The big idea from Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Advantage“, is summed up in the subtitle, “Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.” The book weaves together company culture, business strategy, and leadership philosophy to describe the path to organizational success. Lencioni makes the case that without health, organizations are prone to confusion, politics, and frustration that saps energy and makes them far less effective than their potential. The book makes the case that the best strategy, the best products, or the best people are all crippled within organizations that have not developed organizational health. With organizational health, the people within the organization are focused and efficient, therefore achieving higher goals more quickly.
Lencioni defines organizational health as integrity within the organization, “when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.” Another way to describe organizational health is a united leadership team with a clear business description and direction. He describes two fundamental requirements for success of an organization, when it is smart (demonstrated by effective strategy, marketing, finance, and technology) and healthy (demonstrated by minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover). His view is that most organizations spend the bulk of their effort on the smart requirement and very little effort on the organizational health requirement. This despite the belief that organizational health is far more important.
To achieve the advantage of organizational health, the book describes four disciplines, as follows:
- Build a Cohesive Leadership Team.
This leadership team is defined as “a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization.” The key to building a healthy organization is in building cohesiveness in the leadership team, where the team members sacrifice their personal desires or interests for the benefit of the team. Lencioni lists five behavioral principles that must be embraced to build cohesiveness, as follows:
- Building trust
- Mastering positive conflict
- Achieving commitment
- Embracing accountability
- Focusing on results
- Create Clarity.
Too often we find organizations that exist as a group of silos, each with their own view of what is best for the organization or simply focused on their own departmental interests. A healthy organization is based on the leadership team rallying around a clear and consistent description of their business and its direction. Lencioni defines these six critical questions to provide the organization with what he terms clarity, describing the organization and its goals and direction:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important, right now?
- Who must do what?
These questions define the business, its strategy, and the tactical priorities for achieving success. In Lencioni’s view, these six questions sum up the rallying points that bring the organization together.
- Overcommunicate Clarity.
Of course, the author could have said that organizations need to communicate the answers to the six questions that provide clarity. But too often leadership sees this communication as a one-time activity rather than a continuous requirement. People in the organization will easily forget or become distracted unless leadership continually reinforces these critical elements of clarity. So that everyone in the organization is working toward the same goals, they all need to be reminded consistently and the leadership team needs to be sure that they are all giving the same message. Some organizations think that presenting the plan to all employees once should be enough to get buy-in. Other organizations never communicate; they just want people to do their jobs without any understanding of their employer and what needs to be accomplished to be successful. Instead, Lencioni suggests that organizations overcommunicate using every means possible so that everyone is focused on the same priorities.
- Reinforce Clarity.
The fourth discipline that Lencioni describes as a necessity for building organizational health is through all of the human systems of the organization. For example, the hiring process needs to be structured so that candidates are screened first by their ability to fit with the values of the organization and then secondly for technical skills and past accomplishments. Similarly, the onboarding or orientation process should be considered a prime opportunity to communicate the answers to the six clarity questions. In the same way, the clarity questions should play a part in performance management, recognition, and compensation. Employees that do not fit with the values should be managed out of the organization, since they will cause a distraction to the rest of the organization
A theme throughout the book is simplicity. Bureaucracy and complicated systems defeat the purpose of uniting the entire organization with clarity. After describing the four disciplines of a healthy organization, Lencioni spends a final chapter describing his view of effective meetings consistent with the concept of a healthy organization.
Most of Patrick Lencioni’s books are written as business fables in which he focuses on elements of company culture and demonstrates failures and successes in building a successful organization. “The Advantage” is a practical guide that incorporates many of the concepts from Lencioni’s other books. While he tends to be a bit dogmatic, this book has a lot of great advice for building a healthy organization and healthy organizations outperform the rest of the world.