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Book:  The Advantage

Author:  Patrick Lencioni

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Three Big Takeaways:

1. Anyone who has ever worked in an unhealthy organization knows the misery of dealing with politics, dysfunction, confusion, and bureaucracy. (pg. 12)

2. Most organizations are unhealthy because they aren't doing the basic things, which require discipline, persistence, and follow through more than sophistication or intelligence. (pg. 148)

3. 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're wasting opportunities to give people recognition they crave more than anything else. Direct, personal feedback is the simplest and most effective form of motivation. (pg. 167)

Other Key Ideas:

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. Yet many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health because they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it - they think organizational health is beneath them. (pg. 1)

Without politics and confusion getting in their way, healthy organizations cycle through tough problems and rally around solutions much faster than their dysfunctional and political rivals do. Leaders who pride themselves on expertise and intelligence often struggle to acknowledge their flaws and learn from their peers. They aren’t as easily open and transparent with one another, which delays recovery from mistakes and exacerbates politics and confusion. (pg. 9)

An organization simply cannot be healthy if the people who are chartered with running it are not behaviorally cohesive. In any kind of organization, dysfunction and lack of cohesion at the top inevitably lead to a lack of health throughout. (pg. 15)

At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team. While this can be threatening and uncomfortable at first, it ultimately becomes liberating for people who are tired of spending time and energy overthinking their actions and managing interpersonal politics at work. (pg. 27)

There is no such thing as "too much" vulnerability.  And 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 does not go first. By stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe at first requires an extraordinary level of selflessness and dedication to the team. (pg. 35)

When team members trust one another, and when they're willing to acknowledge when someone else's idea is better than theirs, the fear of conflict and discomfort is greatly diminished. When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of trust, an attempt to find the best possible answer. Conflict without trust is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth. (pg. 38)

When leadership team members avoid discomfort among themselves, they leave it to others below them to try to resolve issues that really must be addressed from the top. This contributes to employee angst and job misery as much as anything else in organizational life. (pg. 40)

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 disagreements that have not come to the surface, team leaders avoid the destructive hallway conversations that inevitably result when people are reluctant to engage in direct, productive debate. (pg. 45)

People will not actively commit to a decision if they have not had the opportunity to provide input, ask questions, and understand the rationale behind it. Another way to say this is, “If people don't weigh in, they can't buy in.” (pg. 48)

It's only when colleagues speak up and put their opinions on the table that the leader can confidently fulfill one of his most important responsibilities: breaking ties. When a leader knows that everyone on the team has weighed in and provided every possible perspective needed for a fully informed decision, he can then bring a discussion to a clear and unambiguous close and expect team members to rally around the final decision even if they initially disagreed with it. (pg. 48)

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're committed to. Unfortunately, people are usually eager to leave the room when a meeting is coming to a close, and so they are more than susceptible to tolerating a little ambiguity. That's why functional teams maintain the discipline to review their commitments and stick around long enough to clarify anything that isn't crystal clear. (pg. 51)

Even the most reluctant, fearful leaders can usually summon the courage to tell someone that he missed his number. That is a relatively objective, non-judgmental act, which makes it safe and free from emotion. Confronting someone about their behavior is a different matter. 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. (pg. 59)

When it comes to addressing relatively serious concerns in which a leader is wondering whether a member of the team might not be worthy to be on the team anymore, the leader is often advised to let her people know that she is addressing the situation to avoid unproductive and dangerous speculation. (pg. 64)

Too often, leaders underestimate the impact of even subtle misalignment at the top, and the damage caused to the rest of 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. (pg. 74)

Core values provide the ultimate guide for employee behavior at all levels. Successful companies adhere  to a fundamental set of principles that guide behavior and decisions over time, preserving the essence of the organization. Core values are critical because they define a company's personality. They provide employees with clarity about how to behave, which reduces the need for an efficient and demoralizing micromanagement. (pg. 91)

