teams to work together?
I mean, is it really that hard?
Of course it is. As Lencioni notes, “In any kind of organization, from a corporation to a department within a corporation, from a small, entrepreneurial company to a church or a school, dysfunction and lack of cohesion at the top inevitably lead to a lack of health throughout.”
He then details the five fundamental ways the leaders of an organization must be “behavorially cohesive.” These include:
- Establish trust
- Master conflict
- Achieve commitment
- Embrace accountability
- Focus on results
In his book, Lencioni details how to accomplish each of these within your organization, but notice they are a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. They have to work in tandem. Yes, you build trust on a qualitative level, but that’s achieved by relying on quantitative measurements. This mix is so critical to an organization, and so often overlooked.
2. Create Clarity
Creating clarity will help you achieve alignment, Lencioni explains. Alignment can have a ripple effect throughout the organization: “There cannot be alignment deep in the organization, even when employees want to cooperate, if the leaders at the top aren’t in lock-step with one another around a few very specific things.”
That’s the reason why the handlers of political leaders are so insistent on candidates staying on message. It explains why Sarah Palin’s “going rogue” act in the 2008 election fractured John McCain’s campaign.
Lencioni has some gems on how to create clarity. For example, he skewers the traditional mission statement, “At some point…a cleverly sadistic and antibusiness consultant decided that the best way to really screw up companies was to convince them that what they needed was a convoluted jargon and all-encompassing declaration of intent.”
In other words, “alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together.” Instead, he proposes a business answer to six critical questions:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is important, right now?
- Who must do what?
“Theoretically simple” but difficult to do, Lencioni makes a very wise point here. Instead of focusing too much on the right answer, it’s more important to have an answer that is “directionally correct and around which all team members can commit.”
3. Overcommunicate Clarity
Did you read that correctly? Overcommunicate in the age of overcommunication?
Don’t misinterpret overcommunication with too much information. Many of us are overwhelmed with the amount of messages you receive, but have you ever noticed why all these signals make you so anxious?
It’s because many of them tear you in different directions. You’ll get advice from a thousand different sources, all telling you different things.
Your employees experience the same thing. With email, they’re likely hammered with messaging from all areas of your organization. So why on earth would you add more to the mix?
Lencioni’s point is not to add different messaging; it’s to overcommunicate the same answers. How many times is optimal? “Seven times,” he writes. “I’ve heard claims that employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they’ve heard it seven times.”
Why so many? It’s simple. Management teams often believe they need to constantly come up with new messages, and keep things fresh and lively. But that’s not the case with employees. They want stability. Consistency. They want to believe you’ll stick to your guns.
It’s just like with your children (if you have kids). You often have to repeat yourself a hundred times, but it’s not because they don’t hear you. They want to see if you really mean what you say, or if you’re just blowing smoke and will eventually move on to something else.
4. Reinforce Clarity
Wait, didn’t we just overcommunicate clarity? Lencioni here refers to what I would call “walking the walk.” That means creating an organizational structure that adheres to all the answers from when you “Created Clarity.”
The caution here is to avoid become bureaucratic. He writes, “An organization has to institutionalize its culture without bureaucratizing it.”
In other words, walk the walk. Management has to “ensure that hiring profiles, performance management processes, training programs and compensation systems are relevant, and the only way to do that is to design them specifically around the answers to the six questions.”
Incredibly simple on paper, but difficult to pull off in real life. Why? Again, because you’re moving into the qualitative zone. The emotional nether regions where all those personality conflicts and power struggles live. However, if you get the team on-track and healthy, you’ll move at warp speed.
I’ve just skimmed the surface of Patrick Lencioni’s book. I encourage your to dig deeper, not only into his work, but into your own organization’s culture. It will give you an advantage that you’ll never lose.
Photo by: Northern Ireland Executive