Anyone who has any interest in Management books has read or heard of Patrick Lencioni. He writes in a style that is very accessible with lots of anecdotes and stories to help make the point.
This book is no different and is very readable.
As he will state himself, most of it is actually just uncommon common sense.
There was definitely a lot to take out of it given I have just recently joined a growing charity in a Senior Management position. The only problem however, is that much of what he prescribes requires an outside person to really do. For example, he talks about being Vulnerable and suggest that senior managers sit round and talk about one anothers childhood as a starting point.
I am not sure how well a suggestion like that would go down in my organisation, which is a charity and where we actually know each other quite well, let alone in an organisation where you have only ever been work-colleagues and it's a more 'aggressive' culture.
But if you are in senior management then you will definitely get some good ideas - some of which you may well be able to implement without outside intervention. Whatever it is, this will make you think or re-think the accepted norms of management. And that can only be a good thing.
on 26 October 2012
This contained some quite good and useful advice. I did learn a few things from it.
They layout is a bit of a mess and considering the cost it does have a bit of a cheap feel to it. This hasn't affected the rating that I have given the book but it is somewhat irritating and sadly all too common from this publisher.
It is a quick and easy read and I thought that it was a lot better than most business books. It does make changing behaviour seem a lot easier than it is and it was a little light on specifics.
I do feel that `culture' is often exaggerated and that it is more of a symptom rather than a cause of success.
However despite these criticisms I did feel that I have gained some knowledge from reading this book.
This isn't the book I thought it was going to be. It's not about "organizational health" as the title says, it's about the operational health of the most senior tier management team and the actions of the CEO towards that team, with the successful key to both (according to the book) being a clear company mission statement and stated core values.
So the book is pretty much 100% about setting that mission statement and core values.
Yes, some of the observations are useful - such as how can you have friendliness in your values if the management team all routinely stab each other in the back? But it would be an extremely brave (foolish?) person that would stand-up and ask for a mission statement to be revised in light of that. The advice that all the management team should open their vulnerability to each other by discussing their childhoods is utterly bonkers for the UK public and third sector markets I work in.
I'll admit I was horrified when the author actually recommended firing high performing staff that aren't a good `cultural fit' to the values (page 170). Suggesting that the empire would fall if a single person didn't identically meet the cultural criteria. In the real world, having created your mission statement and values from this book, you'd now be firing your legal team and ICT team for starters, preferring someone who can really pitch that baseball...as opposed to having a degree in contract law.
(I'm not familiar with the author, but the book jacket blurb states he "specializes in Executive Team Development". So I'm guessing all this stuff about childhood and honesty is what he'd deliver in a closed 3-day team building session, and hasn't considered how it would fail to work as a 10 minute AOB agenda item for people already working 70 hour weeks. This would also explain why the book is so short - 200 pages of double line spacing, large font and wide spacing.)
I was won over by this book. Lencioni reminds me of Marshall Goldsmith ('What Got You Here Won't Get You There' etc.): he offers a great deal of sound, straightforward advice about how to operate successfully within organisations, much of which is in fact based on very insightful observations, based on a lifetime in consultancy, of the way in which people in organisations actually behave and, more importantly, interact.
The book's first chapter is a bit of a hard sell. No shame in that. Lencioni sets out to sell us the idea that organisational health is the most important thing in business - no, I mean THE most important thing. Really, really the most important thing. Did you know that organisational health will give your business a competitive advantage? I mean a really HUGE competitive advantage? That organisational health trumps everything else in business?
You get the point (you really do!) - the chapter reads like one of those maddeningly successful direct marketing mailshots that has you running up a mental white flag by page three and agreeing that, on reflection, your life has indeed been blighted by the absence of whatever they are selling and that you absolutely must ACT NOW to remedy the situation. But Lencioni soon begins to spell out what a healthy organisation would look like and to set out his action plan for improving the health of any organisation, and I began to be won over.
Many books about organisational behaviour offer a brilliant analysis of what is wrong with the organisation and suggest some profound changes that are needed to remedy this, but leave one wondering just how many companies will actually change their behaviour as a result, no matter how compellingly the author has spelled out the advantages. It's not that the new ideas don't make sense, or are not genuinely exciting, it's just that they often require truly fundamental changes to the way that organisations are structured and run. What Lencioni recommends, in contrast, is relatively simple, clearly understandable, and eminently do-able. I found myself recognising all too many of the aspects of unhealthy organisational behaviour but, more importantly, seeing also how Lencioni's recommended solution was sane, practical and achievable. Although Lencioni is not, on the face of it, proposing a radical overhaul of organisational structure, his programme for a healthier way of conducting business would, in fact, have quite profound effects on how organisations are run.
