Have you every driven a car that had poor wheel alignment? As you drive the vehicle, it may wander from side-to-side or the steering wheel may suddenly pull to the left or right. In the end, you don’t feel like you are in control. The result can be poor fuel mileage, excessive tire wear and eventually expensive repairs. Getting your car in proper alignment ensures it drives “straight and true”.
When we extend this analogy to leadership, leaders have a responsibility to ensure proper alignment of their organizations. We all know the problems that can arise when an organization has poor alignment - it’s painful.
At Knightsbridge, we define "alignment" as the degree to which business units, departments and teams are able to work together efficiently to move the entire organization in lock step towards a common strategy and vision. When alignment is strong, everyone in the organization is moving in the same direction. Employees are clear on where the company is going and what they personally need to do to get there.
Many leaders believe that in order to drive alignment all they must do is make sure their teams are aligned. While this is important, it’s a narrow viewpoint. Leaders need to understand that alignment exists at four levels:
- Level 1 – Alignment to Customer Needs: The starting point for alignment begins with leaders understanding the needs and expectations of their customers. If this is weak or lacking, then everything you try to do as a leader won’t hit the mark.
- Level 2 – Alignment to Strategy: The second level of alignment is the extent to which leaders are clear on the strategic direction of their organizations. Leaders need to make sure they personally understand the strategy and how their day-to-day work contributes to it.
- Level 3 – Alignment Across the Organization: Leaders are also expected to have an enterprise-wide perspective. This is critical to ensure that leaders can work effectively together across organizational departments and business units. When this level of alignment is low, silos exist and getting anything done is really difficult.
- Level 4: Alignment Within Business Units: Finally, as I already mentioned leaders must build alignment within their own business unit, department or team. Leaders must make sure that those they lead have a clear understanding of company goals and priorities, and that in turn there is a high degree of accountability and coordination for the work that needs to get done.
So how do you stack up from an alignment standpoint? Here are some questions for you to consider:
- How much time to you spend meeting with external customers to understand their current and emerging needs?
- Do you understand and can you confidently share the strategy of your company?
- Do you actively build networks and relationships with other departments to ensure that collaboration exists across the organization?
- Do you have an aligned business unit or team where everyone is clear on what is expected and what they are expected to deliver?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then you have work to do to strengthen alignment. Pick one level and focus on getting it stronger, then move on to the next. In my next blog we will continue this discussion by exploring how leaders can drive engagement.