Align to Perform

Posted 11 May 2017.

​By Matthew Savage, Acumen Republic

​Does the following scenario ring a bell? The leadership team meets, makes a decision and months later everyone wonders what, if anything, has happened? How confident are you that those throughout your business who are responsible for implementation are working to common objectives and goals?

We are in the era of ‘business transformation’. Driven largely by the technology revolution, many of our clients are re-examining their businesses’ goals and objectives: their market positioning, internal and external communications and in some cases, their entire organisational structure. A key part of the discussions we are having with our clients, as they manage their transformations, is about the importance of ‘alignment’.

Our modern, connected, multi-location, decentralised and outsourced, businesses present significant challenges at the best of times. Controlling these complex levers in pursuit of success is no mean feat. Throw in the highly competitive and fickle environments most businesses operate in, and getting all employees heading in the same direction is vital.

Alignment is a key driver of future success. With so many businesses moving away from their traditional paths, alignment is about getting everyone throughout the organisation focusing on the same goals and objectives – from the shop floor to the executive leadership team.

When an organisation is aligned, all its parts mesh and move together as one. All employees have clarity of purpose, understand and can articulate the business’ goals and objectives.

A view of alignment that particularly resonates with me is US-based management consultant Howard Guttman’s. As he succinctly puts it: ‘an aligned organisation has a straight line of sight that goes from its strategy to its customers’. All available resources at all levels within the organisation are then brought to bear on that line of sight resulting in a ‘highly performing organisation that is fiercely competitive’.

There are additional benefits to alignment too. As change can be unsettling, having clarity and understanding through alignment goes a long way to removing anxiety and gaining buy-in from employees. Alignment is also an enabler of decisive leadership and agility, lifting the confidence of senior decision makers to make faster decisions and take advantage of opportunities as they present.

There are five key areas within a business that need to be addressed and synced to achieve alignment. We always start with the leadership team, ensuring they agree on the strategy – the fundamental future goals and objectives of the
business and are committed to organisational-wide alignment. From there we move through the organisation, aligning each area in turn by asking and responding to the following questions:

Deliverable alignment – is the work that the employees are engaged in on a day-to-day basis supportive of the strategic goals and objectives?

Responsibility alignment – are all the roles and responsibilities clear and focused on the deliverables and strategy?

Decision making alignment – is it clearly understood and explicitly endorsed how difficult decisions are made and who makes them?

Relationship alignment – are the interpersonal relationships within teams who are working on the areas of strategy, deliverables, responsibilities and decision making protocols conducive to success? Active mining of conflicts may be required to get this area aligned so while potentially uncomfortable to address, relationship alignment is crucial to overall success.

On the flip side, I have experienced first-hand how precious and scarce financial, capital, intellectual and human resources can quickly get diverted from the desired ‘line of sight’. When this happens, it can feel like being caught in a never ending closed loop of internal problems and issues. Competitiveness is stifled, performance wanes, decision making stops and people inside the organisation take on a bunker mentality, protecting their patch and seeing everyone but themselves as the cause of the problems.

So, if you’re wondering what, if anything, has happened since your last leadership team meeting or your answer to my initial question was ‘not very’, then maybe it’s time to align.