Lencioni starts with 'building a cohesive leadership team', and has interesting things to say about how this involves building a high degree of trust among the leadership team, which involves a greater degree of interpersonal reaction than is usually considered necessary or even desirable. Senior teams tend to relate to each other at the 'purely professional' level, representing their own departmental interests, vying with each other for the boss's attention and focussing mainly on achieving their own agenda while looking more brilliant than their colleagues. Exactly, says Lencioni. Teams like this are not learning from each other, and are certainly not working together to achieve the overall objectives of the organisation. To do this, the leadership team need to be more aware of each other's personal strengths and weaknesses, more prepared to engage in constructive criticism and debate and, as a result, to be individually a little more vulnerable than we are usually comfortable with. Lencioni successfully paints an appealing picture of the benefits of a genuinely cohesive leadership team, working together to achieve common objectives, holding other team members accountable, playing to each other's strengths and reminding each other, in an intelligent and constructive way, of their individual weaknesses.
And then, of course, the team needs to be clear on exactly what those common objectives are: we need 'clarity'. His recommendation for finding clarity is to answer six fundamental questions: Why do we [the organisation] exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important right now? Who must do what? It's a good and deceptively simple-looking list. The first three of those questions are actually very hard to answer, and any team that knew and fully agreed on all of the answers would indeed have a considerable advantage over the great majority of their competitors.
Lencioni illustrates his points with down-to-earth, recognisable and relevant illustrations from his consulting experience. Having argued for a cohesive leadership team and the need to achieve clarity, the last two points in his four-point action plan seem a little like over-egging the pudding: 'overcommunicate clarity' and 'reinforce clarity'. But the sections addressing these ideas continue to offer sensible, practical suggestions about how to spread a clear understanding of core objectives throughout the organisation and to ensure that the clarity persists.
I especially liked Lencini's focus on 'what is the most important thing right now'. It is difficult, but literally invaluable, for organisations to be clear on 'why we exist', 'how we behave' and 'what we do' but even with clarity on these defining ideals, organisations are often still derailed by failing to focus enough on some fundamental issue that threatens their very existence. 'The high point of being a leader in an organisation is wrestling with difficult decisions and situations,' writes Lencioni, while pointing out that, in practice, leadership teams tend to try to deal with such fundamental, life or death business issues far too superficially in a badly structured meeting that is attempting to achieve several other things at the same time.
His recommendation for a programme of meetings with different purposes and functions is, again, pragmatic and entirely sane. What, as Lencioni says, could be more exciting than addressing a core business issue in a constructive and focussed 'adhoc topical meeting' with a team of committed colleagues, and without anything else on the agenda but finding a solution to the particular business problem? And how often in business does that actually happen?
A deceptively simple and very readable book that offers achievable suggestions for changes to our working practises that would have profound effects on our effectiveness - and on the satisfaction that we get from our working lives.
Jonathan Gifford - author of '100 Great Business Leaders'
on 31 August 2012
Clearly, there are some business leaders who are more progressive than others. In my company we have some modern people who understand the value of teamwork, integrated strategy and communication. We also have dinosaurs who think anything that does not involve deal-making is just HR rubbish. This book is going to be massively helpful to both. For sceptics, it will be refreshing because it studiously avoids the touchy-feely stuff. And for those who understand the benefits of organisational health, this book will still be full of useful tips.
on 16 June 2014
This is a truly enlightening read. As Lencioni makes each point you just realise how true the point is from your own experience. The team I am in runs much better now we have implemented some of this advice. Excellent!
After eight bestselling business fables, Patrick Lencioni has written a book in which he gathers his most important insights from them in a single volume. However, as he explains in the Introduction, "The book is the result of an unpredictable journey, one that began when I was just a kid, probably eight or nine years old." (He was born in 1962.) It draws upon but almost expands upon those books and really should be judged on its own merits, not theirs. That said, I wish to add that this is not a "best of" book, per se. Those who read it need not have read any of its predecessors, although I hope they eventually do read a few.
