Success in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment requires a total alignment between the needs of each business function and the priorities of all team members. If you see signs of internal misalignment, such as too many meetings, overload of emails, or lack of engagement at any level, now is the time to take action before customers and employees both sense it and leave you.
As an entrepreneur advisor and startup investor, it always amazes me how obvious these alignment issues are from the outside, and how hard it is to make them visible inside and get them corrected. What every investor, and every customer, is looking for is a company where everyone is focused on the same objectives, the same values, and the same customer needs
I just saw some real insights on this challenge in a new book, “Total Alignment: Tools and Tactics for Streamlining Your Organization,” by Riaz and Linda Khadem. They bring over 25 years of experience in alignment strategy deployment for large and small organizations across Europe and North America. They summarize alignment as an embodiment of seven initiatives, as follows:
Define a unified focus and direction, shared by all.
You must have a clearly defined and communicated company purpose, with buy-in from everyone. The alternative is that people focus on their own agenda or other activities that will divert energy, cause confusion internally and externally, and impede the progress of your company.
Measure execution on a single strategy, rather than talk. According to business expert Paul Sharman, nine out of ten businesses fail to implement their strategic plan. Failed strategies erode your competitive position. You must provide your team with constant training and support on what good execution looks like, and a follow-up process.
Improve reporting structure support (vertical alignment).
All too often, employees pay lip service to their management, but execute their own agenda, due to lack of understanding or disagreements. The solution is people-focused managers, who practice empathy and coaching to check alignment, rather than looking backward only at results.
Enable cross-functional collaboration (horizontal alignment).
This type of collaboration prevents silos from developing in the organization, which often work against each other, and certainly take more time to make decisions. Top business leaders arrange their agendas and time, building and maintaining cross-functional relationships.
Give people the right skills to deliver (competency alignment).
Delegation doesn’t work if the people are not qualified to deliver. This starts with hiring the right people, matching roles to interests, and regular coaching and training to improve competency in the required skills. Update skill requirements as technology and the market changes.
Assure team alignment of values with company values. Misalignment of values quickly erodes the trust that your customers, suppliers, and employees have in the business, and culminates with the loss of all of the above. Alignment is improved through day-to-day team and individual reviews of values, behaviors, activities, and results.
Reward people for desired results (compensation alignment).
When people see that their hard work is not recognized or appreciated, their motivation decreases, and eventually the best move on, leaving you with a weaker and weaker team. Rewards must go beyond salary, to include personal positive feedback, and recognition in front of peers.
The biggest challenge for most companies is turning even a great vision into reality. If all your people and processes are not totally aligned, energies are wasted and things move too slowly to keep up with the market and competitors. So how can you tell if your perspective is aligned with others in the company?
I recommend that you meet individually with your manager, any direct reports that you may have, and key peers, to compare notes on your top five priorities. If you find a big mismatch, it’s time to dig deeper inside your own perspective to find the root cause, and focus on one of more of the initiatives outlined earlier, to minimize the disparity.
The future of your career, and your company, depends on it.