- …. strategic alignment for business sustainability and profit
It is fascinating the several lessons nature teaches mankind especially from plants and animals. A good music is characterized by the composition and a balance of different instruments that bring harmony and effectual melodious sound. The saying that when the basis for a group’s actions is inner alignment with the present moment and their actions becoming empowered by the intelligence of life equally resonates well with how leadership alignments could change the face of teams, organisations and their expectations.
Equally important to mention are the increased competitive advantage, revenue, profits and reduced costs being the resultant effect of an effective strategic leadership alignment of goals, mission, vision and human capital deployment. Interestingly, strategic alignment of business actions has always remained so crucial for the sustainability and profitability of every enterprise or organisation and it is considered as the cornerstone for a valuable raise of revenue for any organisation utilizing its human capital force for competitive advantage.
Besides, alignment issues in performance management, leadership behaviours and conflicting values systems conspire against predictability and improved profitability. It is imperative for all teams and organisations therefore seeking to build business resilience, profitability and a culture of predictability to focus on maintaining effective leadership alignment to guarantee the required success.
The topical issue of strategic and leadership alignment and the Geese experience and the lessons any team or organisation could draw from this article holds key. Therefore, this series would attempt to address the relative impacts of the leadership alignment for business sustainability and profit. Let’s talk Leadership alignment and the Geese experience.
The Geese Experience:
The geese are interesting characters with full of leadership lessons. They fly in unison and in a particular formation. As long as they stay together, they work in harmony and in alignment of purpose. Their habitual behaviour brings total bonding and commitment to the course of duty and an obligation to be there for one another. Even if a goose falls sick, the others stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. The saying that if we have much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong is a great lesson to fathom if teams and organizations want to see greater impacts and results. Leadership alignment is constantly evolving and the move to distribute teams is just one in a succession of challenges that committed leaders must overcome. So, we learn that the;
Geese are purpose driven
The purpose for the team is more than just what the goal is. It includes the culture of the group and the group dynamics. However, the leader must ensure that, team members be a guide to new members in learning the mission, culture and goal of the group. Encouraging the team to share experiences and learnings that they have come across in their work and encourage new members to learn from their comrades are key. An interesting fact about the geese is that, their goals remain the same and as the goslings grow, they also learn to maintain the purpose or goal year after year.
Geese work as a team
The commonality of geese experience is that, they fly together in achieving their expectation. The commitment by the geese in formation as they fly for the attainment of their goals makes them work together in efficiency, effectively and successfully. In this team dynamics they ensure each one’s effort is complimentary to each other. They have understood that, by working together on the strength of their team members it’s easier to attain their goals much better.
Geese Lead in turns
This nature of the geese ensures that leadership is rotated to avoid fatigue. This exercise ensures the skills, talents, knowledge and experience are used and no single person takes all the hard work. In an effective team, it is everyone’s responsibility to function as both leader and supporter.
Geese encourage Progress
Communication and encouragement are great skills which are often used by the geese to promote work progress. This highlights the importance of communication and feedback in teams in maintaining team progression and synergy. By communication, those that lead the geese formation are cheered on by the supporting team to speed and keep flying to their goal. One great lesson by the geese is to maintain progress for the team through the encouragement and support for regular communication and feedback. Having said that, let’s now look at what leadership or organizational alignment is.
What is leadership alignment?
Leadership alignment defines a group of people who understand a set of shared objectives and agree on what they and their teams need to do to reach them. No business leader truly acts alone. And one of many lessons learned from COVID-19 is that the stronger the group around that leader, the easier the organization will find navigating change and disruption. That is because aligned leaders work together to find ways of operating through periods of uncertainty.
Uniquely, an aligned leadership debates well, proactively supports each other, it focuses on what is most important and is committed to learning and improving. On the other hand, when an organization is aligned, there is a shared understanding of purpose and of the strategies and tactics that will make the organization successful.
Organisation alignment energizes the organization and enables people to work together to achieve success. Aligned organizations grow faster, are more profitable and perform better on indicators including customer retention, customer satisfaction, and leadership effectiveness and employee engagement than unaligned organizations.
The discussion of organisational or leadership alignment that best serves the company vision or mission happens around a business strategy and how to execute it. This becomes a competitive differentiator when leaders align around a shared vision to drive faster and more effective innovation. Notably, leadership alignment will differ by organization culture, but the results normally are similar. Arguably, organizations with stronger leadership alignment report higher growth, performance and profitability plus they strengthen the ability of their organization to weather unexpected disruptions. By research it is an indication that, the impact of alignment across a group of leaders versus that of an individual leader suggests that, it is not the effectiveness of a leader in isolation that affects organizational performance but an aligned team.
