Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

The Advantage BOOK CLUB

The Advantage by Patrick LencioniThe Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. Jossey-Bass. 240 pages. 2012

Patrick Lencioni is one of my favorite business authors. His books The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are among my favorites. I recently started reading and discussing The Advantage with two colleagues at work. I’m sharing key learnings from the book here.

Some good resources around organizational health can be found here: http://www.tablegroup.com/oh

This week we look at “The Case for Organizational Health”:

  • The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it. That is the premise of this book—not to mention my career—and I am utterly convinced that it is true.
  • In spite of its undeniable power, so many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health (which I’ll be defining shortly) because they quietly believe they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it. In other words, they think it’s beneath them.
  • The health of an organization provides the context for strategy, finance, marketing, technology, and everything else that happens within it, which is why it is the single greatest factor determining an organization’s success. More than talent. More than knowledge. More than innovation.
  • But before leaders can tap into the power of organizational health, they must humble themselves enough to overcome the three biases that prevent them from embracing it. The Sophistication Bias: Organizational health is so simple and accessible that many leaders have a hard time seeing it as a real opportunity for meaningful advantage.
  • The Adrenaline Bias: Becoming a healthy organization takes a little time. Unfortunately, many of the leaders I’ve worked with suffer from a chronic case of adrenaline addiction, seemingly hooked on the daily rush of activity and firefighting within their organizations. It’s as though they’re afraid to slow down and deal with issues that are critical but don’t seem particularly urgent.
  • The Quantification Bias: The benefits of becoming a healthy organization, as powerful as they are, are difficult to accurately quantify.
  • There is yet another reason that might prevent them from tapping into the power of organizational health, and that is what provoked me to write this book: it has never been presented as a simple, integrated, and practical discipline.
  • I am convinced that once organizational health is properly understood and placed into the right context, it will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage. Really.
  • At its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity—is healthy—when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.
  • Any organization that really wants to maximize its success must come to embody two basic qualities: it must be smart, and it must be healthy.
  • Smart organizations are good at those classic fundamentals of business—subjects like strategy, marketing, finance, and technology—which I consider to be decision sciences.
  • A good way to recognize health is to look for the signs that indicate an organization has it. These include minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees.
  • Most leaders prefer to look for answers where the light is better, where they are more comfortable. And the light is certainly better in the measurable, objective, and data-driven world of organizational intelligence (the smart side of the equation) than it is in the messier, more unpredictable world of organizational health.
  • The advantages to be found in the classic areas of business—finance, marketing, strategy—in spite of all the attention they receive, are incremental and fleeting.
  • The vast majority of organizations today have more than enough intelligence, expertise, and knowledge to be successful. What they lack is organizational health.
  • After two decades of working with CEOs and their teams of senior executives, I’ve become absolutely convinced that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little, if anything, to do with what they know or how smart they are; it has everything to do with how healthy they are.
  • An organization that is healthy will inevitably get smarter over time. That’s because people in a healthy organization, beginning with the leaders, learn from one another, identify critical issues, and recover quickly from mistakes.
  • The healthier an organization is, the more of its intelligence it is able to tap into and use. Most organizations exploit only a fraction of the knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to them. But the healthy ones tap into almost all of it.
  • First, organizational health just isn’t very sexy, so journalists aren’t terribly excited to talk or write about it.
  • Another reason that organizational health has been overlooked by academia and the media has to do with the difficulty of measuring its impact.
  • Trying to identify exactly how much a company’s health affects its bottom line is next to impossible; there are just too many variables to isolate it from the myriad of other factors.
  • Finally, organizational health gets overlooked because the elements that make it up don’t seem to be anything new. And in many ways, they aren’t. The basic components—leadership, teamwork, culture, strategy, meetings—have been a subject of discussion within academia for a long time. The problem is that we’ve been looking at those elements in isolated, discreet, and theoretical ways instead of as an integrated, practical discipline.
  • The financial cost of having an unhealthy organization is undeniable: wasted resources and time, decreased productivity, increased employee turnover, and customer attrition. The money an organization loses as a result of these problems, and the money it has to spend to recover from them, is staggering. And that’s only the beginning of the problem.
  • Aside from the obvious impact this has within the organization, there is a larger social cost. People who work in unhealthy organizations eventually come to see work as drudgery. They view success as being unlikely or, even worse, out of their control. This leads to a diminished sense of hope and lower self-esteem, which leaks beyond the walls of the companies where they work, into their families where it often contributes to deep personal problems, the effects of which may be felt for years.
  • Turning an unhealthy company into a healthy one will not only create a massive competitive advantage and improved bottom line, it will also make a real difference in the lives of the people who work there. And for the leaders who spearhead those efforts, it will be one of the most meaningful and rewarding endeavors they will ever pursue.
  • DISCIPLINE 1: BUILD A COHESIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM. An organization simply cannot be healthy if the people who are chartered with running it are not behaviorally cohesive in five fundamental ways. In any kind of organization, from a corporation to a department within that 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.
  • DISCIPLINE 2: CREATE CLARITY. In addition to being behaviorally cohesive, the leadership team of a healthy organization must be intellectually aligned and committed to the same answers to six simple but critical questions.
  • DISCIPLINE 3: OVERCOMMUNICATE CLARITY. Once a leadership team has established behavioral cohesion and created clarity around the answers to those questions, it must then communicate those answers to employees clearly, repeatedly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly (that’s not a typo). When it comes to reinforcing clarity, there is no such thing as too much communication.
  • DISCIPLINE 4: REINFORCE CLARITY. Finally, in order for an organization to remain healthy over time, its leaders must establish a few critical, nonbureaucratic systems to reinforce clarity in every process that involves people. Every policy, every program, every activity should be designed to remind employees what is really most important.

DISCIPLINE 1: BUILD A COHESIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM

An organization simply cannot be healthy if the people who are chartered with running it are not behaviorally cohesive in five fundamental ways. In any kind of organization, from a corporation to a department within that 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.