Leaders must search for patterns in their feedback that would indicate the organization's strategic direction and anchors. Put another way, they need to identify the items, or collection of items, that fit together to form a theme or category. Remember, this process will always be a little messy and organic. It requires judgment, reflection, and intuitive synthesis on the part of the members of the leadership team. (pg. 111)

Every organization needs some division of labor, and it begins at the very top. Without clarity around division of labor, the potential for politics and infighting - even among well-intentioned people - is great. (pg. 132)

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. (pg. 132)

Many leaders fail to over-communicate because they get bored saying the same things over and over again. This is understandable, as intelligent people want to be challenged with new messages and new problems to solve oh, and they get tired of revisiting the same topics. But that doesn't matter. The point of leadership is not to keep the leader entertained, but to mobilize people around what is most important. When that calls for repetition and reinforcement, a good leader relishes that responsibility. (pg. 143)

The best human resource systems are often the simplest and least sophisticated ones. Their primary purpose is not to avoid lawsuits, but rather to keep managers and employees focused on what the organization believes is important. That's why a one-page document that managers embrace is always better than a seven-page document that is ignored. (pg. 155)

Bring the right people into an organization, and keeping the wrong ones out, is as important as any activity that leadership team must oversee. The few leaders will dispute this, not many organizations are good at doing it, for a variety of reasons. (pg. 156)

For all the talk about hiring for fit, there is still too much emphasis on technical skills and experience when it comes to interviewing and selection. 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. (pg. 156)

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. When it comes to the Continuum of hiring, I find that it's better to be somewhere closer to having a little less structure than more. (pg. 158)

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. Leaders of organizations need to understand the value of bringing in new employees with Clarity, enthusiasm, and a sense of their importance. It is an opportunity that disappears within days or weeks of a new employees arrival and should never be wasted. (pg. 161)

Essentially, "performance management" is the series of activities that ensures that managers provide employees with clarity around what is expected of them, as well as regular feedback about whether or not they are adequately meeting those expectations. 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 so is to get them clear direction, regular information about how they're doing, and access to the coaching they need. (pg. 162)

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're wasting opportunities to give people recognition they crave more than anything else. Direct, personal feedback is the simplest and most effective form of motivation. What leaders need to understand is that the vast majority of employees see financial rewards as a satisfier, not a driver. That means that they want to receive enough compensation to make them feel good about their job, but additional money doesn't yield proportionate increases in job satisfaction. And while they're not going to turn down more money, that is not what they're really looking for. In fact, gratitude, recognition, increased responsibilities, and other forms of genuine appreciation are drivers. That means an employee can never really get enough of those and will always welcome more. No employees willingly leave an organization where they are getting the levels of gratitude and appreciation that they deserve just to make a little more money unless they are so grossly underpaid that they can't justify staying in the job for the sake of their livelihood. (pg. 167)

The lesson for leaders is not that they should be cheap, but rather that they understand the healthiest organizations in the world are not necessarily the highest-paying ones and that throwing money at a problem that would be better solved through improved management is a true waste of resources. What is more, unsatisfied employees to receive greater financial compensation as an incentive to stay in an unhealthy organization feel cheapened by the gesture. And they're usually just as determined to eventually find a better place to work. (pg. 169)

The beauty of the daily check-in is that leaders know they're going to see their colleagues within 24 hours, so rather than firing off an email or interrupting someone in the course of their day, they simply make a note to bring up a small issue at the next day's meeting. There is something undeniably efficient and liberating about this, making the protests from executives all that much more absurd. It's as though they're saying, “Do you realize how busy we are trying to solve problems that result from our lack of communication? We can't possibly spend ten minutes everyday preventing them!” (pg. 177)

A great deal of the time that leaders spend every day is the result of having to address issues that come about because they aren't being resolved during meetings in the first place. (pg. 186)

When an organization is healthy, people find a way to get things done. When an organization is unhealthy, no amount of heroism or technical expertise is going to make up for the confusion and politics that take root. (pg. 192)

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