A Paradigm For Organisational Health And Sustainability Business Essay

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McKinsey, after considerable research, termed organisational health as a driver of business performance. Organisational health is considered similar to individual health. Like how individual's health keeps a person fit and competitive, organisational health is a factor of sustainability and an ultimate competitive advantage. Many studies focus on what keeps the organisation healthy and how to measure or audit the organisational health. Salutogenesis is a medical sociology term used in promotion of health in the community. It describes the origin of health and explains how people manage stress and stay well. This theory proposed that the perception of whether a stress factor is harmful or healthy depends on what is called as generalized resistance resource (GRR) that is effective in avoiding or combating a range of psychosocial stressors. GRR includes resources such as money, ego-strength, and social support. Another concept in the salutogenesis model is the "sense of coherence". This is an orientation of pervasive feeling and confidence of facing the stress. By a metaphorical analysis, the term salutogenesis is inferred in the context of organisational phenomenon and the strategy for organisational health is proposed. The three components of sense of coherence, Comprehensibility, Manageability and Meaningfulness are translated into organisational health strategy. A salutogenic model of sustainable competitive advantage is developed and discussed.


Current business environment has become more dynamic because of its exposure to global markets. Political, economic and technological environment make the businesses sail a rough sea. Today's concern of organisations is how to maintain stability in the turbulent period and sustain the business rather than looking at rapid growing. Deloitte & Touche, (1992) define sustainability in the context of business as "adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future". Müller-Christ (2011), argued that the concept of sustainability is borrowed from eco-system research and terms such as vulnerability, susceptibility, bearing capacity, health and strength are increasingly used in organisational context.

However, in building a futuristic organisation, the sustainable competitive advantage will be its ability to adapt to the change faster. McKinsey, from its decade long research and experience, strongly believes that to sustain high performance organisations must be healthy. Organisational health is the ability to align, execute, and renew itself faster than the competition to sustain exceptional performance over time. It comprises core organizational skills and capabilities, such as leadership, coordination, or external orientation that traditional metrics do not capture (Keller & Price, 2011).

Müller-Christ (2011), explained that management studies have made use of the health term with eco and biological system as a metaphor in business. The author proposed the use of the term "Salutogenesis" as a new thinking model for sustainability management. However, the author used the concept in the resource management orientation. This study aims at applying the saluogeneis concept at more broader level of the organisational theory using a metaphorical analysis. "Organisation as a person" metaphor is used to compare the concepts of biological health to organisational health. The paper is structured as follows. The next section ellobrates the theories and concepts through review of literature. Further in the next section, the methodology of the study is explained. The next section dicusses the concept in the context of organisational theory and proposes a salutogenic model for organisational health for sustainable competitive advantage. Finally the paper is concluded with a summary and direction for further research.

Review of literature

2.1 Sustainability

The Brundtland Report (1987) define sustanaility as meeting the present generation's needs in ways that are not only economically viable, environmentally sound and socially equitable but will also allow future generations to do the same. UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio in 1992 gave further meaning to sustability as the integration or balancing of environmental, social and economic issues. Businesses adopted this concept as strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting needs of the future. As business world started using 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' as synonym connecting environment and development, it also adopted its earlier simple meaning of 'able to be maintained'. Under this context, sustainability is a process of change and not an end state, and that it's the journey that counts, not the destination. Sutton (2004) explained that sustainable profits, or sustainable competitive advantage mean profits or competitive advantage that can be maintained for the longer term.

2.2 Developing organisational health for sustainable competitive advantage

A McKinsey report quote that the market is going to change constantly, and because of that a constant effort to adapt the company is required. Some parts of the program will end, but new ones will come up. To sustain high performance, organizations must build the capacity to learn and keep changing over time. If the organsiation wants to change for the better and to make the changes stick, it must focus on its long-term health even as it pushes for higher performance now (Keller & Price, 2011).

McKinsey's research has proven that the healthiest companies are more than twice as likely to outperform their peers. The research identified nine elements of organizational health that clearly lead to the improved organisational performance. The nine elements that contribute to organizational health are: accountability, capabilities, coordination and control, culture and climate, direction, external orientation, innovation and learning, leadership, and motivation. Healthy organizations don't merely learn to adjust themselves to their current context or to challenges that lie just ahead; they create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time. This, is believed to be where ultimate competitive advantage lies (Keller & Price, 2011).