First, Lencioni makes a case for organizational health, not because the value of organizational health is in doubt but, rather, because it is ignored. "This is a shame because organizational health is different." It seems reasonable to me that many (most?) executives take their company's health for granted just as they take their own health for granted, at least until....
Next, Lencioni introduces "The Four Disciplines Model" and devotes a separate chapter to each discipline. With appropriate modifications, this model can be of substantial value to leaders in any company, whatever its size and nature may be. "An organization does not become [and remain] healthy in a linear, tidy fashion. Like building a strong marriage or family, it's a messy process that involves doing things at once, and it must be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to be preserved. Still, that messy process can be broken down into four simple disciplines." They are best considered within the book's narrative, in context. Suffice to say now that both a company's health and an organization's health (be it a company, school, church, etc.) requires a team effort. Moreover, in addition to being competent in what they are expected to do, members of the team must also communicate, cooperate, and collaborate effectively with each other. Lencioni recommends four specific steps to build such a team
To achieve clarity (i.e. everyone involved "being on the same page"), Lencioni recommends that "six simple but critical questions" be asked and then answered. My own opinion is that these questions should be posed frequently. Why? The best answer to that is provided by this anecdote. Years ago, a colleague of Albert Einstein's at Princeton pointed out to him that he always asked the same questions on his final examination. "Yes, that`s quite true. Each year, the answers are different."
Question #3 is "What do we do?" and reminds me of another anecdote. When Home Depot held a meeting of its store managers many years ago, one of the company's co-founders (either Bernie Marcus or Arthur Blank) reminded them that when a customer came through the door, it was not to purchase a quarter-inch drill. Rather, to purchase a quarter-inch hole.
The section entitled "The Centrality of Great Meetings" provides an explanation of how to sustain the rigor of the four disciplines, hence the health of the given organization. My own opinion is that very few meetings are "great." Most accomplish little (if anything) while wasting precious time, energy, attention, and enthusiasm. They are usually detrimental to organizational health. However, Lencioni asserts - and I agree - that there are four different types (conducted on a regular basis) that can be "great" if leaders follow the guidelines he recommends. (Please check out the material in Pages 175-187.) Of course, if an organization's leaders are inept with regard to establishing and then following the four disciplines, meetings will accomplish nothing.
For whom will this book be most valuable? It will help leaders of an organization that either needs to "get in shape" or "get in better shape" to gain or increase its competitive advantage. The key considerations include teamwork and clarity. An effective leader is imperative. If everyone is in charge, no one is. Moreover, with regard to clarity, repetition is imperative. There must be constant reminders - perhaps in the form of affirmations - of the shared vision and of what is most important to achieving it. Lencioni calls it "overcommunication."
Patrick Lencioni brilliantly explains why organizational health trumps everything else in business and, in fact, in all other domains of human initiatives. I presume to add, so does terminal illness.
In deed it would be great to work for an organisation that strives to be healthy. It looks into various things that if collectuvely taken care of, then an organisation is said to be health, such as cohesive leadership team, Creating clarity (covers things like Core Values, Aspirational Values etc), Over-communicating Clarity etc). It has many real - world examples dotted throughout the book and are in sync with chapters under which they appear. A good number of them are funny so they add to liveliness of the book.
I think we all know that Organisational Health is extremely diserable. I do not think there are many Managers who will deny that a health organisation is a successful one. When I first saw the title, I thought it meant employees health schemes/ plans! There is no doubt emplementing the teachings of this book will boost productivity but it may be difficulty for many organisations.
I well written, well-meaning text that should be on every Manager's desk.
The Advantage is focused on large organisations with management consultants working with CEOs and their management groups. There are some good ideas that can be transferred to different sorts of management and leadership groups, but all the examples are with high level leaders. Vague examples of activities are provided, but the message really is to get a consultant (such as one of Patrick Lencioni's company or similar) to actually be able to carry out the activities and make specific changes. There is not enough practical guidance in the book for it to be a manual to help towards gaining "The Advantage" in an organisation. I have enjoyed reading it and got some fresh perspective on organisational health, but the practical side of the book is lacking. Lencioni makes it sounds very easy to make changes but is too light on the specifics of what to do to make those changes in a defined way.
I find this a complex book to pass judgement on, which is I suppose what a review is meant to do, but I can more easily outline some salient features of the book.
