What is Organizational Health? A “healthy” organization is one where all the pieces work well together, where transparency and openness prevail, and where everyone — everyone — knows how they contribute to the mission. It’s unachievable without a cohesive leadership team where trust, accountability, and healthy conflict prevail.
There’s no metric for Organizational Health. Instead, it shows up in every other element you measure.
Healthy organizations show low turnover rates, engaged employees, satisfied clients, and an environment where team members can take calculated risks — and learn from mistakes. Organizations that’ve achieved these healthy traits share two essential characteristics.
One: The leadership team operates cohesively
If the seven people on your leadership team operate in silos and offer seven different messages, are you really one company? Not when one team operates under Mission A and another follows Missions N and P, and so on. It’s not long before you feel as if you’re seven companies operating under one roof that may be about to cave in.
Put another way, any shift that happens at the helm of a ship may feel like a minor change in direction. The movement, however, is felt farther back. If every leader has a different idea about where you’re going, the organization might need one course correction after another. Hard to say where that ship will end up; meanwhile, everyone on it is seasick.
Organizational Health starts with a consistent story about why your company exists and how it strives to achieve its mission. Every member of the leadership team needs to tell the same story in the same way. Otherwise employees are following different maps and getting nowhere.
Behind identifying and communicating these messages lies the health of the leadership team itself. Does it work collaboratively? Is healthy conflict part of its practice? Do members trust each other, hold each other accountable, and work toward the same results?
In our experience, Organizational Health flourishes where leadership teams collaborate effectively. They don’t just lean on each other but hold each other’s feet to the fire when necessary. They trust each other enough that they don’t avoid conflict and can maintain accountability and cohesion.
We’ve seen a ripple effect when one team within a company becomes organizationally healthy. Its success can’t be missed, and its practices soon are emulated.
That’s all well and good, yet the most efficient route to organizational health is to start with the entire leadership team. The practices modeled on this team are viewed as speaking for the organization. You’re setting the stage that everyone else performs on.
Two: Leadership overcommunicates who, what, and why (employees decide how and when)
This directive to leaders sounds too simple to be effective; we understand from long experience the resistance it may engender. We also know it works.
Here it is: Speak often and consistently about who the company is, what it does, and why it exists, and empower employees to live that mission. You can’t just put the mission in your employee handbook and call it a day. Instead, connect it to every move you make — every new policy, client, hire, or promotion. Every decision, all the time. Until you’re blue in the face. And then keep going.
The objective is to relentlessly illustrate, communicate, and live this identity so that others absorb it and do the same. Teams who are guided by clear organizational identity move in the same direction and are freer to innovate.
A simple way to empower their decision-making and the creative leaps they make is to turn the organization’s identity into guiding questions: Does this fit our mission? Does it accomplish our why?
Knowing precisely where a company is going requires clear messaging heard over and over. Employees who have internalized those messages are empowered to fulfill their roles in a way that keeps the organization on course. They’re equipped to make values-based decisions because they know what matters most to the company, embrace those core values, and rely on them to guide their decision-making.
Organizational health requires ongoing attention
According to an old Jim Gaffigan joke, super-fit people have no business being at the gym. “What are you doing here?” he asks. “You’re done.”
Muscles atrophy, of course, and so do companies. Stop when you hit organizational peak fitness, and you don’t just lose what you’ve gained but send teams spiraling toward disgruntlement. They’ve experienced clarity, cohesiveness, and empowerment. Seeing it slip away is painful, and that pain sends the best employees running toward new challenges elsewhere.
When you’ve seen the benefits of Organizational Health, you’re not going to want to let them fade. And the good news is that you don’t have to undertake the corporate equivalent of lifting heavier and heavier weights to get stronger organizationally: Just stay clear and consistent.