After several years of good but not great business performance, perhaps you decided that, this year, it was time for a change. So you drew a line in the sand, declaring that your organization was FINALLY going to achieve stellar business results. However, now, more than half way though the year, it looks as though, yet again, it’s not going to turn out that way. So, what's happened?
A closer look at the levers that really drive better organizational performance and improved business results reveals that, while a clear vision of where your organization is going, an actionable roadmap to get there, and a system of measurement that provides feedback on progress and identifies opportunities for change are all important for success, organizational alignment is the secret ingredient that is often missing for many businesses.
What is organizational alignment?
Organizational alignment relates to the degree to which the components of a company are arranged to optimally support the intent, objectives, and goals of the organization (i.e. the business strategy). The components of the organization that must be “aligned” include:
● The work being completed (i.e. key business projects and work processes);
● The goals, skills and capabilities, and the hearts, minds, and behaviors of BOTH the people doing the work AND organizational leaders; and
● The plans (e.g. learning and development/human capital plans), tools and technologies, and resources (including budget dollars) that support the work being completed.
Organizational alignment is both a process and an outcome. Building and ensuring organizational alignment requires focused action and is an ongoing activity. In addition, the outcome of these organizational alignment efforts - the degree of organizational alignment present - can be assessed in a company at any point in time.
Organizational alignment is BIG and covers a lot of ground - that is why I think many organizations struggle so much with it or just give up on it all together.
Why Organization Alignment is Critical for Business Success
Have you ever watched the rowing eights event at the Olympics? Now, think about the performance of the top teams – what do you see? Look closely and you'll see nine people (including the coxswain) working together in synchrony to achieve their primary goal of crossing the finish line first.
To achieve success, the rowers must stroke at the same pace with the blades of every oar pulling at the same depth in the water. They all know the overall game plan for success and they are ready to respond to the orders of the coxswain (who’s job it is to quarterback the execution of the race strategy and communicate the adjustments that keep the boat on course in changing wind and water conditions) as individuals AND as a cohesive unit. Each member of the team knows what their job is during the race and that they can rely on their coaching, training, boat, and equipment, and the skills, technique, and commitment of their teammates while the race is on.
With all this in place, teams power their boats on a straight course, translating 100% of their effort into the forward movement that moves them closer to their goal. However, when team alignment and cohesion is off, the boat strays off course, essentially wasting time, energy, and the resources that were invested in trying to achieve the goal of winning the race.
It’s very much the same for an organization. Without alignment, the best strategic plan will never be fully achieved because organizational alignment is the glue that makes strategy execution excellence happen. An aligned organization works together as a unit in a new way (i.e. more efficiently, effectively, and dynamically) on the right things that deliver the greatest business value. An aligned organization gets things done faster, with less effort, and with better results, and is more agile and responsive to changing business conditions.
Ultimately, a high level of organizational alignment is essential for achieving increasingly better business performance results now and in the future!
And THAT is why organizational alignment is so important for your business.
How You Can Build Organizational Alignment in Your Company
There’s no doubt about it - building organizational alignment is a big job. However, there are just six essential activities that contribute to the organizational alignment process and they must be completed on an ongoing basis as you work to build and raise the level of organizational alignment in your company.
(1) Define What Your Strategy is and What it Looks Like in Action
Organizational alignment is built on your business strategy so you must begin here. To be effective, your business strategy must clearly define your primary value proposition, your future results destination, and the values and behaviors that will guide your actions on the journey to business results achievement. While this content is important, it is also critical to describe the actions, in the form of strategic objectives, your company must focus on to get from the present to the future destination. A strategic plan that provides a specific but flexible roadmap for action serves as the guiding star for your organization and its alignment efforts moving forward.
(2) Communicate Your Strategy
Your organization/people can’t align with your business strategy if they don’t know what it is. Strategy communications are a critical, ongoing requirement in the drive to build organizational alignment. Communication must be frequent and two-way at all levels of the organization using multiple communication vehicles and a variety of targeted messages. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as over-communication or too much business leader involvement when you are striving to create an aligned organization.
(3) Cascade Your Strategy across the Organization
Results-producing action rarely happens at the corporate level of an organization alone – results are usually achieved through the combined contributions of business units, departments, and teams. As a result, it is important to cascade strategy vertically and horizontally across your company and define the local actions and contributions each area of your organization must make to achieve business success. By defining these unique contributions and clarifying the shared ones, your organization will become more integrated, efficient, and successful in executing your business strategy.
(4) Link All Work Activities with Your Strategy
No organization has the capacity, time, or resources to waste on work that does not support strategic objectives and business success. As a result, it is necessary to take an inventory of key business processes and projects and determine whether they link to and support the elements of your business strategy. Sometimes you will find that work only indirectly supports the completion of strategic objectives – work of this kind is worth continuing because a link with the strategy still exists. However, when non-strategic projects and processes are identified, business leaders must seize the opportunity to stop doing them and re-invest organizational work capacity into more strategic work. Making decisions about the strategic value of the work completed in your organization can make the difference between a more efficient, high performance organization and one that wastes effort unnecessarily.
(5) Link All Employees with Your Strategy
Work gets done in your organization by people – either through the processes they play a role in and/or the projects they work on. Once business processes and projects have been aligned with your business strategy, it’s an easy next step to link the people who do that work to the strategy through their daily process and project contributions. Alignment at the employee level begins by helping them see how their work links with the business strategy – this makes strategy more meaningful to everyone in your organization. Next, it is important to let employees know what they need to do in their work to contribute to the overall results. Do this by creating individual goal plans that have clear linkages with your business strategy and provide performance guidelines that will help them move the business forward. Finally, give employees the opportunity to generate and share their insights and ideas on local ideas for improvement that could have a big impact on your business strategy. All of this plays a critical role in solidifying organizational alignment at the employee level.
(6) Ensure that Necessary Financial and Non-Financial Resources are in Place to Support Your Strategy
Strategic plans usually involve doing something new and/or different. Why do companies expect to make the associated changes when they don’t put adequate resourcing behind the required efforts? New business strategies often require new employee skills and capabilities – this in turn often requires an investment in training, learning, and development. New directions may require new tools, equipment, and technologies and/or new roles and new people - all requiring budget support. Ensuring the alignment of your company’s budget development process, and the budget itself, with your business strategy is a fundamental but often forgotten component of building organizational alignment.
Organizational alignment can’t be achieved overnight but it doesn’t have to take a long time either. It just requires a solid plan and focused effort.
Chances are good that you have some of the required elements in place right now in your organization so your first step is to conduct an organizational alignment assessment. A good assessment tool will give you an idea of the current level of organizational alignment in your company AND pinpoint key gap areas and/or opportunities for improvement. With this insight in hand, you will then be able to create the targeted action plan you need to improve the level of organizational alignment in your business and get everyone mobbing in the same direction – producing extraordinary business performance results!
Is your organization aligned and ready to execute your business strategy? Are you sure? If you would like to be able to answer these important questions quickly and with confidence, click here to find out how.