Organizational Health Diagnostic and Development Corporation (OHDDC) defined Organizational Health as an organization's ability to function effectively, to cope adequately, to change appropriately, and to grow from within. McKinsey describe Organizational health as adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition. Organisational Health is a way of addressing the increasing complexity, rate of change, and diversity facing organisations and its employees through integrated and holistic solutions: Supporting the ability of an organisation to deliver both sustainably improved performance and employee well-being (Alman, 2010). Summarising the various definitions, Organisational health can be said as the capacity of the organization to compete not only today, but also tomorrow. Brown (1997) argued that critical organizational health is directly linked to productivity, quality, and profitability.

OHDDC identified the following ten dimensions of Organizational Health: 1) Goal Focus, 2) Communication Adequacy, 3) Optimal Power Equalization, 4) Resource Utilization, 5) Cohesiveness, 6) Morale, 7) Innovativeness, 8) Autonomy, 9) Adaptation and 10) Problem-Solving Adequacy. Another framework identified Organisational health by three elements: 1) Organization alignment, which is to know whether the organization know where it is going? Are the people within that organization aligned about that direction? 2) Capacity for execution, which is the ability to turn ideas into action, 3) Capacity for renewal, is to find if the organization changing at or just above the rate at which it is changed in the past? (Price, 2010).

2.3 Concept of Salutogenesis

Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, an American-Iserali professor of medical sociology in the Psychosocial.... context. The word "salutogenesis" is a combination of "Salus" and "Genesis" where, "salus" in latin means "health" and "Genesis" in Greek means "origin". Salutogenesis is a concept based around stress and resilience. It describes the origin of health or how people manage stress and stay well. The term of Antonovsky's work is primarily used in the fields of health psychology, behavioral medicine, and the sociology of health.

The term was developed in contrast to "pathogenesis", which focus on separating health and illness and find what makes a person ill? Pathos in greek means suffering. Antonovsky's Salutogenic model proposed health as a continuum between total disease (dis-ease) and complete health (ease) (Figure 1) (Antonovsky, 1985).



Pathogenic paradigm



Salutogenic paradigm

Figure 1. Pathogenic and Salutogenic Paradigm

The concept of Salutogenesis aims on finding and examining factors which are responsible for the formation and the maintaining of health, because some people stay healthy despite of the influence of a high number of risk factors. Nobody is or can be exclusively sick or healthy, since every person has both healthy and also sick portions within him-/herself. The position of a person on this continuum depends on interactive processes between factors which represent a burden (stressors) and factors which protect (Generalized Resistance Resources) within the context of life experiences of a person which produces a sense of coherence. Though Antonovsky's concept is regarded as the most advanced theoretic model of the explanation of health so far, the Salutogenic Model, is worth to be extended and made functional despite its weaknesses (Faltermaier, 2002).

2.3.1. Generalised Resistance Resource

Generalized Resistance Resources (GRRs) is any characteristic in persons, groups or environments that can facilitate effective tension management, while tension is caused by stressors (Antonovsky, 1985). Stress factors are perceived as pathogenic, neutral, or salutary based on the coping resources such as money, ego-strength, and social support, what is called as generalized resistance resources or GRRs. For coping of stressors apart from GRR, Specific Resistance Resources (SRRs) that are relevant to a specific situation are also useful. Antonovsky after a series of research, identified and classified the GRRs. He defines GRR as Physical, biochemical, artifactual-material, cognitive, emotional, valuative-attitudinal, interpersonal-relationa and macrosocialcultural characteristics of an individual, group, subculture or a society that is effective in either avoiding or combating a wide variety of stressors. When any of the important resources, are missing then it is called Generalized Resistance Deficits and become a stressor by itself. For example, money is considered as a GRR and lack of money will become a stress.

2.3.2 Sence of Coherence

Antonovsky defined Sense of Coherence as: "...a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive,enduring though dynamic, feeling of confidence that one's internal andexternal environments are predictable and that there is a high probability that things will work out as well as can reasonably be expected."

In his formulation, the sense of coherence has three components:

Comprehensibility: a belief that things happen in an orderly and predictable fashion and a sense that you can understand events in your life and reasonably predict what will happen in the future.

Manageability: a belief that you have the skills or ability, the support, the help, or the resources necessary to take care of things, and that things are manageable and within your control.

Meaningfulness: a belief that things in life are interesting and a source of satisfaction, that things are really worth it and that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens.