The reason that I find it complex is that it is a book I would like to succeed thoroughly because it so strongly connects to my own work. I started a consulting company over 20 years ago and the initial platform was "the healthy company", so not unnaturally I'm rather sympathetic to the argument of the book. And then the second feature that I can connect to is the way that he describes "healthy", namely that the healthy organisation is one that has integrity, which means that it is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations, strategy and culture fit together and make sense. And in my case, I ended up becoming a professor of integrated marketing and work on the development of the integrated organisation. So once again I have a lot of sympathy with the book and its thesis.
It's very clear in fact that this book could as easily have been entitled something like: Why Organisational Integration Trumps Everything Else in Business. (I did discover a rather curious feature that unlike wealth and wealthy, health and healthy, there is no good pair between the noun integrity and its adjective (integrated, integral). The very notion of integrity has become disintegrated.)
Lencioni proposes that a healthy organisation has minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover.
I'd argue that a weakness of this book is that it doesn't make a convincing case for "healthy", as opposed to say, integrated, but it does outline an "Advantage". Once Lencioni has defined health in terms of integrity and integration he can then get on with describing how to achieve it - principally through building a cohesive leadership team with shared clarity, communicated and reinforced across the company. This point is summed up (on page 189) when he says, "The power of organisational health is undeniable. Even the most sceptical executives I meet don't dispute the advantage they could achieve if they could make their leadership teams more cohesive, align them around the answers to the six questions, and get them to communicate and reinforce those answers incessantly." Organisational health equals cohesion, alignment, clarity, which as an analogy falls a little short. Where's energy, resilience, fitness? Where's the immune system?
Nevertheless, he's absolutely right that this makes a powerful difference and that most organisations in the world today lack real performance integrity, which produces toxic results. Healthy organisations are what we need and they do absolutely need that vital quality of integrity that combines, I would say, an ethical core, consistency between thought word and deed, cohesion between the parts deriving from the whole, connected performance.
Another point Lencioni makes very soundly is the importance of being clear about fundamental truths that make the organisation unique and distinctive, avoiding generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases. Clarity, as he says, really does "require a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach".
Most of the book is focused rather practically on the "how-to" questions. The entire thesis in methodology is largely based on the work of his own company, with some reference to some outside authorities, notably Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. It's deliberately light on data, i.e. evidence that a "healthy company" succeeds better, except for relatively anecdotal case studies from his own practice. Instead, he's rather relying on the fact that most readers will know the problems that he's describing and resonate with what he's saying.
So what about the prescriptive methods? I'd say that so far as they go, they're pretty sound in most respects but I do have some points I'd argue with. For example, he says (on page 78) that it's less important to get the right answer and that indeed there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to setting the direction of an organisation, but he contradicts himself when he talks about "truths of the organisation". A big part of his thesis is the importance of getting to a real core and I think it would have helped to get more clarity about where that really is fundamental and where choices can be made that are relatively arbitrary.
I would argue that the pursuit of wealth is never one of the core "why do we exist" purposes (as he claims, page 89), because the pursuit of wealth is always connected to some other purpose (well-being of family, the power to do things) and certainly without that it lacks the inspirational potency that a core organisational purpose needs. He also says that purpose is not a differentiator, but I can attest from dozens of case examples that the real purpose is always a differentiator and that until that differentiation is found you're still in fluffy land.
I think his outline of what needs to be answered in the six critical questions (which are very good questions) also lacks some rather important details, such as what is our core capability? What defines our product? Who do we serve, and what value and experience do we give them?
While he does make some very good points, I'm also overly concerned about the way he treats communication, communicating clarity, because I think it overemphasises "saying things" relative to doing what I call "talking actions". Similarly he's into "motivating people" whereas I think that one of the characteristics of a truly healthy company is that you don't need to motivate people, because they are already motivated. The heart doesn't need a lung to give it a pep talk, it just needs to know that there is some fresh oxygenated blood to circulate. It's important to share the vital information but what people are looking for is that cohesive senior management acting right.
But if you treat it as a solution lite, then it's rather brilliant - very clear, and it emphasises some absolutely vital things which more businesses need to focus on. It's incredibly important for the top leadership team to achieve cohesion and until they do that, with real clarity, the organisation, the people in it and the society around will suffer. If more organisations followed these fundamentals, we'd all be better off.