Remember the days when life was simple.  We had an idea and we could command our organisation to follow.  There was an automatic alignment of resources.

Why its hard to achieve alignment

The command and control organisation is harder to find now.  A long time ago Lewis Carroll said, “No good fish goes anywhere without a porpoise” and this light-hearted comment can easily be translated into how we work in our organisations today.  Too often leaders assume that people already know what direction they need to go, but in less mature organisations or ones where there has been significant change this is not true.  Everyone needs to be crystal clear about their purpose, otherwise chaos can ensue as assumptions are made about why the organisation exists and what an individual’s role is within that organisation. People drifting without a clear organisational direction is a natural behaviour – why would you move without one?

Larger organisations succeed because they are able to inspire their employees at all levels with a powerful vision and clear purpose that is cascaded into strategies and objectives that are owned by leaders throughout the organisation.  Top down direction is translated to bottom up deliverables through feedback loops and many different communication mechanisms.  This can work extremely well in many cases, but the dark side of this can be a culture of bureaucracy and red tape that arrives with a resultant lack of agility and innovation.  Balancing these opposing forces is only achieved by design, and it’s critical for long term success.

Why its important to be aligned

This is not just an issue for large business.  It is a critical issue as organisations grow.  There is an inflection point at which a business realizes that it has to build in some hierarchy and structure.  For example, there is a need to have managers who can cascade messages and engage employees. If there isn’t, entrepreneurs begin to spread themselves too thinly and have no time for the strategic work that becomes more necessary to sustain the business.  Often these entrepreneurial founders are resistant to taking a step to more structure, as they want to keep an agile culture and be in touch with their front-line employees, knowing that they can correct any misalignment and redirect the organisation quickly.

Alignment across organisational boundaries is also critical and even more difficult. Today partnerships are becoming a more important way of working as outsourcing, joint ventures and strategic alliances are much more common.  So, we need to create a better way of working that is not just about delivering to contractual requirements but sharing a common vision of success, a shared purpose and agreeing to work jointly towards common goals.

Whatever the kind of organisation you are involved with resources need to be focused on the end goal.  Misalignment (whether within organisations or across organisations) is the biggest cause of organisation failure – if you are spending time resolving issues due to people moving in different directions there is a waste of resources which cannot be afforded in any resource constrained organisation and today’s competitive environment.

Five steps to take

So, what can you do to create more alignment within your organisation and with key stakeholders?  There are five steps:

  1. Ensure all stakeholders understand and internalize why the organisation is heading in a specific direction. What is in the external environment that has created the opportunity?  What strengths does the organisation have that allows it to respond?
  2. Co create an inspiring vision with your key stakeholders (what)
  3. Identify the three to five strategic imperatives (priorities) that must be addressed to move towards the vision (how)
  4. Align stakeholders by agreeing roles, responsibilities (who) and timings (when) for all priority actions needed to achieve the vision
  5. Create mechanisms for monitoring, recognizing success and taking actions to ensure ongoing focus.

Although these steps seem simple they are not always easy to follow and often organisations fail as they find it difficult to prioritize, don’t align effectively and rarely have the culture that supports effective monitoring.  However, I have seen dramatic results when organisations do follow these steps.  When employees are working on the right priorities and are inspired both by their purpose as an individual, and can see alignment to bigger organisational purpose it results in organisations delivering their goals. Lewis Carroll would see many good fish following their “porpoise”.

To create more alignment – get in touch

If you would like to create more alignment in your organisation then please get in touch to discuss how you can achieve this.


Thanks to Kevin Canning for his thoughtful feedback