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A Practical View of Organization Health: Five Core Components to Lead

December 17, 2014

Organization health has been in and out of favor over the years and has had many different incarnations. There was a time when it addressed mostly the human system health and other times when performance and effectiveness were front and center. More recently, the human well-being (mental, physical & spiritual) has gotten more traction. In reality, all have been right to an extent; yet imagine how an organization could be called “healthy” if it wasn’t performing effectively, or if its human system was in turmoil, or if it wasn’t meeting an important need in society.

If, as Dave Hanna said many years ago, “Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it’s getting,” then the ‘health’ of the organization is also designed in. Perhaps we need to take a whole, open system view and consider how to better lead or change core elements that contribute to the health of the organization. That’s something I’ve been working on with some colleagues recently.

As a starting point, to be healthy the organization needs:

  • An environmentally-aligned purpose and direction
  • Effective organizing and operating practices
  • A human system with productivity and well-being
  • Sustainability levers in learning, changing, and citizenship
  • An effective guidance system in leadership and governance

model of organization health

For purpose and direction, we need to create a mission, vision, values, and strategy that are aligned with the relevant environment, understood by all, and with a clear line of sight for the workforce.

For organizing and operating, we need to focus on how well it functions and performs to get desired results. This minimally needs a sound business model, alignment among the systems elements (strategy, structure, culture, systems, and behaviors), efficient socio-technical work processes, and appropriate management practices in such areas as goals, controls, rewards, decisions, accountability, and risk management.

For human system well-being,  we need to create engagement, low stress climate, wellness (physical, mental, spiritual) and a sound work motivation environment including such attributes as engagement, meaning, challenge, involvement, learning, humanistic values, personal growth & development, and appropriate workspaces and resources.

There are two sustainability levers which help an organization to survive and contribute for the long term. Developing learning and change capability including sensing systems and feedback mechanisms; knowledge management processes; skills in agility, adaptability, resilience, and renewal; continuous improvement and innovation support; and critical, balanced metrics.

For citizenship, we should build broad stakeholder inclusion and attend to responsibilities to our workforce, communities, society, and the planet.

For guidance and steering, we need to design and develop our leadership and governance practices so that environmental scanning provides us with intelligence, strategic and systems thinking are regularly practiced, leaders understand their use of self and its impact, leadership styles and practices are appropriate for the work and people, and there are investments made for the future.

jamieson chart

As we go forward in the changing, complex world of the future, it would be prudent for leaders to think more clearly about the health of their whole organization and act accountably for the welfare of all their stakeholders. Organization leaders are clearly most responsible for creating healthy organizations, but strategic HR and OD can play critical roles in contributing, partnering, facilitating, and changing. Strategic HR has much to provide in the human capital perspectives on mission, vision, values, and strategy. They can lead the design and change of employee well-being and all the contributing systems and processes. They also can play a significant role in developing the sustainability levers. OD can also support organization health in every component by planning and managing change, process design, stakeholder relationship development, leader development, organization design and system alignment, and building capability into the organization.

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About The Author

David W. Jamieson, PhD, is Professor & Department Chair, Organization Learning & Development, College of Education, Leadership & Counseling at the University of St. Thomas. He is also President of the Jamieson Consulting Group, Inc. and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in other OD programs. He has 40 years of experience consulting to organizations on leadership, change, strategy, design and human resource issues. He is a Past National President of the American Society for Training and Development (1984) and Past Chair of the Management Consultation Division and Practice Theme Committee of the Academy of Management. He was the recent recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization Development Network and Chairs the Organization Development Education Association. He received his Ph.D in Management from UCLA, majoring in Organization Design & Development and a BS in Business Administration from Drexel University, with a Behavioral Science minor. He is co-author of The Facilitator's Fieldbook, co-author of Consultation for Organizational Change, and one of the editors of Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organizational Development from the OD Network. He can be reached at djamieson@stthomas.edu.

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