Strategic Business alignment:
Are your organization’s ideal target customers clearly defined? Are your offerings unmistakably differentiated for the competition? How does the team or organisation define success and failure? An effective business strategy provides clear direction, intense focus, meaningful purpose and compelling inspiration for the organization and its stakeholders to rally support for, for the achievement of great results. Effective strategies define where to play and outline the critical few collective actions.
Strategy alignment speaks to the alignment of all elements of the business including the marketing strategy and the way the company itself is organized and are arranged in such a way as to best support the fulfilment of its long-term purpose. Admittedly, alignment does not come easy even for small businesses and the alignment of all of the departments, processes and people. The exercise for leadership alignment has always represented challenges. But alignment is critical to ensure that all parts of the organization are working together effectively to create a common goal.
Some simple practices can help to ensure business alignment maintains focus on the mission, vision and values and having a plan for monitoring and measuring performance. The business strategies in this case ensure the alignment of leaders across hierarchical levels that is associated with the successful implementation of the strategic change and performance.
The Cost of misalignment in organizations:
The bane for organisational alignment is the misunderstanding of the strategies, the core purpose and direction by the cross section of the organization’s stakeholders and leadership. When strategy, culture and talent are misaligned, organisations underperform. Research indicates that, misaligned companies generate half the return on invested capital. It is also proven that, the alignment of strategy, culture, and talent creates organisational growth.
However, how specifically teams and organizations grow quickly and profitably would have to be defined by the organisation’s strategic alignment vision. Secondly, the likelihood of having the organizations financial performance increased when the executive team is working together toward a common vision significantly cannot be overemphasized.
There are other interesting findings purporting to suggest support for organizational alignment as a great differentiator for assessing the strategy difference between high and low growth companies. The question now is, what if the organization fails to utilize the benefit and power of alignment?
Tools that can help with Leadership Alignment:
Leadership alignment is a journey rather than a destination. It takes ongoing effort to keep everyone on the same page and agree about what is happening and coming next. Technology and the use of other tools can play key role to streamline or automate elements of alignment. This eventually suggests keeping everyone in the loop whiles giving leadership the time and headspace to focus on the soft skills required to support their teams and drive business outcomes. Alignment is not just about ensuring your team is kept in the loop and on track against business objectives. Strategic alignment is fundamental to long term growth and success as well. Therefore, to address a successful alignment, the following factors are significant and crucial to the organization:
Address the question of WHY
The first step of leadership alignment is agreeing on what you do as an organization and why you do it. Take time to ensure that executives share common definitions and assumptions about the business. This obviously may require that leadership have a deep dive or brainstorm session where the outcome is to agree on the organizations vision, mission and values. Once agreed, it is important to ensure that the ship stays on course.
Communicate regularly and effectively
Once the team is aligned on the why, it is important to communicate it effectively across the organisation. Regular communication is critical and authenticity should not be understated. Alignment is the bridge between strategy and execution, and communication is the mechanism by which alignment takes place. Communicate about the strategy, changes and their potential impact on the elements of the organization. Engage employees in a discussion of their responsibilities, critical tasks, and priorities. When there are changes, engage employees in a dialogue. You cannot over-communicate in these situations.
Focusing on Bouncing Back Stronger
Leadership sometimes suffers due to misalignment of the team. This often results from miscommunication or disagreement and the consequences of not having the systems and culture in place to truly hear and overcome misalignment. Looking ahead, leadership alignment faces new and intensifying challenges. While it’s a fundamentally human concept, how a group of people work effectively together, how they disagree productively and how they build stronger outcomes as a result, the reality of a distributed workforce is that, leadership alignment needs a rethink and an update of structures and support systems to aid this effort.
Sharpen the organization’s capability to listen, observe, learn, and act
Seek input and recommendations from everyone in terms of what they see with customers, processes, and inefficiencies. Think of this as the equivalent for what professional teams do when it comes to watching other teams far from their own. They observe, chart a course of action and execute it.
Look up and out as well as down
A strategic perspective is critical to improving performance and impacting profitability. Encourage people to think “how” and “why” as well as “what” when it comes to performance. By staying away from the pitfalls and focusing on these recommendations, an organisation can increase its alignment and therefore its performance and ultimately its profitability. Silo mentality or island culture is of all times very inimical to team alignment.
