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Is the Patient Sick?

Optimize Blog - December 4, 2014 - 0 comments

In trying to understand how companies can produce sustainable high performance we can use the metaphor of human health which improves when cared for but deteriorates when neglected. But what does a healthy organization look like? We need to understand this before we can even consider what we might need to do to deliver it.
Research shows that the characteristics of organizational health are as follows:
In times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity healthy organizations become great at identifying and managing or mitigating key risks.
Great products, flashy marketing and surging markets can mask failure in execution for a while but healthy organizations share certain attributes such as distinctive capabilities, ability to make sound and timely decisions, they possess excellent forecasting capabilities and employees understand their roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. Too many leaders take these things for granted but a healthy company pays attention to them constantly.
Unhealthy organizations lack the cohesiveness required to create long term success. Healthy companies on the other hand work toward a common cause usually around a compelling vision and purpose. These companies have shared values and a sense of identity underpinned by real behaviors that they hold themselves accountable for demonstrating consistently on a daily basis. They reinforce these values through formal mechanisms. Typically in healthy organizations information flows across the organization as well as from top to bottom and taps into informal networks beyond the formal organization structure.
Healthy companies invest in their future by expanding into well chosen markets where existing assets and competencies provide real leverage across the entire value chain. They undertake thorough situation assessments to ensure that opportunities are sustainable. They are also great at generating ideas, adapting to change and are agile because they have a foundation of consistent production and service delivery.
The number one issue in any organizational health diagnostic that we conduct is communication. Effective communication and collaboration are crucial to ensuring that assets, processes, relationships and management practices act in concert. Unhealthy organizations are characterized by silos and fiefdoms where information is seen as power rather than a corporate asset to be shared.
So given the familiarity of the concept of our own health why then do business leaders find it so difficult to nurture health in a corporate context? Firstly, short termism is a major factor and can perhaps be likened to the fat smoker who convinces himself he will change before any long term damage is done.
Second there is the mistaken belief that organizational health is a soft element and therefore not really relevant to the requirements of driving performance.
Third is the fact that the assumption is made that health issues arise in the unknown future rather than understanding that these issues take hold and start to have an impact in the present.
Finally is that annoying human condition where we say and believe one thing and then do another. Most leaders we speak to acknowledge the importance of organizational health as a concept but then do little or nothing to address or nurture it.
So take a look around you and consider the patient. Are you part of a healthy organization or are there symptoms manifesting themselves to indicate that all is not well. As leaders the health of the organization sits on our shoulders and we should pay attention to the vital signs now to avoid a visit to the doctor later…..

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