The Advantage: A book review by Bob Morris

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business 
Patrick Lencioni
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

The power of redundant “overcommunication” of what is most important to achieve and sustain organizational health

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.

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