  • The question: What kind of advantage would the first organization have over the second, and how much time and energy would it be worth investing to make this advantage a reality?
  • The first step a leadership team has to take if it wants the organization it leads to be healthy—and to achieve the advantages that go with it—is to make itself cohesive.
  • What I’ll do in this section is present a comprehensive overview of the model and provide advice about addressing the five dysfunctions and embracing the positive behaviors that are at the heart of any cohesive leadership team.
  • I like to say that teamwork is not a virtue. It is a choice—and a strategic one.
  • A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization.
  • A leadership team should be made up of somewhere between three and twelve people, though anything over eight or nine is usually problematic.
  • When it comes to discussions and decision making, there are two critical ways that members of effective teams must communicate: advocacy and inquiry.
  • Advocacy is the kind of communication that most people are accustomed to, and it is all about stating your case or making your point.
  • Inquiry is rarer and more important than advocacy. It happens when people ask questions to seek clarity about another person’s statement of advocacy.
  • Why do so many organizations still have too many people on their leadership teams?
  • Collective responsibility implies, more than anything else, selflessness and shared sacrifices from team members.
  • There are other sacrifices that team members have to make beyond these tangible ones, and they come about on a much more regular basis—often daily. Two big ones are time and emotion.
  • And while there will always be a need for division of labor and departmental expertise, leadership team members must see their goals as collective and shared when it comes to managing the top priorities of the greater organization.
  • If a team shares a common objective, a good portion of their compensation or reward structure, though not necessarily all of it, should be based on the achievement of that common objective.

Behavior 1:  Building Trust

  • Members of a truly cohesive team must trust one another.
  • The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” “I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry.”
  • At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team. While this can be a little threatening and uncomfortable at first, ultimately it becomes liberating for people who are tired of spending time and energy overthinking their actions and managing interpersonal politics at work.
  • Personal Histories. The first part of learning to build vulnerability-based trust is a small step that is necessary because to ask people to get too vulnerable too quickly is unrealistic and unproductive.
  • Profiling. The next stage, though deeper than the first one, is still largely nonthreatening. It involves using a behavioral profiling tool that can give team members deeper insights into themselves and their peers. We prefer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, because it is widely used and understood, and seems remarkably accurate. However, there are other workable tools out there as well.
  • At the heart of the fundamental attribution error is the tendency of human beings to attribute the negative or frustrating behaviors of their colleagues to their intentions and personalities, while attributing their own negative or frustrating behaviors to environmental factors.
  • Some people ask me if it’s possible for team members to be too vulnerable with one another, to leave themselves open to being hurt. My answer is no.
  • As important as it is for all members of a leadership team to commit to being vulnerable, that is not going to happen if the leader of the team, whether that person is the CEO, department head, pastor, or school principal, does not go first. If the team leader is reluctant to acknowledge his or her mistakes or fails to admit to a weakness that is evident to everyone else, there is little hope that other members of the team are going to take that step themselves.
  • Trust is just one of five behaviors that cohesive teams must establish to build a healthy organization. However, it is by far the most important of the five because it is the foundation for the others. Simply stated, it makes teamwork possible. Only when teams build vulnerability-based trust do they put themselves in a position to embrace the other four behaviors, the next of which is the mastery of conflict.

Behavior 2: Mastering Conflict

  • Contrary to popular wisdom and behavior, conflict is not a bad thing for a team. In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems.
  • Of course, the kind of conflict I’m referring to here is not the nasty kind that centers around people or personalities. Rather, it is what I call productive ideological conflict, the willingness to disagree, even passionately when necessary, around important issues and decisions that must be made. But this can only happen when there is trust.
  • When team members trust one another, when they know that everyone on the team is capable of admitting when they don’t have the right answer, and when they’re willing to acknowledge when someone else’s idea is better than theirs, the fear of conflict and the discomfort it entails is greatly diminished. When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. It is not only okay but desirable. Conflict without trust, however, is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth.
  • But that’s not to say that even productive conflict isn’t a little uncomfortable.
  • Overcoming the tendency to run from discomfort is one of the most important requirements for any leadership team—in fact, for any leader.
  • Avoiding conflict creates problems even beyond boring meetings and poorly vetted decisions, as bad as those things are. When leadership team members avoid discomfort among themselves, they only transfer it in far greater quantities to larger groups of people throughout the organization they’re supposed to be serving. In essence, they leave it to others below them to try to resolve issues that really must be addressed at the top. This contributes to employee angst and job misery as much as anything else in organizational life.
  • As critical as conflict is, it’s important to understand that different people, different families, and different cultures participate in conflict in different ways.
  • When people fail to be honest with one another about an issue they disagree on, their disagreement around that issue festers and ferments over time until it transforms into frustration around that person.
  • When it comes to the range of different conflict dynamics in an organization, I’ve found there is a continuum of sorts. At one end of that continuum is no conflict at all. I call this artificial harmony, because it is marked by a lot of false smiling and disingenuous agreement around just about everything, at least publicly. At the other end of the continuum is relentless, nasty, and destructive conflict, with people constantly at one another’s throats. As you move away from the extreme of artificial harmony, you encounter more and more constructive conflict. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes is the demarcation line where good, constructive conflict crosses over into the destructive kind.
  • The optimal place to be on this continuum is just to the left of the demarcation line (the Ideal Conflict Point). That would be the point where a team is engaged in all the constructive conflict they could possibly have, but never stepping over the line into destructive territory.
  • Nowhere does this tendency toward artificial harmony show itself more than in mission-driven nonprofit organizations, most notably churches. People who work in those organizations tend to have a misguided idea that they cannot be frustrated or disagreeable with one another. What they’re doing is confusing being nice with being kind.
  • When leadership team members fail to disagree around issues, not only are they increasing the likelihood of losing respect for one another and encountering destructive conflict later when people start griping in the hallways, they’re also making bad decisions and letting down the people they’re supposed to be serving. And they do this all in the name of being “nice.”
  • Even when teams understand the importance of conflict, it is frequently difficult to get them to engage in it.
  • One of the best ways for leaders to raise the level of healthy conflict on a team is by mining for conflict during meetings. This happens when they suspect that unearthed disagreement is lurking in the room and gently demand that people come clean.
  • By looking for and exposing potential and even subtle disagreements that have not come to the surface, team leaders—and, heck, team members can do it too—avoid the destructive hallway conversations that inevitably result when people are reluctant to engage in direct, productive debate.
  • Another tool for increasing conflict is something I refer to as real-time permission. When a leader sees her people engaging in disagreement during a meeting, even over something relatively innocuous, she should do something that may seem counterintuitive but is remarkably helpful: interrupt. That’s right. Just as people are beginning to challenge one another, she should stop them for a moment to remind them that what they are doing is good.
  • What it will do is give people the permission they need to overcome their guilt—and they’ll definitely be fighting off feelings of guilt—and continue to engage in healthy but uncomfortable conflict without unnecessary and distracting tension.
  • It’s important to remember that the reluctance to engage in conflict is not always a problem of conflict per se. In many cases, and perhaps in most of them, the real problem goes back to a lack of trust. Remember that when team members aren’t comfortable being vulnerable, they aren’t going to feel comfortable or safe engaging in conflict. If that’s the case, then no amount of training or discussion around conflict is going to bring it about. Trust must be established if real conflict is to occur.