WHY STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT IS ESSENTIAL TO EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE AND PROFITABILITY
Take the best workers in any field. What do they do that makes them so successful? They understand what it takes to execute effectively, and then they do it. When a product is delivered on time, service well executed with less or no defects, people praise performance. The reality is that effective execution is anything but easy. Behind the scenes is a means for delivering results that is both dynamic and pragmatic. Therefore, let’s consider the strategic role of alignment to effective team or organisational performance and profitability.
Alignment: The Bridge between Strategy and Execution
The key to profitable performance is largely dependent on the extent of certain key business elements of alignment. The leadership responsibility for developing and deploying the strategy and monitoring results is key. The organization and the structure, processes, and operations by which the strategy is deployed and the job-related roles and responsibilities are considerable factors. The people, which is the experience, skills, and competencies needed to execute the strategy seem vital.
Organisational Alignment Creates Growth
Different perspectives have been opined to illustrate the suggestion that organizational growth could emanate from strategic alignment. We have on one hand the Adaptability, Culture and on the hand Talent Perspectives as contributing factors for ensuring growth through alignment. It is believed that, the job of leaders is to create organizational alignment and growth in profit for organizations. While most businesses strive for profitable growth, aligning all the critical factors to achieve consistent and highly profitable growth is not easy. But organizational alignment is worth it. Let’s consider these critical underpinning factors for organizational alignments:
This perspective speaks to how organizational alignment creates growth through an existing culture that best supports the agenda for growth. The culture of the organization must be defined to encompass how things truly must get done in the organization. It must be measured by understanding the way the people think, behave and work. Organisational cultures exist by design or by default. And, regardless of their origin, some strong cultures help organisations perform and some strong cultures hurt performance.
One thing is certain for leadership, if the understanding to shape and align the culture and strategy fails, it is almost certain that the organization will not perform at its peak. Culturally, the factors that account for the difference between high and low growth companies are not far-fetched. For example, if innovative and cutting-edge offerings will be crucial to the organization’s strategic growth plans, leadership needs to encourage a climate where open communication, creative thinking and collaborative teams thrive. When it comes to workplace culture, it is not about right and wrong. It is all about ensuring that the way work gets done is aligned with where the company is headed.
What is essential for success in the high-performance organization is an understanding of the interdependencies and the ability to adapt quickly and strategically to change. When these elements are in sync, the likelihood for outstanding performance is increased. A hallmark of an organization that aligns well is the ability to adapt and realign when there is a change. For example, a new technology introduction could change a business process. A change in the process could change job responsibilities and skill requirements. Therefore, the leadership must realign the organization not only at a process level, but at both job, people and skill levels as well.
Take the economic downturn in the COVID-19 era for instance. Some organizations have slowed down, choosing to cut all nonessential spending as a way to at least maintain a current profitability.
Others however, have used this time to re-evaluate the way in which they do business to increase their overall efficiencies, and improve both performance and profitability. Take, for example, the banking sector clean up exercise and the impact of Covid-19 and the new culture of work from home, rather than slashing their professional staff with the loss of revenue, leadership engaged the workforce in lean initiatives to reduce waste, customer-focused activities to improve the relationships, and new business opportunities to increase their visibility.
These initiatives when coupled have potential impact on both top and bottom-line results. In essence, several organisations under this Covid-19 dispensation have aligned their strategic business elements to the economic situation.
Once leadership has aligned its culture with the business strategy, the next thing is to find the top talent that will get the organization where it wants to go. To set the talents up to succeed, leadership must ensure they have place to help them thrive. Talent is defined as the workforce that leaders must build and manage to get work done ideally in a way that creates a unique advantage that their competitors cannot replicate. How an organization attract, develop, engage, and retain its workforce is very fundamental to the growth and sustainability of that organisation.
One good indicator of success for organizations is observing that people who are a good strategic and cultural fit are most likely within its strategy. All these critical success factors for the organization remaining Strategy execution, Culture orientation and Talent deployment need to be properly aligned.
If even one of these three organizational pillars is misaligned, the organisation’s health and performance is at risk. The strategy must be clear, believable, and implementable. The culture must be understood, consistent, and aligned with the strategy. And leadership must be able to attract, develop, engage and retain talent that thrives within the culture to execute the strategy.
Managing the Pitfalls in Performance Alignment:
When the spotlight is on improving performance, too many managers move in to ask how? Perhaps these managers’ hearts are in the right place. They want to make sure that things are done correctly. This is a great way to encourage people to withhold effort or take the slightest risk to solve problems or improve performance on their own and build resentment among the staff, particularly the best and brightest who will flee when they find another opportunity.