The "sense of coherence" is a theoretical formulation that provides a central explanation for the role of stress in human functioning. "Beyond the specific stress factors that one might encounter in life, and beyond your perception and response to those events, what determines whether stress will cause you harm is whether or not the stress violates your sense of coherence."

2.4 Model of Salutogenesis

The salutogenesis model explains that the GRR influence the perception of stressors and thus steer the Sense of Coherence (SoC) through life experiences. Faltermaier (2002) argued that if a person have sufficient GRR, he will go through life-experiences that create consistancy, personal control and balance. The successful coping of the stress depends on two mechanisms explained in the model. The first one analyses if the stress is endogenic or exogeneic and coping mechanism is followed. The second mechanism works through life experiences that are created by combining the available resources and the sense of coherence, which helps in perceving if the stress will create tension or not.

Figure 1 Salutogenic model


Life experiences

Sense of Coherence


State of Tension

No Stress




Successful Coping

Unsuccessful Coping


In research paradigm, ontology creates knowledge domains, identifies concepts and connects them. However, by language and semantic, similar concepts in different domains may have different terms or varying concepts be termed similar. This analogy takes various modes of thought process and can be understood as metaphor. This method work by bringing together two concepts from different conceptual domains and creates new links between otherwise distinct conceptual domains. The metaphorical analysis procedures are used as qualitative research method and apply scientific method in theory building (Aubusson, 2002; Jensen, 2006; Schmitt, 2005). Induction logic is applied in analysing the concepts in one domain as metaphors and generalising it in another domain.

The Philosophy of Rhetoric explains that a metaphor has two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the object whose attributes are borrowed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor). It is also known as target and source. Kendall & Kendall (1993) proposed that metaphors are the cognitive lenses that can be used to make sense of the situations and are closely interconnected with the way we think.

Lakoff & Johnson (1980) greatly contributed to establishing the importance of conceptual metaphor as a framework for thinking in language. In recent years, many scholars have investigated the original ways in which writers use novel metaphors and question the fundamental frameworks of thinking implicit in conceptual metaphors.

Source Domain

Concepts / Theories



Target Domain

Concepts / Theories


New Meaning

Figure 3 Concept of Metaphorical analysis

Lee et al. (2008) adopted the basic approaches of metaphorical analysis procedures of Beer's (1984) six step of scientific modelling that explain the transformation of concepts when researchers conduct and build theories (Table 1)

Table 1 Steps in Metaphorical Analysis


Beer's Method




Find metaphoric contents in the literature relevant to the context



Capture each instance of a metaphoric expression and list the terms of source domain used for metaphorical expressions, and a short comment explaining the meaning or significance that the researcher had attributed to it at the time of reading.



From multiple analyses, eliminate from initial lists those metaphoric expressions that are unrelated.



Review the terms of metaphorical expressions and create categories to put similar attributes together.



Analyze categories from the previous stage and discover the connections between each category using meaning of metaphors, entailment, affordance, and challenge.



Establish a set of metaphors defining, using the concepts of Opposition, Meaning of metaphors, Source, Entailment, Affordance, and Challenge.

(Source : Lee et al., 2008)

A few instances in which the metaphorical analysis is applied in organisational studies are: Mason (1991), who examined popular and academic literatures, explained that war metaphor has an important role in the corporate strategy. Morgan (1986) suggested eight metaphors by which organisations can be imagined as. Morgan's metphors perceive organisation as: 1) Goal-seeking machine, 2) Biological organism, 3) Brain, 4) Culture, 5) Political system, 6) Psychic prison, 7) Flux and transformation, and 8) Instruments of domination. Kendall & Kendall (1993) similarly listed nine metaphors in the area of system analysis and design. This study uses the metaphorical analysis technique to understand the sustanability in terms of organistional health by using biological health as a metaphor.


Riese (2005) proposed that management science could learn valuable lessons from a perspective that treats organizations as social, complex, open, adaptive and autopoietic systems. Salutogenesis concept has been adopted in management studies in different contexts of the organisation. Müller-Christ (2011) borrowed the concept of salutogeneis to the resource-oriented perspective of the organisation and argued that if sustainability meant as logical treatment of resources, then the concept of health psychology could be applied to institutional resource management through individual resource management. The author recommended that the rationality of sustainability gain more power that is persuasive when management studies and health psychology are connected. However, it is difficult to convey the rationality when considering immaterial resources. In such cases, the salutogenesis-oriented health psychology provides semantic and conceptual help. Health is referred to as equilibrium in the resource exchange relationships, caused by transaction and aiming at the maintenance of the individual problem-solving capacity. The discussions provide sustainable treatment of resources at an individual and institutional resource management. However, in many cases organisational health is frequently used in the context of the ecological or biological metaphor to the business.

