How to make your practice healthy to better leverage its 'smarts'

"I know this industry is not easy and it’s not getting easier."

[See also: Healthy living should extend to the workplace]

So began Patrick Lencioni -- founder and president of The Table Group in San Francisco, and best-selling author of eight books -- during his 2012 MGMA General Session presentation "Healthy Organizations Win: How to Harness Your Organization’s Maximum Potential."

But while healthcare involvement will never be a cakewalk per se, there are some fundamentals every business hoping to succeed can implement, Lencioni noted, to lessen the hassle. After all, why walk on cake, when you can have it, eat it too, and then continue passing it around?

"Any organization, if it wants to be successful, if it wants to maximize its potential, needs two things -- it has to be smart ... and it also has to be healthy," Lencioni said.

[See also: Implement a thriving staff development program without doling out the big bucks]

According to Lencioni, it’s the latter that most organizations in their quest for optimum productivity often overlook and fail to achieve. Moreover, ideologies across a variety of marketplaces appoint basic advertising/marketing, strategy and technology as the only practices/implements capable of promoting a competitive edge. These “smarts” no longer hack it alone, Lencioni argued; health is where the wealth is now, “surpass[ing] all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.”

A fit business hinges upon four cornerstones, Lencioni has found:

1) Build a cohesive leadership team. “The first and most critical step for a healthy organization is creating a cohesive leadership team. Without an aligned team at the top of an organization, it will never come near to reaching its full potential. The first step a team must make is to make sure the right people are sitting on the executive team and the number of members is not too cumbersome [between 3-12]. The team must also commit to themselves and each other to do the ongoing work required to develop and maintain a high-performing team.”

Lencioni provided the following checklist for organizations to adhere to during this stage — if two or more of the statements hold false, a business needs to readdress team dynamics.

  • The leadership team is small enough (three to ten people) to be effective.
  • Members of the team trust one another and can be genuinely vulnerable with each other.
  • Team members regularly engage in productive, unfiltered conflict around important issues.
  • The team leaves meetings with clear-cut, active and specific agreements around decisions.
  • Team members hold one another accountable to commitments and behaviors.
  • Members of the leadership team are focused on team number one. They put the collective priorities and needs of the larger organization ahead of their own departments.

2) Create clarity. “Creating alignment at the executive level is essential to building and maintaining a healthy organization. There is probably no greater frustration for employees than having to navigate the politics and confusion caused by leaders who are misaligned. Even the slightest bit of daylight between executive team members can cause an overwhelming effect on employees below,” Lencioni said.

Organizations should pose these questions to establish clarity:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

3) Over-communicate clarity. “Once a leadership team has become cohesive and established clarity around the six critical questions, they need to communicate the answers to employees over and over and over again. It was reported, employees won't believe a leader's message until they've heard it seven times. Whether the real number is five or fifty-five does not matter, the message is — people are skeptical about what they hear unless they hear it repeatedly over time.”

4) Reinforce clarity. “For an organization to be healthy, organizational clarity (the six critical questions) must become embedded into the fabric of the organization. All human systems must reinforce the answers to the six critical questions in order to keep them alive and ingrained in the organization. Systems in the following areas need to tie to the six questions: Recruiting and hiring, managing performance, compensation and rewards, and real-time recognition. Human systems should be flexible and not overly bureaucratic. Instead, human systems should reflect and reinforce the uniqueness of the organization's culture and operations,” Lencioni concluded.

Furthermore, it’s imperative that organizations set core values together and use one another to adhere to such essentials.

“You know you have a true core value when you’re willing to get punished for it,” Lencioni said.

“Additionally we need behavioral cohesion and we need to be aligned…and peer-pressure is the best source of accountability that we have,” he added.

More information about the cornerstones and healthy organizations in general can be found in one of Lencioni’s latest books, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. [See also: What you can do to prevent staff burnout]