The Healthy Organization

My wife and I recently had a wonderful trip to Costa Rica. The driver who took us back to the airport to fly home was an articulate, well-informed, 50-year-old man. We started to talk about the economy, Costa Rican society, and the government, and he painted a bleak picture of decline that I was unaware of. 

As he told it, drug trade was rampant, murder had skyrocketed, and the government was borrowing money like a Las Vegas fool and increasing taxes dramatically. The election process was prone to abuse, and he described the recent slate of presidential candidates—25 of them!—as mostly corrupt. He said it felt like they were on a terrible slide toward chaos. (Don’t let me dissuade you from traveling there; the people are wonderful and it’s beautiful!)

Like countries, companies (which are also groups of people but with different rules) that develop horrible ills that aren’t addressed quickly can rapidly grow into toxic environments. Unlike countries, however, they can be fixed faster. The ills that our driver described are like metastatic cancer, almost impossible to stop or cure. The right leadership in an organization can—with painful and difficult work—turn things around quicker. The business can live on if the appropriate treatment is undertaken. Unfortunately, radical surgery (to stretch my dark analogy a bit further) is required.

I spend most of my time focusing on how to create healthy organizations rather than fixing broken ones. Just like eating well, exercising, and thinking positively will keep many people healthy, a company that focuses on a healthy culture, a positive work environment, and delighting—rather than fighting with—customers will live longer. And a long, healthy life should be the goal for companies as well as individuals.

As a leader, if you focus on healthy ways to profitably address a market versus allowing a cancerous organization to grow, everyone is better off—including you.

It’s entirely possible to achieve high levels of profit in the short term while running a dysfunctional, caustic company. You can also feel good in the short term eating Cheetos and cheeseburgers seven nights a week.

Let’s be honest—living a healthy lifestyle requires discipline and isn’t always easy. Same goes for running a healthy organization, but it beats the alternative! 

Are you spending more time dealing with problems than building strength and a positive culture? Stuff happens, but might this be because you’ve adopted a disease model rather than a health model for your organization? Figure out what “healthy” looks like and go build it!

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