Patrick Lencioni’s new book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, is a kind of field manual for company leaders. Although it is persuasive on the competitive merits of organizational health (how a business’s employees, especially its managers, work together), its lasting contribution will be its power as a playbook.
In The Advantage, Lencioni explains exactly how leaders can cultivate a healthy organization. He spells out four disciplines, one of which is to “create clarity.” Lencioni says this is “all about achieving alignment”: Leadership team members must all commit to the same answers to six key questions.
“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.
“Unfortunately, most of the leaders I’ve worked with who complain about a lack of alignment mistakenly see it primarily as a behavioral or attitudinal problem. In their minds, it’s a function of employees below them not wanting to work together. What those executives don’t realize is that 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 their colleagues around a few very specific things.
“Thinking they’re being mature, leaders often ‘agree to disagree’ with one another around seemingly minor issues, thereby avoiding unnecessary contentiousness and conflict. What they don’t understand is that by failing to eliminate even those small [misalignments], they are leaving employees below them to fight bloody, unwinnable battles with their peers in other departments.
“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.”
According to Lencioni, these crucial six questions are:
Why do we exist?
How do we behave?
What do we do?
How will we succeed?
What is most important—right now?
Who must do what?
“If members of a leadership team can rally around clear answers to these fundamental questions — without using jargon — they will drastically increase the likelihood of creating a healthy organization,” he says. “This may well be the most important step of all in achieving the advantage of organizational health.”
In The Advantage, Lencioni works hard to define “organizational health,” but his best attempt is indirect.
“You know you have it,” he says, “when you have minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees.” On the website for the Table Group, Lencioni’s consulting firm, you’ll find tools, exercises, and videos designed to help leadership teams “get healthier.”