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The Healthy Company: Eight Strategies to Develop People, Productivity, and Profits.

In an age when people have become the sole source of competitive advantage, there's no question whether the message of The Healthy Company makes sense: It does. There's also no question whether this book delivers the goods: It does. It provides plenty of examples, all with enough detail for the reader to apply the ideas, though not enough to be tedious. The question for us is the extent to which the lessons of The Healthy Company apply to associations.

Robert H. Rosen presents his organizing metaphor in the introduction, appropriately entitled "The Anatomy of a Healthy Company." He views the organization as an organism, with the company's values as its lifeblood: "The values at the heart of a healthy company enable it to continuously grow, evolve, and renew itself, reinforcing what is productive and positive while sloughing off the unhealthy and unworkable .... Values are the center of thec enterprise; they circulate through every cell and artery of a company, and a company and its employees either reinforce healthy values or bring about their decline."

This is a book about companies, about for-profit concerns. But because associations are as much organisms as companies are, each principle in this book also is an issue for associations.

The eight strategies

The strategies referred to in the book's subtitle are not so much strategies as principles that help in making a broad range of decisions. None of these general guidelines directly addresses the traditional business disciplines of marketing, finance, or production; all focus on the human side of the organization. Rosen devotes a chapter to each principle. Respect for people is Rosen's first principle, and the chapter title conveys Rosen's feeling about its importance: "The power of respect is greater than the power of money." It deals with the importance, and the difficulties, of establishing open communication, trust, and a sense of ethics.

The next chapter looks at the ways in which the meaning of leadership has evolved from the take-charge, military model to one of facilitation. "Wise leaders know how to follow" contrasts the controlling leader and the empowering leader, and provides specific steps for cultivating more of the latter type.

"If you don't manage change, it will manage you." This is the third principle. The chapter provides specific tactics for ensuring that an organization survives rapid and far-reaching change.

The necessity of lifelong learning is the subject of the fourth chapter. As in the rest of the book, the examples provided are all corporate. For association executives, though, this chapter offers insight into one of the most important benefits provided by associations today--education specific to a particular industry or profession--from the point of view of the corporation that needs it. Inexplicably, there is no mention of associations as a source of materials or programs for learning.

The fifth and sixth principles involve the closely related issues of the health of the individual and the extent to which job conditions affect the individual's health. One chapter details the value and benefits of a healthy work force and the employer's role in maintaining one. The other chapter, "Sick jobs sabotage long-term investments," dramatizes the potential for improving productivity by removing obstacles.

The seventh principle, "Our strengths lie in celebrating differences," frames one of the hottest current issues in human resource development: managing and benefiting from an increasingly diverse work force.

"Work and family are partners for life," the final chapter, presents compelling evidence for a revolution in our attitudes and priorities. This chapter provides simple, sensible approaches for addressing employees' changing needs.

Problem-solving principles

One of the strengths of the book is its specificity. Each chapter begins with a description of a problem or need that occurs frequently in less-than-healthy organizations. Rosen then articulates, with examples, the general value or principle that solves or prevents this problem. And the book does not stop there.

First, most of the chapters offer one or more self-assessment tests on the issues in question. Rosen describes these checklists as "inside out," because they ask us to begin with ourselves before identifying problems with others. Following each self-assessment, Rosen suggests specific actions that we can take to move our scores into or higher in the healthy range. Next, each chapter provides a section called "What the manager can do." These sections provide specific approaches that managers can use to create healthier work groups. They include plenty of examples and alternatives that have worked in other organizations.

Finally, each chapter includes a section called "Corporate policies and strategies." These sections focus on tactics that work for the organization as a whole, methods that enable the organization to embody the principle that is the subject of the chapter.

The layout and design of this large format book provide additional value. Like magazine articles, The Healthy Company makes use of the margins to interject a variety of quotations and statistics that relate to the subject of the chapter. There are also frequent lightly screened inserts, like magazine sidebars, that provide detail on particular issues. The bibliography is not extensive, but it is conveniently arranged to provide references for the most significant issues in each chapter.

Most of the implications of The Healthy Company for association executives are obvious and inescapable; there is little in the book that associations could not apply appropriately for their staffs. The unanswered question for us remains, though: How do these principles apply to our relationships with our members?

Unlike corporations, we rely on volunteers to do much of the work of our organizations. Are these volunteers more like employees or more like customers? Or perhaps we should draw a distinction between members who serve as leaders and members who do not?

Clearly, Rosen would have no reason to address this issue in a book intended for a for-profit audience. Yet he does provide a clue for us in his comments about the importance of participation and the feeling of ownership. In the chapter on leadership, Rosen quotes Max DePree, retired chair of Herman Miller, Inc., from his 1987 book Lea Art: "The best people working for organizations are like volunteers."

We know how to work with volunteers; in fact, it is the one area in which the smallest association might well outshine the largest of corporations. Should we consider the possibility of treating our employees the way we treat our members? Fertile ground, perhaps, for a sequel entitled The Healthy Association.

Joe Lane is director of professional development for the Equipment Leasing Association of America, Arlington, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lane, Joe
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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