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Would you rather be smart, or would you rather be healthy? It’s a bit of a trick question, because you can’t be one without the other.

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsIf you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you know that a person’s needs build on one another, starting with the most basic physical needs, such as water, food and shelter, and building up to more cognitively heavy needs, such as learning and self-actualization.

Similarly, a business needs to be both healthy and smart in order to reach its full potential.

In his book, “The Advantage,” business management author Patrick Lencioni takes a deep dive into the soft versus hard foci of an organization. “[B]eing smart—as critical as it is—has become something of a commodity. It is simply permission to play, a minimum standard required for having even a possibility of success.”

Lencioni considers the classic areas of business—finance, marketing, strategy—to be under this “smart” category. But in order to gain a sustainable competitive advantage, an organization must deliberately and continually improve its health and environment.

Much like Maslow’s hierarchy, organizational health is a basic element that’s needed as a foundation to successfully reach greater intelligence at the top of the pyramid.

But what is organizational health? Lencioni writes, “At its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity—is healthy—when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.”

If you’re wondering how you can achieve this at your company, Lencioni lays out a simple model for achieving organizational health, called “The Four Disciplines Model.”

Organizational Health graphic

Image courtesy The Table Group

Nowhere in this model is there any mention of those classic areas of business. The advantage that Lencioni wants you to learn has everything to do with behavior: trust, commitment, accountability, communication (and over-communication), to name a few.

  • Discipline 1: Build a Cohesive Team.
    • The leaders of any group, whether a church, school or international corporation, must build trust, master conflict, achieve commitment, embrace accountability and focus on results. “Teamwork is not a virtue,” Lencioni writes in his book. “It’s a choice.”
  • Discipline 2: Create Clarity.
    • The author says six questions help to clarify, including, ‘why do we exist?,’ ‘what do we do?’ and ‘who does what?’. “What is new is the realization that none of them can be addressed in isolation; they must be answered together,” he writes. “Failing to achieve alignment around any one of them can prevent an organization from attaining the level of clarity necessary to become healthy.”
  • Discipline 3: Over-communicate Clarity.
    • Clearly, repeatedly and enthusiastically give the answers created to help clarify. There is no such thing as too much communication.
  • Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity.
    • Critical systems must be implemented to reinforce clarity in every process. Every policy and program should be designed to remind employees what is really important.

With a mixture of rational explanation, data and anecdotes from his client experience, Lencioni illustrates his proposition that in this age of ubiquitous information, the only remaining meaningful, dynamic advantage is organizational health. All good companies must be smart—have great strategies, products, infrastructure, etc.—but the only way to capitalize on that intelligence and create real differentiation is by intentionally creating a healthy organization. Throughout his book, Lencioni breaks down each of the four steps in this model into easy-to-conceive definitions, giving the reader a digestible how-to guide on building a healthy organization—or perhaps healing an organization that is merely “smart.” Organizational health will happen if you take advantage of “The Advantage.” Time to get healthy!