January22

Bone, Muscle, and Soft Tissue

By Tony Shepley

I found a wonderful piece below by Seth Godin that summarizes the elements of organizations, large or small, and gives us something to ponder about our own organizations, especially at the beginning of a new year. Whether 3 people or 300, the principles are the same regardless of size. Try this on and see how it fits:

Most organizations are built around three anatomical concepts: bone, muscle, and soft tissue.

The bones are the conceptual skeleton. The people who stand for something, who have been around, have a mission, and don’t get pushed off course easily, even if there’s an apparently justifiable no-one-is-watching shortcut at hand. “We don’t do things that way around here.”

The muscles are able to do the heavy lifting. They are the top performers, the creators with useful and significant output, the stars who can be counted on to do more than their share.

And the soft tissue brings bulk. It protects the muscles and the bones. The soft tissue can fill a
room, handle details, add heft in many ways. It can bring protection and cohesion, and sometimes turn into muscle.

When a bone breaks, we notice it. When those that make up the organization’s skeleton leave, or lose their nerve, or their verve, the entire organizations gasps, and often rushes to fix the problem.

Muscles are easily measured, and we’ve built countless organizational tools to find and reward our best producers.

But soft tissue… soft tissue is easy to add to the team, but time-consuming to remove. Soft tissue bogs down the rest of the organization, what with all those meetings, the slowdown of time to market, the difficulty in turning on a dime.

An organization that lets itself be overwhelmed by the small but insistent demands of too much soft tissue gets happy, then it gets out of shape, it gets sick, and then it dies.

Think about the balance of your company. Another way to look at it is the meat metaphor. Too much fat is bad, but too lean with no fat at all, doesn’t have the right taste. Properly marbled with no stubborn gristle and a good bone to gnaw on makes for a great beginning. Then there’s the cooking process, with the refinements of spice, the magic of marinade, and the side dishes that make a meal a feast. A great chef doesn’t just make a lot of assistant chefs, a great chef makes more great chefs. As you start the new year, think how you’re handling your company recipe. While you’re at it, count your bones, your muscle, and your soft tissue. You remember the old story of the optimist who sees the glass as half full, and the pessimist who sees the glass as half empty. How about the fact that the glass has the potential to double its capacity with no structural change? It’s up to us to practice looking differently at even familiar situations.  Here’s to your success in 2021!

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