Coach’s Challenge for 11-17-13 “Importance of Alignment”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about the importance of alignment in organizations.

I’ve been reading an excellent book, “The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead” by Julie Straw, Mark Scullard, Susie Kokkonen and Barry Davis. The book starts out by describing two scenarios:

“Scenario One: The CEO sends out an email announcing the company’s ambitious sales goals and then takes the afternoon off to go golfing. The employees are left with no clear process, no strategy and no delegation of responsibilities. Without direction or rationale, everyone is worried about making mistakes. There are whisper sessions along the rows of cubicles. When something goes wrong, the finger-pointing begins. Trust and morale are low, and this is reflected not only in their ability to execute but also in interactions with their customers.”

“Scenario Two: At the quarterly all-company meeting, the CEO stands before a simple map of the company’s strategy. ‘These are the three platforms that lead to our success,’ he says. ‘If your work isn’t related to or supporting one of these things, then please stop what you’re doing because you’re not working on the right stuff.’ Since clearly establishing this vision, the company has been aligned from the CFO who tracks the top line to the customer-facing people who work on the front lines. All are focused on what they need to do to execute the vision, and all are invested in the process. They openly collaborate, challenge one another and celebrate accomplishments as they reach milestones.”

Obviously, we know which scenario makes the most sense and will yield the best results. And yet, we’ve all seen many variations of Scenario One play out in our work environments. We see people working away, often having way too much to do without a strong sense of how their efforts are helping the company meet its goals. Often, the goals change frequently, and communication to employees may or may not relate to the strategic vision. It’s hard for people to connect what they’re doing every day to the company’s overall success unless someone connects the dots for them, and that’s a big part of what leaders’ jobs are all about.

Warren Bennis, author of numerous best-selling books about leadership said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” This is certainly a big part of a leader’s responsibility to insure an organization’s success. But, equally as important, is the ability for a leader to verify that the execution going on within the organization supports that vision.

Many of my clients who are managers complain to me that their people are working on the wrong things. “Why can’t they prioritize?” is the question they often ask.  Some people do have more difficulty making distinctions when analyzing what’s the most important thing to do. However, often the reason people can’t prioritize is not because they’re lacking in that skill, but because they don’t know enough about the company’s vision or goals to know what to prioritize. They have loads of stuff to do, and unless someone above them has made it really clear what’s most important, they will just keeping doing the stuff as it comes up.

Employee alignment is too often left out of the equation. I call it the glue securing that the vision (what leadership has envisioned or the end goal) and execution (what people are doing) come together in reality.

Straw and Davis’ book goes on to give leaders three areas that require the most focus when helping to achieve employee alignment:

•    Clarity
o    Explaining rationale
o    Structuring messages

•    Dialogue
o    Exchanging perspectives
o    Being receptive

•    Inspiration
o    Being expressive
o    Being encouraging

This week, ask yourself if you’re giving the right kind of information about the vision and strategy of your company so that your team members can align their duties.  When asking employees to prioritize, are you clear and do you offer concrete ways for them to support the vision? Also, how inspiring is your communication? Do you keep changing the goals, making it difficult for your team members to hit their targets?  And, are you receptive to their ideas about better ways to execute in order to meet the goals?

People can toil endlessly doing things that may not make your vision take shape.   Make sure you haven’t left out the glue that makes everything come together. Without alignment, your ship could go in a completely different direction than you wanted and your people will only get more and more tired as they row in the wrong direction.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

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