Behavior 3: Achieving Commitment

  • The reason that conflict is so important is that a team cannot achieve commitment without it.
  • When leadership teams wait for consensus before taking action, they usually end up with decisions that are made too late and are mildly disagreeable to everyone. This is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration.
  • It’s only when colleagues speak up and put their opinions on the table, without holding back, that the leader can confidently fulfill one of his most important responsibilities: breaking ties.
  • But when there has been no conflict, when different opinions have not been aired and debated, it becomes virtually impossible for team members to commit to a decision, at least not actively.
  • Most leaders have learned the art of passive agreement: going to a meeting, smiling and nodding their heads when a decision is made that they don’t agree with. They then go back to their offices and do as little as possible to support that idea.
  • The only way to prevent passive sabotage is for leaders to demand conflict from their team members and to let them know that they are going to be held accountable for doing whatever the team ultimately decides.
  • At the end of every meeting, cohesive teams must take a few minutes to ensure that everyone sitting at the table is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they are committed to do.

Behavior 4: Embracing Accountability

  • Even well-intentioned members of a team need to be held accountable if a team is going to stick to its decisions and accomplish its goals.
  • Peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on the leadership team of a healthy organization.
  • When team members know that their colleagues are truly committed to something, they can confront one another about issues without fearing defensiveness or backlash.
  • The leader of the team, though not the primary source of accountability, will always be the ultimate arbiter of it.
  • So—and here is the irony—the more comfortable a leader is holding people on a team accountable, the less likely she is to be asked to do so.
  • At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant.
  • Unfortunately, it is far more natural, and common, for leaders to avoid holding people accountable. It is one of the biggest obstacles I find preventing teams, and the companies they lead, from reaching their full potential.
  • Many leaders who struggle with this (again, I’m one of them) will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; they just don’t want to make their employees feel bad. But an honest reassessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness.
  • Some leaders don’t realize they have an accountability problem because they are more than comfortable confronting people about issues regarding measurable performance.
  • That is indeed one form of accountability, but it’s not the most important kind. The kind that is more fundamental, important, and difficult is about behavior.
  • It involves a judgment call that is more likely to provoke a defensive response.
  • The reason that behavioral accountability is more important than the quantitative, results-related kind has nothing to do with the fact that it is harder. It is due to the fact that behavioral problems almost always precede—and cause—a downturn in performance and results.
  • Whether we’re talking about a football team, a sales department, or an elementary school, a meaningful drop in measurable performance can almost always be traced back to behavioral issues that made the drop possible.
  • It’s difficult to overstate the competitive advantage that an accountability-friendly organization has over one where leaders don’t hold one another accountable.
  • It’s worth pointing out here that people often confuse accountability with conflict because both involve discomfort and emotion. But there is an enormous difference between the two. Conflict is about issues and ideas, while accountability is about performance and behavior.
  • A good tool for teams that want to improve their ability to hold one another accountable is something we call the team effectiveness exercise.
  • The greatest impact is the realization on the part of leadership team members that holding one another accountable is a survivable and productive activity, and it will make them likely to continue doing it going forward. And in some situations, the eventual result is particularly powerful.
  • Losing a team member is not at all a common outcome of building a culture of accountability. In most cases, team members simply learn to demand more of one another and watch their collective performance improve.
  • I’m often asked whether leaders should hold their people accountable privately during one-on-one sessions or in more public forums with the whole team, like during meetings. Although every case is a little different, generally I believe that on cohesive teams, accountability is best handled with the entire team.
  • When leaders and team members call one another on issues in front of team members, they get benefits that don’t occur when it takes place individually.
  • First, when accountability is handled during a meeting, every member of the team receives the message simultaneously and doesn’t have to make the same mistakes in order to learn the lesson of the person being held accountable.
  • Second, they know that the leader is holding their colleague accountable, which avoids their wondering whether the boss is doing his job.
  • Finally, it serves to reinforce the culture of accountability, which increases the likelihood that team members will do the same for one another.
  • When it comes to addressing relatively serious issues, or matters of corrective action in which a leader is wondering whether a member of the team might not be worthy to be on the team anymore, then everything changes. These are best handled privately, in a one-on-one situation, to respect the dignity of the person being held accountable.
  • The leader is often well advised to let her people know that she is addressing the situation to avoid unproductive and dangerous speculation.

Behavior 5: Focusing on Results

  • The ultimate point of building greater trust, conflict, commitment, and accountability is one thing: the achievement of results.
  • One of the greatest challenges to team success is the inattention to results.
  • There is no getting around the fact that the only measure of a great team—or a great organization—is whether it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish.
  • No matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a good team.
  • The definition of results and achievement will vary from one organization to another depending on the reason that a given organization exists.
  • When it comes to how a cohesive team measures its performance, one criterion sets it apart from noncohesive ones: its goals are shared across the entire team.
  • The only way for a team to really be a team and to maximize its output is to ensure that everyone is focused on the same priorities—rowing in the same direction, if you will.
  • Great teams ensure that all members, in spite of their individual responsibilities and areas of expertise, are doing whatever they can to help the team accomplish its goals.
  • The only way for a leader to establish this collective mentality on a team is by ensuring that all members place a higher priority on the team they’re a member of than the team they lead in their departments. A good way to go about this is simply to ask them which team is their first priority. I’ve found that many well-intentioned executives will admit that in spite of their commitment to the team that they’re a member of, the team they lead is their first priority.
  • When members of a leadership team feel a stronger sense of commitment and loyalty to the team they lead than the one they’re a member of, then the team they’re a member of becomes like the U.S. Congress or the United Nations: it’s just a place where people come together to lobby for their constituents. Teams that lead healthy organizations reject this model and come to terms with the difficult but critical requirement that executives must put the needs of the higher team ahead of the needs of their departments. That is the only way that good decisions can be made about how best to serve the entire organization and maximize its performance.
  • The surprising power of embracing team number one is one of the most gratifying and powerful things we witness in the work we do with leaders.
  • Checklist for Discipline 1: Building a Cohesive Leadership Team. Members of a leadership team can be confident that they’ve mastered this discipline when they can affirm the following statements:
  • The leadership team is small enough (three to ten people) to be effective.
  • Members of the team trust one another and can be genuinely vulnerable with each other.
  • Team members regularly engage in productive, unfiltered conflict around important issues.
  • The team leaves meetings with clear-cut, active, and specific agreements around decisions.
  • Team members hold one another accountable to commitments and behaviors.
  • Members of the leadership team are focused on team number one. They put the collective priorities and needs of the larger organization ahead of their own departments.

