Checking Vital Signs

An accurate read of your organization's health is critical in assessing its current and future viability. However, getting an accurate read requires careful listening and observation. Here are some vital signs to look for to help make an objective assessment.

In healthy organizations:

  • There is a consistent flow of new information about old problems.
  • Pleasant surprises and unexpected sources of innovation are commonplace.
  • Data is frequently uncovered that contradicts traditional wisdom.
  • Obvious and not so obvious organizational connections and patterns are identified.
  • Attention is simultaneously devoted to both short and long-range planning.

In unhealthy organizations:

  • More attention is paid to what is missing than to what exists.
  • Untangling ambiguous or complex issues is often avoided in favor of making black or white decisions in an effort to appear decisive.
  • New packaging of old and tired ideas are created under the banner of new initiatives.
  • Stress and feelings of being overwhelmed are what drive employees to complete their work.
  • Fault and blame are assigned to unidentified people in power with phrases like "they should do this," or "why don't they do that?"

So, is your organization healthy or unhealthy? Healthy organizations are focused, and energized. Unhealthy organizations are unfocused and tired. Unfortunately, unhealthy organizations often appear focused and energized but nothing could be further from the truth. Their pulse appears to be throbbing only because they are scurrying from one crisis to the next which requires a great deal of activity. But these organizations are unable to differentiate between real vitality and progress, as opposed to frenzied activity and drama.

Additionally, if the organization's existence supports the public's self-interest or altruistic impulses, the public will also ignore any signs that a once vital organization is dead or dying. How can sense be made if the organization is in denial and the public is colluding? When nothing seems to work in your organization, it may be because there is nothing there to work with. Like the saying goes, "when you discover you are riding a dead horse - dismount." The horse is dead.

The resources available to any organization are precious commodities that cannot be squandered. If your organization is putting those resources into trying to fix something that is permanently broken or worse, already dead, you need to cut your losses and regroup. If you are able to identify healthy vital signs in a specific department, workgroup, or project, recalibrate and direct the organizations resources into those areas. The proper diagnosis and prescription will ultimately prove to be the difference between the life and death of your organization.