Many leaders underestimate the power of driving alignment and how it negatively or positively can shape a company’s culture. In order to inspire and unleash greater organizational performance, it’s important for leaders to consistently prioritize alignment. Being strategically aligned is important for all organizations, no matter how small or how large. From executives and leadership teams, cascaded down to all employees, everyone should be working in alignment, in the same direction, to move the vision forward. A lack of alignment creates confusion in messaging, decreases operational effectiveness and possibly the risk of wasting valuable resources and time.
In a rapidly changing environment, it is not good enough to assume everyone is aligned just because you have been communicating the vision and strategy for the past couple of months. When I sit in on and participate in senior leadership meetings for consulting clients, I have noticed that employees may nod their heads in agreement, and then do the exact opposite a week later. Effectively driving alignment requires an ongoing focus with intentionality and communication behind everything you do.
Below are some suggestions to help drive and improve alignment.
This sounds simple enough, but many employees do not clearly understand the overall goals and strategic imperatives of the organization they work for. As a leader, it’s crucial to educate all employees and teams about the strategic initiatives and key objectives of the organization, as well as their specific departments. If employees do not know or understand the direction of an organization, then there is no way alignment can be achieved.
After the organizational goals and objectives are shared throughout all of the different departments, there needs to be some communication behind why the organization is moving in that direction. Failing to explain the WHY can backfire in more ways than one, and true alignment comes not only from knowing what’s important, but also why it’s important.
After you’ve properly educated the organization about the company’s goals, then emphasize that they have a responsibility to do everything they can to excel within their sphere of influence. Alignment is enhanced when leaders can clearly demonstrate and communicate how each person can contribute to the broader organizational goals. This highlights the importance of purpose and makes every individual understand that their work matters.
The most influential leaders don’t just talk about goals and specific jobs. They frequently communicate how each person’s responsibilities contribute to whether the organization succeeds or falls short. Then they corroborate this with clear examples during team meetings. This will positively drive alignment when all leaders share examples of how each division and team member fits into the bigger picture of an organization’s success.
Leaders from all departments should cohesively work together to ensure that everyone is united in the game plan moving forward. For example, there might be a situation where a middle manager might think that implementing an initiative concerning work hours could be beneficial. A manager might tell his or her team members that they do not have to come into the office until 9:00 a.m. If another middle manager has told their department that they need to be there at 8:00 a.m., then there could be an issue if the senior manager decides to have a brief update meeting with both departments at 8:00 a.m. This may seem minuscule, but it’s usually the minuscule things that end up becoming big things. Exceptional teams are unified in standard operating procedures. They are aware of the small daily actions that accumulate over time that can either drive alignment and unification or create confusion and low productivity.
If one department is doing something that’s affecting another department in a negative way, then that’s not going to accelerate the overall performance of the organization. Promoting cross-department unification within the company is imperative for true organizational alignment.
Digging deeper into the organization and listening to those on the front lines should be a mandatory routine for all organizations. It is only when leaders become fanatical and listen−really listen−to employees regarding organizational headwinds, then act on their feedback, great things begin to take place. Employee morale is lifted and operational systems become more effective. These leaders are aware that if they don’t get out in the front lines with employees and listen to the challenges that prohibit them from doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, challenges will continue to grow and hinder alignment.
Excellent organizational alignment occurs when all teams are heard and when internal systems and processes are adjusted accordingly.
Recognition motivates. A defining moment for a lot of organizations is when leaders regularly recognize and publicly acknowledge employees for their outstanding work and accomplishments. Especially those who embody the values and go above and beyond to execute the mission of the organization. This isn’t to just make employees feel good about their hard work. That is certainly an added benefit, but when it comes to driving alignment, what you reward and acknowledge sends a message to everyone else about what matters most.
Recognition can be deeply motivating for everyone. Not only does the individual being rewarded feel good about themselves, but other employees will start to adjust their behavior to get acknowledged as well. And the message and expectation of what is required from everyone moving forward becomes clearer.
Driving alignment takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it should be the goal for every leadership team in all organizations. The benefits are endless.