Discipline 2: Create Clarity ~

  • The second requirement for building a healthy organization—creating clarity—is all about achieving alignment.
  • For all the attention it gets, real alignment remains frustratingly rare.
  • Within the context of making an organization healthy, alignment is about creating so much clarity that there is as little room as possible for confusion, disorder, and infighting to set in.
  • The responsibility for creating that clarity lies squarely with the leadership team.
  • There cannot be alignment deeper in the organization, even when employees want to cooperate, if the leaders at the top aren’t in lockstep with one another around a few very specific things.
  • All too often—and this is critical—leaders underestimate the impact of even subtle misalignment at the top, and the damage caused to the rest of the organization by small gaps among members of the executive team.
  • Thinking they’re being mature, leaders often agree to disagree with one another around seemingly minor issues, thereby avoiding what they see as unnecessary contentiousness and conflict.
  • What they don’t understand is that by failing to eliminate even those small gaps, they are leaving employees below them to fight bloody, unwinnable battles with their peers in other departments.
  • No matter how many times executives preach about the “e” word in their speeches, there is no way that their employees can be empowered to fully execute their responsibilities if they don’t receive clear and consistent messages about what is important from their leaders across the organization.
  • There is probably no greater frustration for employees than having to constantly navigate the politics and confusion caused by leaders who are misaligned.
  • Since the 1980s, many organizations have centered their clarity and alignment efforts around a singular tool that has been a major disappointment. What I’m referring to is the mission statement.
  • It can’t be denied that most mission statements have neither inspired people to change the world nor provided them with an accurate description of what an organization actually does for a living. They certainly haven’t created alignment and clarity among employees. What they have done is make many leadership teams look foolish.
  • What leaders must do to give employees the clarity they need is agree on the answers to six simple but critical questions and thereby eliminate even small discrepancies in their thinking.
  • Failing to achieve alignment around any one of them can prevent an organization from attaining the level of clarity necessary to become healthy. These are the six questions:
    • 1. Why do we exist?
    • 2. How do we behave?
    • 3. What do we do?
    • 4. How will we succeed?
    • 5. What is most important, right now?
    • 6. Who must do what?
  • If members of a leadership team can rally around clear answers to these fundamental questions—without using jargon and shmarmy language—they will drastically increase the likelihood of creating a healthy organization. This may well be the most important step of all in achieving the advantage of organizational health.
  • Answering these questions, like everything else in this book, is as difficult as it is theoretically simple.
  • It can be difficult, however,for a variety of reasons. First, as we explored in the last chapter, it requires cohesion at the top.
  • Second—and this is a big one—it’s often tempting for leaders to slip into a marketing or sloganizing mind-set when answering these questions, trying to come up with catchy phrases or impressive-sounding statements. This is a sign that the team is missing the boat and has been distracted from its real purpose: establishing true clarity and alignment.
  • Finally, answering these questions requires time.
  • Taking time to sit with the questions and ensure that all members of the leadershipteam understand what they mean and are truly aligned around the answers is essential.
  • There are no right or wrong answers. I mean, who’s to say what is right and wrong when it comes to setting the direction of an organization?
  • Waiting for clear confirmation that a decision is exactly right is a recipe for mediocrity and almost a guarantee of eventual failure. That’s because organizations learn by making decisions, even bad ones.

Question 1: Why Do We Exist?

  • Answering this question requires a leadership team to identify its underlying reason for being, also known as its core purpose.
  • An organization’s core purpose—why it exists—has to be completely idealistic.
  • In order to successfully identify their organization’s purpose, leaders must accept the notion that all organizations exist to make people’s lives better.
  • There is a darn good chance that your company—in fact, any given company—has not yet identified its purpose.
  • This leads to two problems. First, those teams don’t achieve a real sense of collective commitment from their members.
  • Second, and this is certainly related, those executives don’t see the company’s reason for existing as having any practical implications for the way they make decisions and run the organization.
  • Some executives, especially those who are a little cynical about all this purpose stuff, will say that their company exists simply to make money for owners or shareholders. That is almost never a purpose, but rather an important indicator of success.
  • When leaders set about identifying the purpose of their organization, there are a few critical factors they must keep in mind to give them a good chance at success. First, they must be clear that answering this question is not the end of the clarity process.
  • Second, an organization’s reason for existence, its purpose, has to be true. It must be based on the real motivations of the people who founded or are running the organization, not something that simply sounds good on paper.
  • Third, the process of determining an organization’s purpose cannot be confused with marketing, external or internal. It must be all about clarity and alignment.
  • So how does an organization go about figuring out why it exists? It starts by asking this question: “How do we contribute to a better world?”
  • The next question that needs to be asked, and asked again and again until it leads to the highest purpose or reason for existence, is Why? Why do we do that?
  • There are a number of very different categories of purpose, any of which can be valid. Identifying which category fits your organization’s purpose can be very helpful in focusing your discussion of why your organization exists because it better clarifies who the organization ultimately serves.
  • Customer: This purpose is directly related to serving the needs of an organization’s customer or primary constituent.
  • Industry: This purpose is all about being immersed in a given industry.
  • Greater Cause: This kind of purpose is not necessarily about what the organization does, but about something connected to it.
  • Community: This purpose is about doing something that makes a specific geographical place better.
  • Employees: This purpose is not about serving the customer, the industry, or the region, but rather about the employees.
  • Wealth: This purpose is about wealth for the owners.
  • An organization’s reason for existing is not meant to be a differentiator and that the purpose for identifying it is only to clarify what is true in order to guide the business.

Question 2: How Do We Behave?