Vuori, San, & Kira (2012) adapted the meaningfulness concept of SOC to understand the ways workers can actively make their own work experiences more meaningful. They found that workers try to increase the proportion of positive cues extracted from work to make their work more meaningful. The three main tactics for increasing the proportion of positive cues are cognitively emphasizing the positive qualities of work, developing competencies to be better able to produce positive outcomes and positive reactions from others, and influencing the work content. This study helps to promote workers' sense of meaningfulness by coaching and enabling meaningfulness-making tactics identified in this paper.

Buisson-Narsai (2005) investigated the relationships between, personal meaning, sense of coherence, organisational commitment and selected biographical variables, specifically age, tenure and occupational level. The study found a significant positive relationship between personal meaning and sense of coherence. Personal meaning and sense of coherence also predicted organisational commitment. Aust (2010) investigated a similar relationship between sense of coherence (SOC), organisational commitment (OC), and specific biographical attributes of consultants working in the enterprise resource and planning (ERP) industry. However, the study could not establish any relationship between SOC and OC. The study found significant relationship between age and tenure and some of the subscales of the two constructs. This can be inferred as the life experience influencing the SOC.

Riese (2005) investigating on how an organization develops a strong Sense of Coherence proposed to study the organisational identify with a reflexive frame of Antonovsky, within which the organization interpret their experiences. Riese meant identity as the connection to what is inside the system as well as to its interactions with the outside world. He conceptualised the inside of the system as the Self. Question of 'who we are' answers the self.

4.1 Moving from Sustainability Strategy 1.0 to Sustainability Strategy 2.0

Deloitte (2011) argued that Sustainability Strategy 1.0 just focused on embracing opportunities at the organisational level and managing risks from economic, environmental, and social developments. However, Sustainability Strategy 2.0 looks beyond the company's walls and proactively identifies how sustainability opportunities and risks flow through the extended value chain and then develop long-term strategies. Analysing how the changes in value chain affect the company's operations, and anticipate market dynamics that affect the business, leaders should identify trends that contain clues about the future of their company's value chain. Once leaders do these analyses, sustainability strategy can be formulated or refined in a way that encompasses a future-oriented vision statement, aspirational goals, prioritized initiatives to achieve those goals, and metrics to measure progress. Deloitte claims that the companies that achieve this progression from vision, to goals, to strategies, to metrics have the opportunity to enhance revenue and brand value, engage effectively with key stakeholders, reduce costs, and manage risk.

4.2 Sense of coherence as sustainability strategy

Looking beyond the resource management orientation and generalised resistance resources concept, the sense of coherence is an important concept that can be used to analyse the competitiveness of the organisation. Even when adequate resources are available, the sense of coherence reflects the organisations capacity to use the resources and face the competitive situation.

4.2.1 Comprehensibility

Comprehensibility for an organisation will be its capacity to understand and arrange the events or situations in a logical and orderly way and relate them consistently. Organisation perceives the internal and external environment in clear and structured information because of its prior exposure and experience of the situation. Experience can only happen by participation in a situation or facing the challenge. Past experiences, helps to take stock of the situation and to an extent predict the future of the event.

Comprehensibility of the organisation helps it to gain the tendency to adapt to changing conditions and be agile. By that the organization can respond rapidly or recovery due to repeated challenges. A clear understanding of the organisation's environment helps it to have increased sensitivity to business values. Prior experience and the confidence of the organization make it have positive expectations.

Comprehensibility in Sustainability strategy 2.0 will mean an inclusive growth with supply chain partners. Sharing experiences with supply chain partners, Facing challenges together and planning the future together.

4.2.2 Manageability

Manageability is the feeling that a person is in control of his or her environment and life circumstances. The confidence on manageability depends on the extent to which one perceives oneself to have at one's disposal adequate resources to meet the demands posed by the challenge. However, mere procession of the resources will just reflect the GRR of the salutogenesis concept, the sense of coherence is created by understanding the challenge and knowing how to use the resources effectively to overcome the challenge. Healthiness comes out of the confidence that one will be able to manage the situation.

