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Leveraging Alignment for Success

Have you ever driven a car that’s out of alignment? When your car's wheels aren't properly aligned it can cause your tires to wear very quickly or unevenly. You may even notice that your steering wheel may pull to one direction or another. This can potentially be very dangerous if you're driving in the rain and the vehicle hydroplanes. It’s tough to make smooth progress. That’s what happens when your key players are not all on the same page. When your business “vehicle” has its wheels out of alignment, it’s tough to enjoy the ride.Any team will have disagreements, but as the leader you have to make sure that the team is aligned, and when the decision is made, the team is behind it and they move forward in agreement to make it happen. Making sure your compensation systems are lined up to reward the desired behavior is critical. Once you align your team’s incentives to those of the company, magic starts to happen. In fact, Jim Collins says that creating alignment could be your most important task as a leader. Alignment is a leadership process for achieving peak performance.Many organizations are dysfunctional, but not for the reasons you might suspect. It’s not that their people are incompetent, uncaring, or lazy. It’s because the players on the team are not aligned. They are working at cross-purposes, unclear about what they should do. As a result, they work hard for a while, then become discouraged or cynical. They go through the motions and put in their time. Most of the work is done by a few over-extended people. Other organizations may not be quite that bad, but they never come close to achieving "flow,” or “being in the zone.” In the zone is where extraordinary results are achieved by people working together, reinforcing one another, innovating, executing, and feeling great satisfaction.If your organization is going to be healthy and achieve those break-through results, you first need to build a team that functions well together. The team must align around certain pillars and agree on the answers to these critical questions:Why do we exist?How do we behave?What do we do?How will we succeed?What's most important right now?Who does what?When the answers to those questions are communicated again and again until the entire organization knows the answers and believes in them, you can build structures that reinforce your values and goals. According to Triple Crown Leadership, this alignment . . .

  • Clarifies the elements for success

  • Focuses people, eliminating unessential priorities

  • Connects people collaboratively

  • Links departments of the organization

  • Provides continual feedback for mid-course corrections

  • Builds buy-in and commitment

  • Fosters teamwork

  • Creates a culture of discipline

  • Clarifies critical action steps

  • Unleashes talent in multiple leaders

  • Creates transformational leaps through high-performance teams

Focusing on organizational health takes discipline. The journey is not easy. Leadership teams are constantly pulled in numerous, oftentimes conflicting directions. It is crucial that they are aligned in order for the entire organization to remain focused, competitive, and agile. If leaders at every level are not on the same page, the organization and production become very shaky.On the other hand, there are many practical benefits of achieving organizational alignment. AlignOrgSoutions is a consulting firm that specializes in getting the vehicle aligned. They have worked with many organizations, employers, and employees, and they say the benefits include . . .

Increased speed in decision making. Indecision can cripple productivity, cause missed deadlines, and create ripple effects across an organization. Organizational alignment provides greater clarity around who holds the decision rights in the organization for each work activity. Aligned organizations result in quicker decisions and reduced time to execution. Organizational alignment also allows employees to focus on performing work rather than on figuring out who is supposed to do what and who needs to be consulted when making decisions.

Better employee engagement. Most employees want to enjoy their job, feel that their work is meaningful, and see that they are making a difference. An aligned organization connects and communicates an employee’s work to the organization’s strategy. When employees understand how their individual work links to company strategy, they are more satisfied with their work and become more effective.

Less wasted resources. An aligned organization clearly differentiates between activities that promote growth and those that play more of a supporting role. This clear delineation ensures that the company focuses their limited resources on the right activities to promote growth and that they align functional and business priorities. Among many things, this helps companies do more with less, creating a reduction in cost while simultaneously increasing performance.

Improved self-governance. One of the natural consequences of a well-aligned organization is that employees have a clear vision of their work, priorities, and especially their decisions. As a result of less ambiguity surrounding their responsibilities, instead of waiting to be told what to do or asking permission, employees have the confidence to make decisions on their own and control the issues within the scope of their role.

Less customer confusion. Customers and external stakeholders want consistent achievement of expectations and deliverables. A truly aligned organization creates mechanisms that ensure that processes consistently deliver what is expected. In this way, the organization absorbs the complexities required to deliver seamless products and services to customers and can do so every time.

Increased leadership credibility and respect. At the end of the day, actions and consistent delivery speak much louder than words or a perfect organizational structure. As chief alignment officers, leaders who can regularly deliver on promises and expectations have the respect of employees. Alignment improves efficiency, delivery, and effectiveness and inherently improves employees’ respect for leaders as well.

Greater resource visibility. In an unaligned organization, resources are often hidden in shadow organizations. In a well-aligned organization, however, every function delivers to a common strategy and there is less need or incentive to sandbag resources and head count or to create shadow organizations to meet an unfulfilled need. Thus, the organization knows what resources exist and can redeploy duplicate resources to strategic challenges. In the end, the organization has less waste, less unnecessary duplication, and more resources to improve the company performance and productivity.

Optimize talents and skills. When work is understood, roles are defined, and other organizing choices are aligned to strategy, it is easier to see what talent is needed, where talent exists within the company, and how to deploy key individuals to maximize their skills. While the organization gets what and who it needs, employees also benefit as they fully utilize their talents and have a clear career path. The result is a better organization, higher satisfaction, and improved productivity for employees.

Safe risk-taking. Although an oxymoron, a safe risk is essentially one that has known or anticipated outcomes despite the potential risk. In aligned organizations, you can better anticipate the outcomes of changes or risks whereas in unaligned organizations a set of choices in one part of the organization often produces unexpected results overall. Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting. When leaders understand what their choices are designed to do, they can also anticipate what they won’t do. Thus, an aligned organization can lead to safe risk-taking.

A dynamic culture. The culture of an organization feeds off the choices made and the overall successes or failures of an organization. If the choices and energy are positive, focused, accountable, and winning, then the culture will quietly convey, disseminate, and reflect that message throughout the company. Positive cultures do not happen in isolation, and good choices help create good culture.Think about it. Who doesn’t need alignment? The wise leader will put prioritized effort into making alignment key at his or her organization.

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