  • When it comes to creating organizational clarity and alignment, intolerance is essential.
  • The answer to the question, How Do We Behave? is embodied in an organization’s core values, which should provide the ultimate guide for employee behavior at all levels.
  • The importance of values in creating clarity and enabling a company to become healthy cannot be overstated.
  • Values are critical because they define a company’s personality.
  • An organization that has properly identified its values and adheres to them will naturally attract the right employees and repel the wrong ones.
  • Clear values can also serve to attract and repel the right customers who want to do business with an organization that reflects what they value,
  • Core Values: These are the few—just two or three—behavioral traits that are inherent in an organization. Core values lie at the heart of the organization’s identity, do not change over time, and must already exist.
  • They should be used to guide every aspect of an organization, from hiring and firing to strategy and performance management.
  • Aspirational Values: These are the characteristics that an organization wants to have, wishes it already had, and believes it must develop in order to maximize its success in its current market environment.
  • Confusing core and aspirational values is a frequent mistake that companies make. It is critical that leaders understand the difference.
  • Permission-to-Play Values: These values are the minimum behavioral standards that are required in an organization.
  • Values that commonly fit into this category include honesty, integrity, and respect for others.
  • Accidental Values: These values are the traits that are evident in an organization but have come about unintentionally and don’t necessarily serve the good of the organization.
  • It’s important that leaders guard against accidental values taking root because they can prevent new ideas and people from flourishing in an organization. Sometimes they even sabotage its success by shutting out new perspectives and even potential customers.
  • The key to sifting core values from the others, especially aspirational and permission-to-play values, is to ask a few difficult questions. For instance, separating core from aspirational values can be done by asking the questions, Is this trait inherent and natural for us, and has it been apparent in the organization for a long time? Or, is it something that we have to work hard to cultivate? A core value will have been apparent for a long time and requires little intentional provocation.
  • Permission-to-play values are also often confused with core. The best way to differentiate them is to ask, would our organization be able to credibly claim that we are more committed to this value than 99 percent of the companies in our industry? If so, then maybe it really is core. If not, then it’s probably a candidate for permission-to-play; it’s still important and should be used as a filter in hiring, but it’s not what sets the organization apart and uniquely defines it.
  • Another key to successfully undertaking the core value process is deciding what to call a core value once you’ve identified it.
  • I find it helpful for leaders to choose a unique, nontraditional word or phrase—something that doesn’t already have such a worn legacy in society that everyone assumes they know what it means.
  • The problem for organizations that choose common words like innovation or quality is that everyone has their own understanding of those terms. That makes it a little more difficult for leaders to establish their own definition.
  • When leaders choose elaborate and unique phrases for their values but don’t adhere to them, they generate more cynicism and distrust than if they said nothing at all.
  • Once an organization successfully identifies and describes its core values and separates them from the other kinds, it must then do its best to be intolerant of violations of those values. It must ensure that every activity it undertakes, every employee it hires, and every policy it enacts reflects those core values.
  • One of the best ways to go about identifying an organization’s core values is to undertake a three-step process as an executive team. The first step is to identify the employees in the organization who already embody what is best about the company and to dissect them, answering what is true about those people that makes them so admired by the leadership team. Those qualities form the initial pool of potential core values.
  • Next, leaders must identify employees who, though talented, were or are no longer a good fit for the organization. These are people who, in spite of their technical abilities, drive others around them crazy and would add value to the organization by being absent.
  • Finally, leaders need to be honest about themselves and whether or not they embody the values in that pool.

Next time we’ll look at Question 3: What Do We Do?

Question 3: What Do We Do?

  • This question is the simplest of the six and takes the least amount of time and energy to address. The answer lies at the opposite end of the idealism scale from why an organization exists and is nothing more than a description of what an organization actually does. No flowery adjectives or adverbs here. Nothing ethereal or abstract. Just an unsexy, one-sentence definition—something your grandmother can understand (no offense to grandmas). The answer to this question is something we call an organization’s business definition (but never a mission statement!).
  • If an organization’s reason for existence answers the question, Why?, then its business definition answers the question, What? It’s critical that it be clear and straightforward.
  • The point is just to make sure that the leadership team is crystal clear about, and can accurately describe, the nature of the organization’s business so that they don’t create confusion within the rest of the company or, for that matter, in the market. It’s as simple as that.
  • I’m always surprised when I ask members of a leadership team to quietly write down a sentence or two about what they think the organization does, and I find that there is more discrepancy than I or, more important, they had thought. Taking a few minutes to make sure everyone is on the same page is always worthwhile.
  • It should be noted that an organization’s business definition can change over time, but only when the market changes and calls for a meaningful shift in the fundamental activity of the organization.

Question 4: How Will We Succeed?

  • When team leaders answer this question, essentially they are determining their strategy. Unfortunately, more than any word in the business lexicon, strategy is one of the most widely employed and poorly defined.
  • Essentially we decided that an organization’s strategy is simply its plan for success. It’s nothing more than the collection of intentional decisions a company makes to give itself the best chance to thrive and differentiate from competitors.
  • The best way for an organization to make strategy practical is to boil it down to three strategic anchors that will be used to inform every decision the organization makes and provide the filter or lens through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency.
  • The next question the leaders would need to answer, and the one at the heart of the strategic anchor activity, is, “How will we succeed?” Or put another way, “How will we make decisions in a purposeful, intentional, and unique way that allow us to maximize our success and differentiate us from our competitors?”
  • Remember, this process will always be a little messy and organic. It requires judgment, reflection, and, at times, intuitive synthesis on the part of the members of a leadership team. Nonetheless, it is a reliable process that should lead to an outcome that will resonate with the team and inspire confidence in how decisions can be made in an intentional, strategic way.
  • In rare instances every organization will find itself in situations where it will have to make small, tactical short-term decisions that don’t conform to its strategic anchors. It is critical that leaders be completely up front about the fact that such a decision is off-strategy and is a rare exception.
  • An organization’s strategic anchors should change whenever its competitive landscape shifts and market conditions call for a different approach.
  • Sometimes it is the very process of identifying strategic anchors that alerts an organization to the fact that what it is currently doing isn’t right or isn’t enough to ensure success and differentiation, and so a change is needed.
  • Another outcome of establishing strategic anchors is making it easier to agree on what an organization should not be doing.
  • I’ve come to learn over the years, with the encouragement of clients and consultants who found it to be true, that there should be three anchors. I’m convinced that three is almost always the right number of filters that an organization should establish to make their decision making as intentional as possible.

Question 5: What is Most Important, Right Now?