Under the Sustainability strategy 2.0, manageability will mean the use of technology to scale up and manage the situation. The second-generation technologies of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) focus on the inter-organisational connectivity that makes the supply chain partners work as a single organisation. The resources across the supply chain are pooled to face the business challenges. Knowledge capturing and sharing happens at the inter-organisational levels and are converted into competitive resources.

4.2.3 Meaningfulness

Meaningfulness is the answer to the existential question and is important for the sense of coherence and maintenance of life (Antonovsky, 1985; Frankl, 2006). Meaningfulness of an organisation is the sense of recognizing the important areas and making sense of the demands or challenges and analysing the worth of investment or engaging in the activity. Meaningfulness is found inside and outside the organisation. Employees find their meaningfulness from their experience with the organisation and the organisation finds its meaningfulness from its business environment.

Employee's meaningfulness is an important driver for the organisations growth. Employees make sense of why their working for an organisation, what is their role, what worthy activities they need to engage in etc. They obtain satisfaction and happiness by working for the organisation and gain individual health. This is aggregated to the organisations health.

An employee who has meaningfulness for his actions will be a disciplined person. Collins (2001) argued that the good-to-great companies hired self-disciplined people who didn't need to be managed, and then managed the system, not the people. This will mean that the organizational health is created by the empowered people who are given freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system. Similarly, Frankl (2006) author of the "Man's Search for Meaning" argued "freedom is only part of the story and half the truth...." To represent this he recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of United States of America to be supplanted by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Organisational meaningfulness is derived from the vision and mission of the organisation. This provides the purpose of the organisation's existence and sets a goal for the organisations fulfilment in the future. The organisational meaningfulness will create values for the organisation and will guide and justify the actions and decision-making. The sense of coherence comes out of the confidence that the organisation is unique and has a self worth for its existence.

Meaningfulness in Sustainability strategy 2.0 will mean the organisation's responsibility in relation to its supply chain partners. Similar to the representation of the statute of responsibility, where it depicts two hands reaching each other, in a supply chain one cannot exist without the other, and it takes both to fully exist.

4.3 Salutogenic model of sustainability strategy

While planning the strategy for sustaining the competitive advantage, organisations should understand if the particular competitive advantage is the right one to be pursued for a long term, is it worth and inimitable. The feeling of having a right competitive advantage gives a feeling of health and makes the organisation live longer or sustain. Once the competitive advantage is found to be worthy for the organisation then it should get the sense of coherence, i.e. justifying the competitive advantage rationally and logically and consistently holding the edge over its competitors. As per the SOC concept, this feeling creates a confidence that the internal and external environment can be predicted and the dynamics expected. This confidence comes out of the experiences of the organisation how it previously faced a threat from internal or external environment and how it did utilise the resources available. Literally, coherence means consistency, unity, rationality, logic, soundness and reason. Therefore, the sense of coherence can be identified in the sustainability strategy as the soundness, rationality and logic of the competitive advantage, the reason for selecting it and being consistent with the element. Sense of coherence is influenced by the experience that comes out of consistency and participation. Frankl (2006) proposed that whenever there was an opportunity, one has to give them a why - an aim - for their action, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. He said that who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on will soon lose. Like health being derived by identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about, and then immersively imagining that outcome, organisational health will be developed by positively feeling about its competitive advantage. Table 2 shows a comparison of salutogenic concepts to organisational strategy for sustainability of competitive advantage for the futuristic organisations.

Table 2 Salutogenic Metaphor in Sustainability Strategy


Sustainability Strategy

Resistance Resources

Building a competitive advantage


Focusing on a competitive advantage


Face Challenges and learn

Under load, over load

Balance negative and positive events


Understand, past, present and future


Use resource effectively


Develop worthy competitive advantages

Sense of coherence

Confidence to face situations


This paper presented a conceptual view of applying salutogeneis concept in building the sustainability of compettive advantage for the futuristic organisation using a metophrical lens. The relationship between the organisational health and performance was presented through review of literature. Then the salutogenesis concept was explained as a strategy for sustaining the performance. This study can be extended by operationlizing the salutogenesis in the context of strategy and empirically measuring it. Resilience is another concept borrowed from eco-system. In management, resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance, undergo change and still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks. Similar metaphorical study can be made to understand the use of concepts borrowed from other domins for building knowledge in management studies.