Alignment is that state where the key elements of a business are integrated and aligned to drive growth and profit.
One of our clients described to us his extraordinary turnaround story. His organization is a division of a major pharmaceutical company. At the time he took over, it was generating about $50 million in sales and approximately $20 million in losses. He was sent by corporate with a clear charter: Turn it around-or shut it down.
Three years later his division was generating $125 million in sales and making $20 million in profits. It was a great story. When he finished, he turned to us and said, “I want you to know I have learned one thing from you guys.” “Just one thing,” we joked?” “Yes”, he said with great seriousness, “alignment is everything!”
- Alignment gives managers at every level of the organization the ability to:
- Rapidly deploy a coherent business strategy.
- Become totally customer focused.
- Develop world-class people.
- Continuously improve business processes.
All at the same time!
Air Force pilots are taught that in violent weather, the secret of survival is to concentrate on attitude, altitude, and airspeed. The trick is to do so simultaneously because they are all connected to each other. For example, if the pilot allows the aircraft to become “nose up” (altitude), the plane loses airspeed and is in danger of falling out of the sky. That lesson applies to organizations in turbulence, as well.
The idea of focusing on several things at the same time requires the kind of systems thinking found in the work of authors such as Peter Senge. In systems thinking the relationship between parts becomes as important as the parts themselves. Similarly, the concept of alignment is based on how an organization deals with customers, strategy, people, and processes as well as the relationship between them.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when you are thinking about alignment:
Alignment gives you the power to get and stay competitive by bringing together previously unconnected parts of the organization into an interrelated, easily comprehensible model.
Alignment gives you the power to create an organizational culture shared purpose.
By integrating core business factors, market factors, overall direction, leadership, and culture, alignment gives your organization the power to achieve consistent, define levels of growth and peak performance.
Alignment can be thought of as both a noun and a verb–A state of being and a set of actions. Alignment as a noun refers to the integration of key systems and processes and responses to changes in the external environment. But no organization can stay in the state of alignment for long, since almost every business lives in an environment of constant change. We think the real power of alignment comes when it’s viewed as a set of actions—as a verb. These actions represent a new management competence; a necessary skill set that will enable managers to transpose strategic intent into tactical action by:
- Connecting their employee’s behavior to the mission of the company, turning intentions into actions.
- Linking teams and processes to the changing needs of customers.
- Shape business strategy with real time information from customers.
- Create a culture in which these elements all work together seamlessly.
How to achieve alignment is deceptively simple, but hard to implement. The steps are the “blocking and tackling” of organizational leadership. They include:
- Carefully crafting and articulating the essence of the business. We call it the Main Thing.
- Defining a few critical strategic goals and imperatives and deploying them throughout the organization.
- Tying performance measures and metrics to those goals.
- Linking those measures to a system of rewards and recognition.
- Personally reviewing the performance of people against those goals to ensure they are met.