  • More than any of the other questions, answering this one will have the most immediate and tangible impact on an organization, probably because it addresses two of the most maddening day-to-day challenges companies face: organizational A.D.D. and silos.
  • Most organizations I’ve worked with have too many top priorities to achieve the level of focus they need to succeed.
  • The result is almost always a lot of initiatives being done in a mediocre way and a failure to accomplish what matters most.
  • By communicating that the organization has five or seven top priorities, leaders put their well-intentioned employees in the inevitable position of getting pulled in different directions, sometimes polar opposite ones.
  • Every organization, if it wants to create a sense of alignment and focus, must have a single top priority within a given period of time.
  • The thematic goal is the answer to our question, What is most important, right now?
  • A thematic goal is … Singular. One thing has to be most important, even if there are other worthy goals under consideration. The thematic goal should almost never be established with specific numbers attached to it.  Temporary. A thematic goal must be achievable within a clear time boundary, almost always between three and twelve months.
  • Shared across the leadership team. When executives agree on their top priority, they must take collective responsibility for achieving it,
  • The best way to identify a thematic goal is to answer the question, If we accomplish only one thing during the next x months, what would it be? In other words, what must be true x months from now for us to be able to look back and say with any credibility that we had a good period? These questions provide a critical level of focus for leaders who are being pulled in numerous directions.
  • More than anything else, it is to provide the leadership team itself with clarity around how to spend its time, energy, and resources.
  • Every thematic goal must become the collective responsibility of the leadership team. This is true even if the goal doesn’t seem to directly involve the departments that some of those executives lead.
  • Let me make it clear that it is the lack of a defined, compelling rallying cry or thematic goal that allows most bad staff meetings to happen, which enables poor decision making.
  • The benefits of establishing an overarching thematic goal are enormous.
  • Realizing the benefits of having a clear and collective focus requires more than merely identifying the thematic goal. That goal must then be further clarified by defining the objectives which will make accomplishing it possible. I call these, for obvious reasons, defining objectives.
  • Defining objectives are the general categories of activity required to achieve the thematic goal. Like the thematic goal, defining objectives must be qualitative, temporary, and shared by the leadership team.
  • In most cases, there are between four and six defining objectives, depending on the nature of the goal itself.
  • Once teams identify their defining objectives, they have to take on the next, and last, step in the thematic goal process: identifying their standard operating objectives. These are the ongoing and relatively straightforward metrics and areas of responsibility that any leadership team must maintain in order to keep the organization afloat.
  • Few leadership teams need more than fifteen minutes to identify and agree on their standard operating objectives, which are already a big part of their daily focus.
  • It’s important to note that sometimes a company’s thematic goal will be one of the items that appears on its standard operating list.
  • Different kinds of organizations have different thematic goals, defining objectives, and standard operating objectives for a variety of reasons. However, what they all have in common is that their goals fit on a single sheet of paper.
  • The length of time that a thematic goal should live (within the 3–12 month time frame) is up to the leadership team and depends on the reality of how much time a given issue requires addressing.

Question 6: Who Must Do What?  

  • The fact is, every organization of any size needs some division of labor, and that begins at the very top. Without clarity around that division of labor, the potential for politics and infighting, even among well-intentioned people, is great.
  • Although there is often clarity among executives in most organizations about who does what on the team, making assumptions about that clarity can lead to surprising and unnecessary problems.
  • In many cases, it’s the leader of the executive team, often the CEO, who presents the biggest problem. Many of these leaders take on active roles beyond their responsibility of managing the leadership team, and this can create confusion.
  • Regardless of how clear or confusing a company’s “org” chart may be, it is always worthwhile to take a little time to clarify so that everyone on the leadership team knows and agrees on what everyone else does and that all critical areas are covered.

Playbook:

  • Once the leadership team has answered each of the six critical questions, it is absolutely critical for them to capture those answers in a concise, actionable way so that they can use them for communication, decision making, and planning going forward.
  • The best alternative to these extremes and the most effective tool for keeping key decisions alive is the creation of something we refer to as a playbook: a simple document summarizing the answers to the six critical questions.
  • There are two things that the leaders of any organization should do to make their playbook work.
  • First, they must keep it short. Anything more than a few pages is unnecessary and discourages people from reviewing the playbook. In most cases, the answers to the six questions can be captured on a single page—two at the most.
  • Second, leadership team members should keep their playbook with them at all times. And not buried in a briefcase.
  • The key is to keep the answers to the six critical questions alive and accessible. By doing this, a leadership team will drastically improve the odds of running the organization in an aligned, consistent, and intentional way.
  • Members of a leadership team can be confident that they’ve mastered this discipline when they can affirm the following statements: Members of the leadership team know, agree on, and are passionate about the reason that the organization exists. The leadership team has clarified and embraced a small, specific set of behavioral values. Leaders are clear and aligned around a strategy that helps them define success and differentiate from competitors. The leadership team has a clear, current goal around which they rally. They feel a collective sense of ownership for that goal. Members of the leadership team understand one another’s roles and responsibilities. They are comfortable asking questions about one another’s work. The elements of the organization’s clarity are concisely summarized and regularly referenced and reviewed by the leadership team.

Discipline 3: Overcommunicate Clarity ~ What’s it Worth to You?

  • Once a leadership team has become cohesive and worked to establish clarity and alignment around the answers to the six critical questions, then, and only then, can they effectively move on to the next step: communicating those answers. Or better yet, overcommunicating those answers—over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
  • People are skeptical about what they’re being told unless they hear it consistently over time.
  • The only way for people to embrace a message is to hear it over a period of time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people. That’s why great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else. Their top two priorities are to set the direction of the organization and then to ensure that people are reminded of it on a regular basis.
  • Employees are not analyzing what leaders are saying based solely on whether it is intellectually novel or compelling, but more than anything else on whether they believe the leaders are serious, authentic, and committed to what they are saying. Again, that means repetition is a must.
  • The most effective means of communicating a message, even in a large and far-flung organization, has nothing to do with technology and has been around since the beginning of time. What I’m referring to is word of mouth.

