Bringing anatomy to life: the hard- & soft- tissue of an organization…

In my last post (yes, it has been a while!) I discussed the soft and hard tissue of an organization and tried to show their complementarity and alignment (take a moment to re-read it since this post will assume understanding of the main points). In fact it goes far beyond that. Just like a body, the health and interaction of both is critical to the life, well-being and survival of an organization.

While it makes sense in theory, I’d like to suggest a few propositions and axioms that provoke your thinking and bring the “inter-connection” to life. Do you agree? Can you think of others?

  • There’s a saying: “people join companies but leave managers.” Translation – people typically join for the hard tissue but will leave for the soft tissue.
  • Building on the above: “hard tissue is evaluated/measured; soft tissue is felt.”
  • As industries become more competitive the soft tissue often becomes the tie breaker or key differentiator…not only because “culture is king” but it actually drives and enables the hard tissue to flex, react, correct/recover, heal, develop…
  • Soft tissue is sensitive and requires compatibility to stay healthy…if not, it can literally bring the hard tissue to its knees. While people in an organization can change their behavior, companies who place a high priority on soft tissue may find it necessary to separate from leaders and employees who are simply incompatible with the culture (or threaten it). While this is can be excruciatingly difficult and requires courage, “people change” is often the acid test of ones commitment to culture.
  • Despite the rising valuation of soft tissue, it’s important to continually adjust the mix of hard tissue (ex. processes, strategy, incentives, people, goals…) to nurture and provide structure for the soft tissue to take root. Managing and adjusting the interactivity of both must become a key management priority (see conclusions below).

A key conclusion: because hard tissue is the traditional “bread and butter” of most management training & practice (tools, approaches, methods, processes…), many leaders find themselves unstructured, poorly equipped and ill at ease with managing soft tissue (often seen as a fuzzy science). While its value is on the rise, the competency and tools to intentionally nurture it is lagging.

If classic management teams spend 90% of their time today on hard tissue, there are progressive teams already shifting to 70/30 (hard/soft). Will it ever be 50/50? Where’s yours?

I submit the shift will continue with leading companies first intentionally nurturing the soft tissue, then advancing to managing both hard- & soft- tissue as a system and “organic whole.” In my view, those who succeed at this feat will have heavy odds in their favor of strong leadership positions in their respective industries.

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  1. Made me think of my current situation where my ‘hard tissue’ (knee) was broken. First, we had to repair the bone, THEN I could start working on the muscle…but I had to wait until the hard tissue could tolerate the movement of the soft (6 long weeks)!

    I’m guessing most organizations have overdone the hard (the equivalent of me waiting 12 weeks for my knee to heal when it only needed 6) and, in doing so, neglected the soft. I wonder how many organizations have the ability to identify the ‘minimum amount’ of hard tissue/structure to put in place and the discipline to stop at just that amount?