Performance or Health? Why You Need Both to Succeed

As a new year quickly approaches, you are likely already thinking about what you need to accomplish in 2017. Hopefully you’ve taken time to (or plan to soon) review, assess, and get a clear sense of what’s working in your organization and what’s not. And hopefully you’re taking time to consider those same questions about your leadership.

One temptation every leader and organization faces, especially when the year-end numbers don’t meet expectations or market forces are impacting your bottomline, is to double-down on strategies to improve the performance side of things. More sales calls, dramatic production cost reductions, restructuring or downsizing. Each of these strategies, and many others, can be good steps to run an effective, cost-efficient organization. But if you only focus on the dollars and cents, you are at risk of ignoring your most important asset: your people.

Over the long run, the health of your organization is the greatest predictor of sustained high performance.

Organizational health, in fact, is the greatest competitive advantage you will ever have. Whatever business you are in, you have competitors that could and will eventually come up with the same product ideas, equally efficient processes, and similar marketing strategies.

How you develop the health of your people and organization is something unique to you and your leadership, something that cannot be replicated. Having engaged, bought-in, growing team members will lead to better performance, individually and as an organization.

For great organizations, the distinction between investing in a performance strategy and developing health is blurry. The best performance initiatives are designed to promote health.

But this isn’t about being a touchy-feely leader who makes their employees feel warm and fuzzy. Developing health relies on many things, including things that are quite pragmatic:

  • clear, well-timed communication and transparency
  • providing an environment with order, clarity, and coherent processes
  • taking a posture of learning and growth that relies on data, evaluation, accountability, and trust

As you look ahead to the future and set goals for 2017, consider a few questions along the way that can help you intentionally invest in the health of your organization as you reach for performance goals:

  • Have I created a clear, compelling vision of what our goals and strategies will lead to? Can our people concisely articulate they “why” and the “what” of our mission and our short-term strategies?
  • When is the last time I sought out the input, guidance, and buy-in of people that are directly impacted by my decisions (which may be everyone)?
  • Do the people who carry out the frontline work feel empowered and have an owners mentality? Or are they merely following orders?
  • How will any new strategies or initiatives impact each person, practically and emotionally? To what degree will they feel energized and engaged, versus feeling uncertain and reluctant about new directions?
  • Does my calendar reflect that organizational health is a priority? Am I accessible and developing relationships that encourage trust, feedback, and growth?

Building a health organization that performs at a high level requires investing significant amounts of time and energy. Continually growing and improving your people can’t be a program and it should never end, if you want to truly build a health organization. But that’s why a lot of leaders just focus on the performance side and hope the health comes along with future success. Unfortunately, hope isn’t a strategy that works.

Every business has to meet financial goals; that’s just part of the game. So don’t ignore your performance measures (you aren’t likely to do that, no matter how much time you put into developing health anyway). But great leaders invest in the health of the people and the organization simply because they know that people matter. Without healthy people, performance will always fall short of your full, collective potential.


One last note: I have a new book coming out on December 13! What Do You Want to Change?: Making Sense of Change and Planning to Thrive is a great, quick read to help you break through the mindsets and challenges that have kept you from hitting the goals you’ve been trying hit. Developing new habits, reaching your goals, and creating a path that leads to a thriving life is possible. Read more about it here and then pre-order the book on Amazon!