CASCADING COMMUNICATION

  • The most reliable and effective way to get an organization moving in the same direction is for members of a leadership team to come out of their meetings with a clear message about what was decided, promptly communicate that message to their direct reports, and have those direct reports do the same for their own direct reports. We call this “cascading communication” because it begins the structured but interpersonal process of rolling key messages down through the organization directly from the leadership team.
  • Amazingly, when employees in different parts of an organization hear their leaders saying the same things after meetings, they actually start to believe that alignment and clarity might be possible.
  • There are three keys to cascading communication: message consistency from one leader to another, timeliness of delivery, and live, real-time communication.
  • It’s critical that leaders do this during a short and consistent time frame.
  • A twenty-four-hour period following a meeting is not a bad standard.
  • Many executives ask if they can communicate the results of a meeting using e-mail or even voice mail. The answer is no. Although these tools are certainly more efficient than having to communicate live, they are drastically less effective.
  • The best way to do cascading communication is face-to-face and live.
  • Another good idea when doing cascading communication, whenever it’s possible, is to do it with an entire group of direct reports at the same time instead of one by one.
  • Leaders can ensure that key messages are effectively disseminated throughout an organization in a few other ways. The first and most important is to incorporate the answers to the six critical questions in any situation that calls for leaders to be communicating with employees—everything from recruiting, interviewing, orienting, managing, rewarding, training, to even dismissing people from the organization.

Top-Down Communication:

  • This is the most common direction that critical information travels in an organization, the reason most organizations fail to communicate to employees is not that they don’t know how to build an intranet site or write a blog or design a PowerPoint presentation, but that they don’t achieve clarity around key messages and stick with them.
  • It’s worth repeating that the success of top-down communication starts with Discipline 1 (build a cohesive leadership team) and Discipline 2 (create clarity). Without these, no amount of communication is going to be effective.
  • Providing employees with a means of communicating upward to their leaders is important in any organization.
  • It’s also critical for leaders to realize that no upward communication program will ever take the place of a manager who understands and represents the views of his or her employees. It shouldn’t be used to overcome the shortcomings of leaders who are out of touch with their people.
  • Without cohesiveness and clarity at the top, no amount of communication will suffice, and that with true clarity and cohesiveness, even a little formal communication will go a long, long way.

Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity

  • In order to ensure that the answers to the six critical questions become embedded in the fabric of the organization, leaders must do everything they can to reinforce them structurally as well. The way to do that is to make sure that every human system—every process that involves people—from hiring and people management to training and compensation, is designed to reinforce the answers to those questions. The challenge is to do this without adding too much structure.
  • There is a delicate but critical balance between too much and too little structure in an organization, and the people responsible for creating that balance are its leaders.
  • They must 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.
  • Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity. They give an organization a structure for tying its operations, culture, and management together, even when leaders aren’t around to remind people. And because each company is different, there are no generic systems that can be downloaded from the Internet.
  • Bringing the right people into an organization, and keeping the wrong ones out, is as important as any activity that a leadership team must oversee. Though few leaders will dispute this, not many organizations are good at doing it, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, too many organizations have not defined exactly what the right and wrong people look like; that is, they haven’t clarified a meaningful set of behavioral values that they can use to screen potential employees.
  • When push comes to shove, most executives get enamored with what candidates know and have done in their careers and allow those things to overshadow more important behavioral issues. They don’t seem to buy into the notion that you can teach skill but not attitude.
  • And even organizations that have defined their core values and really do believe that those values should trump everything else sometimes lose their way when it comes to ensuring cultural fit because they don’t have the right kind of process for hiring.
  • Many leaders, especially those who run smaller organizations, believe that they have the natural skills they need to choose good people without any real process.
  • The other extreme, though slightly less common, doesn’t yield much better results. When organizations over-structure their hiring process by adding layers of bureaucratic forms and approvals and analysis, they often diminish the role that judgment must play in the selection of good people. This is more common in larger organizations, where an overemphasis on administrative processes seems to hinder the ability or desire of hiring managers to use common sense and discernment. Often it is a well-intentioned human resource or legal department that drives these efforts.
  • The best approach to hiring is to put just enough structure in place to ensure a measure of consistency and adherence to core values—and no more.
  • What might this more balanced approach look like? First, it should probably take no more than one page, front and back, to describe and apply.
  • Second, all of this should be consistent across departments within an organization.
  • When it comes to the actual practice of interviewing, many leaders still make the same mistakes that they did forty years ago.
  • The most memorable time of an employee’s career, and the time with the biggest impact, are his or her first days and weeks on a new job. The impact of first impressions is just that powerful, and healthy companies take advantage of that to move new employees in the right direction. That means orientation shouldn’t revolve around lengthy explanations of benefits and administration but rather around reinforcing the answers to the six critical questions.
  • Leaders of organizations, even very large organizations, need to understand the value of bringing in new employees with clarity, enthusiasm, and a sense of their importance.
  • There are many ways to handle orientation, and I don’t need to go into them here because there is no one right way to do it. What is key is that it is built around the six questions and that leaders take an active role in its design and delivery.
  • Most important, employees and managers alike have come to see the performance management process as a largely adversarial activity, fraught with nervous negotiation rather than clear communication.
  • When employees focus more on the official “grades” they receive from managers, and managers focus on documentation more than coaching, inevitably trust is diminished and management and communication suffer.
  • Healthy organizations believe that performance management is almost exclusively about eliminating confusion. They realize that most of their employees want to succeed, and that the best way to allow them to do that is to give them clear direction, regular information about how they’re doing, and access to the coaching they need.
  • The best performance management programs—you guessed it—are simple. Above all else, they are designed to stimulate the right kinds of conversations around the right topics.
  • The single most important reason to reward people is to provide them with an incentive for doing what is best for the organization. Yes, this sounds patently obvious, but somehow most companies’ compensation and rewards programs get divorced from this purpose, and take on a disconnected life of their own. When that happens, they lose their value and actually become sources of distraction rather than tools of focus and motivation.
  • To fail to make the connection between compensation and rewards and one or more of the six big questions is to waste one of the best opportunities for motivation and management.
  • I like to explain to clients that when leaders fail to tell employees that they’re doing a great job, they might as well be taking money out of their pockets and throwing it into a fire, because they are wasting opportunities to give people the recognition they crave more than anything else. Direct, personal feedback really is the simplest and most effective form of motivation.
  • When it comes to building a healthy organization, the most important part of the firing process is the very decision to let someone go. That decision needs to be driven, more than anything else, by an organization’s values.
  • In a healthy organization, a leader who is thinking about letting someone go will evaluate that person against the entirety of the company’s values, paying special attention to the core and permission-to-play varieties. If an employee’s behavior is consistent with the core and permission-to-play values, there is a good chance that it would be a mistake to let him go.
  • Instead of firing him, the company should take a closer look at how he is being managed and find a way to give him a chance to succeed.
  • If the leaders of an organization are clearly convinced that an employee does not fit the core or permission-to-play values, even if he meets basic performance criteria, they would be advised to gracefully help that person find employment elsewhere.
  • Finally, keeping someone who clearly doesn’t fit culturally is almost always a disservice to that person, who knows that he doesn’t belong and is usually as frustrated as his colleagues are. Letting him go is putting him in a position to find an organization where he does belong and where he’ll be able to thrive.

