Fall 2015–Companies are like bodies in a few ways.
First, quality seems to be recognizable. A quality body can be identified by the layperson, as can a quality company. “Quality”, in this sense, means only high-functioning. As with the concept of quality given by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, some standard terms can be used to assess quality and it takes no expertise to do so.
Bodies need to be free from disease, of a lean build, and operating on all cylinders. The same goes for companies, and, again, these attributes can be easily recognized by the average person. Second, “quality in=quality out” applies to both bodies and companies. Eat nutritious food, not too much, and seek balance and moderation within each category of food. Hire the best candidate you can afford who makes it over the bar you’ve set, recruit from a diverse pool of talent, adjusting your sources to align with any special needs of your business. Constantly improve–or at least re-choose–your recruiting methods to ensure you’re feeding the organization with the best evidence-based talent source you can access. Poor diet manifests in both short-term and long-term ways. Immediately, certain allergens and toxins affect the skin (rash, dryness). In a company, similarly potent antagonists give rise to the “skin” of the company showing issues.
What would be the equivalent functioning unit to skin in a company? Skin is our body’s first line of defense; a porous membrane, absorbing while filtering; the most external of all organs and most outward-facing; finally, maybe the most obvious indicator of health and age. Thus, the company’s “skin” might be the stock price (if publicly traded) or the customer rating (e.g. 5-stars on Glassdoor or Amazon).
These, however, miss the major function of skin to reveal age, so if I had to pick a single, tangible part of a company to convey age and health together, it would be the reputation (a.k.a. “brand”). Contained in this is some element of age, an evaluation of today’s health status, an externally-facing perspective, and is, almost by definition, easily communicated by average people. Like skin, little indication of sustainability is given by looking at reputation. Still, Coca Cola’s reputation is a good example of company skin–old, strong for now, but surely worn in areas by time and competition. Conversely, Uber’s skin conveys youth: vibrancy, yet still no inherent certainty of long-term health. In fact, like skin Uber’s reputation may be showing signs of overheating, given Seattle’s union situation and general driver sentiment. Maybe these are more like stretch marks…
Third, companies and bodies don’t actually exist beyond concepts. Rather, a “body” is a concept of an organized, functioning system made up of certain units–much smaller, yet manipulable–which network to form a seemingly singular entity. The value in thinking this way is that we can make decisions based on our understanding of the fundamental units and how they behave. Conversely, we reduce our effectiveness (the quality of decisions) if we only act in ways that we guess our “body” as a whole needs us to act. It’s as if our mouth was the first and only gatekeeper with the ability to turn whatever we eat into nourishment. Our mouths aren’t that special.
Likewise, a “company” is a concept of the organized network of individual people acting in specialized roles over time. Seen in this way, company leadership recognizes the vital need of effective relationship management and talent sourcing. A “company” does not sell anything–the sales “team” doesn’t, either. Truly, it’s a singular man or woman who shakes the customer’s hand–or several individuals, all the same. This hand-to-hand or phone-to-phone event is a result of many individual contributions, the collection of which we think of as “systems” or “company strategy”. The same goes for cost reductions. Maybe the CEO wants to reduce costs, and thinks how “his/her company” can do so. He or she will find a much better solution if he or she thinks about one person at a time, turning off a machine sooner, dropping a recyclable bottle into a bin, firing an employee, or making a phone call to cancel an unnecessary service. Maybe the CEO doesn’t do it, since they should be very high-level and out of the “weeds”, in many cases. But, the point is that all costs are cut by individual pairs of hands, never by companies, divisions, or teams.
Thus, the effective leader/decision-maker learns how pairs of hands behave, and creates an environment which encourages those hands to behave in effective ways. Learning what makes individuals do certain things may be different than learning how “salespeople”, “engineers”, or “millennials” act. I argue the former is a much better use of time, indefinitely. Likewise, a healthy body is the one that has nourished the individual cells which make up its systems. Molecules makeup cells, which make tissues, which make organs, which make organ systems, which make bodies. Since we can learn how molecules behave, shouldn’t we spend more energy doing that than we spend learning how “bodies” work?
It’s more appropriate to say, let’s learn how molecules act in the context of our body. Don’t neglect bodies, just understand there are fundamental units with certain mechanisms of action we can manipulate to achieve health. Don’t neglect learning about “companies”, just understand that individual people are the fundamental units acting in predictable ways that make up the results we see.
I’ve laid out a perspective of physiological and organizational health focused on the basic units of each entity (“body” and “business”). We see today’s results of misplaced focus–too broad to be truly effective. With health, we’ve seen fat demonized, now carbs, both by highly-educated subject matter experts. But, this is unfortunate and detrimental, in comparison to their peers willing to dig deeper and learn how oxidized fats differ from normal fats, for example, which is only possible if we look at the molecular-level. Huge implications for health result from that shift, and organizational focus mirrors this concept.
“Experts” have deemed millennials are unique from other generations in various ways, as evident by a simple Google search. However, researchers and managers with the self-discipline and principle-based mindset needed to dig deeper and examine fundamental human behavior show that effective management–of companies or teams–is not based on the generation of employees. Rather, each employee (like each molecule) behaves in ways unique, but identifiable, to himself or herself. The manager who applies this to his or her work enjoys the same sustainable effectiveness as the person who recognizes the rules of how molecules behave in the body. Bacon said we must obey the forces we wish to command. In this way, focusing on fundamental units is the best method to achieve healthy bodies and healthy organizations.
QOTW–“You must obey the forces you wish to command.”-Francis
?FNW-Do I take coaching gig? Probably, need to interview first
12/16/2017 review–I wish I had not written in such an academic style. It complicates things. I would rewrite a lot of it, but I’d definitely keep the main takeaway–that managing health requires obeying the behavior of molecules, just as managing companies requires obeying the understood forces that motivate individuals to behave in certain ways.