Achieving organizational alignment is a strategic HR activity that can deliver significant benefits to an organization. Alignment is more than ideal state. It is imperative to ensure the organization is successful in getting all employees to move into the same direction, to achieve the vision of the organization.
Alignment is one of the power words in an organizational change consultant’s toolkit. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t use or refer to alignment.
Some years ago, I was a HR Director for a large manufacturing company and we had just completed a large acquisition, working through a strategic integration process, when I used the “alignment” word in my first integration workshop with the executive team. The MD reacted impolitely, and did not want to spend much time discussing alignment. Like many “consultants”, I decided to draw a picture of a triangle showing lack of alignment compared with perfect alignment on the whiteboard in the boardroom. However, he still felt there were more important business issues to discuss.
As result of the MD’s negative reaction, I decided to move onto other integration issues. First, one executive picked up on the issue of alignment, then another. It became very quickly obvious after a few hours, that the executive team needed to discuss and agree on how to achieve organizational alignment, as the company had two of everything – two cultures, two computer systems, two marketing strategies etc.
Creating organizational alignment is a process consisting of achieving alignment in two domains – alignment of values (how we work together) and alignment of goals (what we are trying to achieve).
Too often there is confusion and blurring of these concepts.
Staying with the graphic, goal alignment is clearly demarcating and defining the purpose (mission) and strategic goals of the organization. It is about framing the context, ensuring all employees clearly understand the strategic goals and initiatives within the organization.
This is dealing with the left-brain, and companies usually can get this right, with significant involvement and communication. In many ways, it is classical Management-by-Objectives, albeit with appropriate consultation and involvement of employees.
Alignment of Values
Values alignment is the process of understanding how we work together, and changing the way we understand and interpret the values of the organization. As a right-brain activity, we need to explore the emotions and non-rational processes that have an impact on our behavior and actions.
A great way of improving alignment is to identify firstly those things that we are doing right. If you can’t identify those, or only have a small number of items in this group, the challenge of alignment will be an almighty task.
Most companies tend to jump straight into the next group, which are those things we should stop doing, that are clearly inconsistent with the company’s agreed values. Usually, there is a high level of consistency in those things that are frustrating and holding the company back.
Lastly, there will be some things the company should be doing, but have not yet fully understood the need or sufficiently taken the time to understand the benefits. Usually, newcomers or outsiders are better at identifying and describing potential opportunities.
Executives need to spend more time identifying and analyzing the misalignments in the business. By identifying these obstacles, managers can start the process of dismantling the blockages that prevent staff from achieving alignment.
Some of these blockages are lack of commitment – lacklustre leadership; poor communication - often confusing or inconsistent; insufficient involvement and participation by affected staff - not being consulted and engaged; and inadequate recognition – not taking time to reinforce and celebrate the successes.
Rather than using a static model to describe alignment, I would like to share with you an example from nature. In this video, we can observe the true alignment of starlings on Ot Moor, close to Oxford, United Kingdom.
We see an inspiring and incredible display of thousands and thousands of starlets. It shows how birds become part of groups, then larger flocks, until they merge and become part of a cohesive collective, truly aligned and all moving in the right direction.
Now just imagine if all the employees in your organization can do this, day after day.