The Centrality of Great Meetings

  • No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting.  This is where values are established, discussed, and lived and where decisions around strategy and tactics are vetted, made, and reviewed.
  • Bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations, and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity, and communication.
  • A good way to understand meeting stew is to imagine a clueless cook taking all of the ingredients out of the pantry and the refrigerator and throwing them into one big pot, and then wondering why his concoction doesn’t taste very good. Leaders do the same thing when they put all of their issues into one big discussion, usually called a “staff meeting.” All too often they combine administrative issues and tactical decisions and creative brainstorming and strategic analysis and personnel discussions into one exhausting meeting. And like that cook, somehow they are surprised when the result doesn’t turn out so well.
  • Leaders who want healthy organizations cannot try to eliminate or reduce time spent in meetings by combining them or cutting them short. Instead, they have to make sure that they are having the right kinds of meetings, and then they must make those meetings effective.
  • Daily Check-Ins: The first category of meetings is the least important but certainly worth doing when it is practically possible. Essentially, it’s about the team getting into the habit of gathering once a day, for no more than ten minutes, to clear the air about anything administrative that would be helpful to know. Schedules. Events. Issue alerts. That kind of stuff. There are no agendas and no resolution of issues, just an exchange of information. To make sure that these meetings don’t morph into something they shouldn’t, it’s even best if people don’t sit down.  The most powerful impact of having teams meet every day is the quick resolution of minor issues that might otherwise fester and create unnecessary busywork for the team.
  • Tactical Staff Meetings:  When executives complain about meetings, many of them are probably thinking about their weekly or biweekly or monthly staff meetings. This is where meeting stew is usually served. The truth is, there is no more valuable activity in any organization than the regular staff meeting of a leadership team. But if they are not effective, there is little or no chance of building a cohesive team or a healthy organization.  The first thing a team must do to improve their staff meetings is really about what they should stop doing before the meeting. I’m referring to the dreaded agenda.  Instead of putting together an agenda ahead of time, team members need to come together and spend their first ten minutes of a meeting creating a real-time agenda.  And the way teams evaluate themselves is by using an easy and digestible means of assessing progress: colors. That’s right.  The beauty of this real-time agenda system is that the team will avoid the all-too-common problem of sitting through a presentation or a discussion of something that everyone knows is of little importance to the organization.
  • Adhoc Topical Meetings:  Probably the most interesting and compelling of all meetings is the third type: the adhoc topical meeting.  The purpose of this kind of meeting is to dig into the critical issues that can have a long-term impact on an organization or that require significant time and energy to resolve:  And yet leadership teams rarely carve out enough time for this. Instead, they try to resolve important issues in fifteen-minute increments in between more tactical and administrative topics during a staff meeting. The result is not only suboptimal decisions, but an immense sense of frustration among leaders.  Thinking they’re being efficient, they reduce the time they spend in meetings by cramming every discussion into one big staff meeting. What they’re really doing is ensuring that those staff meetings are going to be ineffective and that the most important conversations they should be having—topical, strategic ones—are cut short.  What leadership teams need to do—and this may be the single most important piece of advice for them when it comes to meetings—is separate their tactical conversations from their strategic ones.
  • Quarterly Off-Site Reviews: The fourth type of meeting that every leadership team needs to have is often known as the “off-site.” The problem with these meetings is that too often they are nothing more than an expensive and extended version of the unproductive staff meeting.  In essence, the off-site review is where the leadership team needs to step back and revisit the four disciplines covered in this book: team, clarity, communication, and human systems.  Finally, of the four types of meetings, the quarterly review is probably the one that might call for the use of an outside consultant. It’s often nice for the leader of the executive team to participate as a member and leave the organizing and facilitating to a trusted consultant.
  • A leader’s first priority is to create an environment where others can do these things and that cannot happen if they are not having effective meetings.
  • While it’s true that the single most important activity that a leader must do (outside of being a good team member) is managing his or her direct reports, much of that actually happens during meetings.
  • Of all the recommendations my firm makes to clients, the one that is most consistently embraced and touted as having an immediate impact on an organization is the adoption of the meetings model outlined here.
  • Finally, it’s important to remember that at the end of every meeting, with the exception of the daily check-ins, team members must stop and clarify what they’ve agreed to and what they will go back and communicate to their teams. This is called Cascading Communication.

Seizing the Advantage 

  • The fact remains that organizational health is largely untapped in most companies. But that’s going to change.
  • As more and more leaders come to the realization that the last frontier of competitive advantage will be the transformation of unhealthy organizations into healthy ones, there will be a shift in the mind-set of executives away from more technical pursuits that can be delegated to others and toward the disciplines outlined in this book.
  • There is just no escaping the fact that the single biggest factor determining whether an organization is going to get healthier—or not—is the genuine commitment and active involvement of the person in charge.
  • At every step in the process, the leader must be out front, not as a cheerleader or a figurehead, but as an active, tenacious driver.
  • As tempting as it may be, leaders must not abdicate or delegate responsibility for communication and reinforcement of clarity.
  • People who lead healthy organizations sign up for a monumental task—and a very selfless one. That is why they need to relinquish their more technical responsibilities, or even their favorite roles, that others can handle.
  • In order to give their organizations the best possible chance of succeeding in these efforts, a team must engage in a few vital initial steps to get momentum started. The first of those is setting aside time to launch the process.
  • After that initial off-site, the team will need to put together a playbook, a short summary of those answers and a few other items related to how the team behaves and how it will go about working together going forward. And once the information in the playbook has been finalized and the answers fully agreed on by the team, the next step will be to properly communicate it to the rest of the organization.
  • And finally, the leadership team will need to spend time, probably a fair amount of time, designing systems to reinforce the information from the playbook by embedding it into every process that involves people.
  • The impact of organizational health goes far beyond the walls of a company, extending to customers and vendors, even to spouses and children.
  • At the end of the day, at the end of our careers, when we look back at the many initiatives that we poured ourselves into, few other activities will seem more worthy of our effort and more impactful on the lives of others, than making our organizations healthy.
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