In a recent Forbes blog article, Erika Anderson (2012) discussed the reasons why key employees often leave organizations. Her conclusion? “Top talent leaves an organization when they are badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.” I could not agree more. What she is describing is a lack of organizational health.
My most recent post provided an overview of organizational health, which is a topic that has grown in prominence since Patrick Lencioni released his latest bestseller, The Advantage. His premise is that organizational health is the single greatest advantage you have for success. I agree. So if this is true, why do so many organizations fail at achieving health internally? Many reasons account for this, but in the next three posts I will breakdown the key indicators of healthy (or unhealthy) organizations. In this post we will examine the two greatest threats to organizational health in my opinion: internal politics and confusion.
First, internal politics. Nothing will contribute more to an unhealthy organization than an environment of politics. Just think about our national political climate. Is that something you would like to replicate within your organization? I venture to guess the answer is no. Organizations suffer from internal politics because leaders and managers allow certain behaviors to exist and permeate the working environment. These include things like personal agendas, power plays, dishonesty, gossip, egos, and the list goes on. Basically, this is due to a lack of clear core values that are embraced throughout the organization.
The second threat to organizational health is confusion. Healthy organizations are clear about where they are going and how they will get there. This clarity is present throughout the entire organization, from top to bottom. That is the key—everyone is on the same page. Too often though, leaders have a plan for where the organization is going (vision), but the employees are unclear about this vision (often due to poor communication), do not have a sense of the vision, and lack clarity about the daily purpose and mission of the organization. When confusion sets in, employees become increasingly frustrated and confused about the direction of the organization and what leaders are asking of them. This, combined with politics, is a recipe for a very unhealthy environment.
The good news is that these challenges can be dealt with if leaders are willing to do so. I believe that three specific things can help an organization overcome politics and confusion:
1) Assertive Leadership
Nothing creates an environment of politics and confusion in an organization more than passive leadership. These problems must be dealt with and confronted head-on, but leaders are often afraid of confrontation and let internal politics fester. Confusion sets in when leaders waffle about decisions because they are trying to not offend anyone and make everyone happy. Leadership requires decisiveness and the ability to deal with challenges. Your organization will never be healthy if the leader cannot be assertive enough to deal with politics and alleviate confusion.
2) Consistent Communication
This sounds so simple, yet so many organizations are terrible at communication. It is astounding how often employees point to poor communication as a serious organizational issue. If leaders would get clear about their message and then consistently communicate that message to employees, it would make a world of difference in the morale and performance of an organization. While employees might not always agree with what is being communicated, they will appreciate the fact that leaders take the time to consistently communicate what they are doing and why they are doing it. This goes back to being assertive. If a leader is passive about communication and does not consistently communicate to his or her team, internal politics and confusion will only continue to get worse.
3) Team Development
This third recommendation is another area that is often overlooked and undervalued. Teams become great because they take time to develop as a team, and they actively work out any problems or challenges they are facing. This doesn’t happen overnight though. Team members must be able to trust one another enough to effectively deal with conflict and hold one another accountable. Leaders must invest time and resources into their team, and they must make it a point for team members to spend time with another. This may involve some initial steps that are uncomfortable, but in the long run the team will be stronger and more effective. Politics and confusion will not be an issue because great teams actively and openly communicate with one another.
If you are a leader or manager in charge of a team, I implore you to pursue organizational health for your organization or department. These suggestions will get you started, but there is much more to come. The next post will examine the issues of morale and productivity, which are significantly impacted when politics and confusion exist in an organization.
Anderson, E. (2012, January 18). Why top talent leaves: Top 10 reason boiled down to 1 [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/01/18/why-top-talent-leaves-top-10-reasons-boiled-down-to-1/#comment-1936