There is a quote that has appeared often in my email signature line and that I find myself revisiting from time to time: “In tranquillo esse quisque gubernator potest,” which roughly translated means, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” It is from Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer who died around 29 BC. I think I like this quote because it reminds me every day of the difficulties and challenges that our healthcare system continues to experience. It also reminds me that there are leaders in the healthcare marketplace that will be successful, and that there will be those who will struggle in the turbulent waters.
One of the less tangible, but most important, factors in being successful in healthcare today has to do with organizational integrity. I’m not talking about integrity in terms of morals or ethics, even though I also believe those to be vitally important. I’m talking about integrity in terms of the health of the organization. In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni defines health as “whole, consistent, and complete; that is, when it’s management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.” Fitness.
Now I don’t know about you, but most of the healthcare provider organizations that I’ve been part of have not exactly been the healthiest places on earth. I think healthcare has its share of dysfunctional leaders who are more focused on self-promotion, at least within the leadership team, than they are about other important issues. I’ve also seen, in my travels, some incredibly healthy organizations and exemplary leadership teams that I have enjoyed working with and for. However, I rarely see an organization that has a proactive process for improving organizational health. And if, as this book purports, “the single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health”, then we are really missing the boat.
Organizational health doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. It seems like something that is relatively easily attainable and available. Granted, it takes ownership and leadership from the executive team, but if organizational health is a crucial determinant of the success of your organization — more than talent, more than knowledge, more than innovation — how can it be ignored?
Lencioni suggests some important barriers to improving in this area. First, most executive leaders, who live in a world of big ideas and complexity and intelligence and sophistication, believe something so simple — something so straightforward that requires only the common bedrock ideas of discipline, courage, persistence and common sense — could not possibly be a real opportunity for organizational growth or market advantage.
Secondly, dealing with organizational health is a time-consuming process. And we are so driven today by reacting to external forces and scrambling to try new approaches and new programs that the thought of slowing down and reducing our frenzied firefighting efforts to focus on longer-term issues, frankly, scares them to death. There are far too many dysfunctional executives who think that activity means progress or success. It harkens back to the well-known concept of the difference between urgent and important.
Thirdly, in a world obsessed with metrics and key process indicators and analytics and business intelligence, dealing with the critical but less concrete and less measurable concepts of organizational health is difficult. It is culture, but much bigger. It is woven into the fabric of how the organization does business every day. It is difficult to pin down to particular variables that could be measured. It is much more focused on intuition and emotional intelligence, which are really challenging skills to get your arms around.
Improving organizational health is about conviction and discipline as much as anything else. The concepts in organizational health, which I will explore more deeply in subsequent blogs, have to do with having a healthy and functional leadership team, laser focus and clarity on the problems facing the organization, and clear communication to the organization with large and systems in place to monitor and reinforce the understanding of the issues it is facing.
At some level, organizational health begins with personal health. I’ve worked with some pretty dysfunctional and unhealthy executives, and ‘one bad apple’ on the team will completely stymie any attempts at improving the health of the organization. And the decisions to remove individuals from the leadership team are very difficult ones with lots of ramifications. I’ve seen leaders who were incapable of making the call, even knowing the clearly dysfunctional nature of their team member.
Organizational health has proven over and over again to be one of the key factors in successful companies. It is common sense; it cuts through all the corporate cultural disease that permeates a lot of organizations and it can transform an entire organization in a relatively short period of time. Until next time!