Undefined roles and responsibilities.
The lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities are often a major obstacle to profitable performance. This is particularly true when there are major organizational changes. Many organisations, however fall victim to some common performance alignment pitfalls, particularly in periods of high stress or rapid change. Developing the strategy and failing to ensure its execution or implementation has always accounted for why performance achievement becomes an illusion for many teams and organizations. There is too often a tendency to think that once the strategy is developed the only requirement for implementation is one off communication. Implementation is the real work; the continuous alignment and monitoring is key business elements of:
That is performance at an individual level must be based on executing a series of critical tasks. However, without the bigger picture, a more strategic perspective, it is difficult if not impossible, to understand how what leadership does to impacts other elements in the system. A heads-down perspective also limits the extent to which an individual will offer to improve a process since there is little appreciation beyond just doing my job. The intention however is, to focus on the agenda.
It is easy to blame people for poor execution. After all, they are the ones doing the work. Sometimes there are clear situations in which an individual is not a fit for the job or in which individuals need more training and development to be effective. However, what about situations when you have dedicated, hardworking people working with inefficient, bloated, or cumbersome processes? This is a process problem, not a people problem. Or, what is the root cause when three individuals are responsible for the same task for instance because it is not clear who is responsible for what? This is a job definition issue, not a people issue. This situation can have negative impact on alignment process.
Perpetuating the silo perspective.
Sometimes, leadership teams at both functional and business levels tend to represent their own interests as opposed to those of the larger organization. In high performance organizations, the role of the leadership team is clearly defined along with clear accountabilities for overall execution and profitability, not just each person’s piece. As in business, how the organization grows and maintain profitability require game planning and deliberate alignment.
Key Driving lessons for alignment:
It is always important for leadership to define what winning looks like. Great business and leaders always envision and give their team a look for what winning looks like which becomes a critical part of achieving success.
As Henry Ford said “whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right”. Getting things aligned right often involves proactive management of all customer interactions and mitigating or eliminating ‘bad interactions’, controlling the ‘bad complexity’ often infused in growth, which drives operating costs to rise faster than revenue.
Better understanding customer expectations and managing through alignment of marketing, sales, customer service, operations support, and transactions ultimately is key. Accordingly, taking steps back to check for and fix misalignment in other areas apart from these can be a strategic way to unlock value for management teams. The question is, what does it take to create and sustain profitable revenue growth and organizational resilience and sustenance? The answer lies in the alignment of strategy, culture and talent for these efforts:
Ensure accountability, responsibility and informed on all initiatives
The best practice for leadership and organizations is to have someone own an outcome and ultimately be accountable. Others assisting in the effort should be responsible for helping drive the outcome. There should be other members who must share information on progress with one another. These should be defined, agreed upon and communicated to the rest of the organisation. To ensure alignment, it’s important to be specific about goals and objectives and to share them with everyone in your organisation.
Especially in the goose experience, when the lead goose is worn out, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to take position. It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents and resources.
Unity of purpose and focus
It is said that, as each goose flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in V-formation, the whole flock adds some great energy to the flying range than if each bird flew alone. People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are travelling on the thrust of another. When there is courage and encouragement, progress is greater. A timely word of encouragement always motivates, helps, strengthens and produces the best of teams.
Agreeing on shared vision and the results that need to be achieved is imperative. Nothing guarantees mission failure more than a lack of alignment in senior leadership team. No responsible leadership wants to be misaligned but it happens all the time anyway and can be very damaging to the success of an organization.
Leadership of team’s experience must enforce cultural beliefs and those beliefs must lead team members to proactively take decisive actions to achieve specific results. Again, when leadership of teams is truly aligned on the organization’s vision, it focuses on its objectives, the needful and vision whiles it empowers its leaders at all levels to make decisions based on supporting the ultimate vision.
Lastly, employees who usually would not care about profits and revenue fluctuations in top line revenue need to be made to feel connected to something bigger. They need to know that their work matters and is having a positive impact on the team and the organisation in general.
In summary, I would emphasize that individuals, teams and organisations must be like the geese, whose advice is to work as a team, request help when needed and to offer help when necessary.
Discovery…. Thinking solutions, shaping visions.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The writer Executive Director and the Lead Coach in Leadership Development and best Business Management practices for Discovery Leadership Masterclass.
Dr. Genevieve Pearl Duncan Obuobi (Banker/SME Consultant and Leadership Strategist)