Alignment in the organization can be considered within multiple aspects. You can think of alignment of goals to organization strategy, IT strategy to business one, mid-management to top-level management, project portfolio to strategic goals or simply communication on the level of the team realizing tasks together.
What is alignment? What happens if it disappears? How to create alignment within your organization, project, program or team? It’s worth scrutinizing the alignment as invisible magic in the organization as this is much more powerful than you can think.
Magic word – alignment
What does the word alignment actually mean? Would you define it as a common understanding? Maybe this is a set of actions that brings this understanding? You may tell as well, it is moving in the same direction or arranging things in a similar way.
Cambridge Dictionary explains that alignment is “an agreement between a group of countries, political parties, or people who want to work together because of shared interests or aims.”1
Why is alignment considered a key issue? In order to be more efficient in achieving mentioned shared interests or goals alignment is significant. As we all know, an organization, a project or any other unit within the enterprise will have those shared goals which are led by vision, mission and strategy but are brought to life by all the employees. Due to lack of alignment organization may even stop existing, projects may fail and teams may stop delivering agreed products. Marc Murphy in his Forbes article describes Leadership IQ’s new report, The State Of Leadership Development In 2020. The authors report surveyed for over 21,000 “employees to assess leaders’ effectiveness which shown disturbingly, rampant misalignment within employees in organizations”2 29% of employees say that their leader’s vision for the future always seems to be aligned with the organization’s which means that 71% is totally not aligned! This is exactly why the power of alignment cannot be underestimated.
How to unleash this invisible power?
Alignment is created definitely by proper communication but this is not all. Imagine that there is a certain strategy set by the top management of the organization. It is communicated as high level goals by internal formal communication – e-mails, internal web pages, information on the all-hands meeting, cascaded goals to the employees etc. The responsibilities for the goals achievement are set. Top management considers all is clear but they are not giving people any possibility to speak up. Creating very strong pressure they are trying to make sure that goals will be achieved. Complexities, different interpretations, actions in the different directions are creating contradictory activities for the employees. The company is failing for months to start realizing their goals. Maybe you can relate this organizational situation to your project or program? Have you experienced such problems before? What is missing to be successful in such a situation?
Comprehension is the key! In case, the top management is not letting their employees comprehend, what means, they don’t let people ask questions, check and really understand what the goals mean, what top management would like them to achieve, the fulfillment of the goals will be very inefficient. Why? People act in different directions with different understanding of the aims as well as within their own priorities. Even if they may understand the idea of the goal they may have different interpretations and do not fully get the strategic intention set. All employees are unique – thinking differently, having their filters to comprehend what was communicated and even more – have different ways of getting to the same points. This brings huge complexity and may also create incredible chaos in the organization.
Communication without comprehending is just a set of sentences and words and comprehension without communication is keeping things for yourself. Do you get what the intersection is? This is alignment.
Figure 1 shows very well how the efforts would look like inside the organization in case of lack of proper alignment.
You may have additional questions now – does it mean that all the employees realizing strategic goals will agree with them? Probably not as alignment is not fully the agreement itself but it still brings the ability to move into one direction.
To understand the concept of alignment better, take a look at Figure 2 where Brett Simpson from Elevate Simply is showing in a very depictive way where the power of alignment lies in the performance of employees that are realizing the goals of the organization, department or project.
How to make magic happen in practice?
The father of modern management – Peter Drucker – puts it in simple words how to make this magic happen – “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.”3
Key is communication that comes from leaders but also comprehending of what is communicated that shall come from employees. How could management make it happen? You as a leader need to listen to your employees, meaning not only have a microphone to communicate but also have headphones to hear questions, different ways of interpretation of what was cascaded. Then you can use your microphone to explain (in case you hear misalignment) or paraphrase (in case you hear lack of comprehension). This will be your magic that will make it easy to go in the same direction, empower and motivate employees, direct their efforts into goals set.
Additionally, give your employees the possibility to evolve with the ideas, do not try to make them go only the path you have in mind. No matter if your organization is a big enterprise, the department, team, project team or group of people in a startup you shall remember about mentioned points not to be lost in a darkness of misalignment.
Alex Larralde from Betterworks sums up few points which may help you to build efficient organizational alignment:4
- Identify common purpose – business strategy
- Set individual and team goals – align them with the strategy
- Foster ownership – employees’ accountability
- Encourage collaboration – between teams, projects, departments
- Implement right tools – give proper toolset to collaborate
The magic of alignment shall be implemented also in different levels in the organization to be more comprehensive:5
- employee – role – make sure proper persons are hired for certain roles
- employee – goal – employees goals shall be valid and relevant for organization as well as employee themselves, shall be understood and SMART
- employee – team – employee goals shall support team objectives as well as team mission which helps to be motivated to strive together to the goal
- employee – organization – leadership helping employees to see bigger picture, understand how they are contributing to the overall goal.
How strong is your magic ?
Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varose in their HBR article are pointing out that the strength of your organization is dependent on how strong are the links in the value chain. The components themselves may be super strong and can be set for success, though if you forget about the linkages between them your “value chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.6
How to understand it in the context of your project? You as a leader shall always remember about linkages between the project goal and strategy that it supports. You shall consider as well the capability that the project produces vs. how well it will be delivered by your team. Additionally, what is the linkage with how the management system can support performance of your valuable employees in the project to achieve its goal.
As you can see, the magic is simple and complex in its nature, bit tangible and intangible at once as well as can be utilized in different worlds and circumstances. The alignment is important on various levels and dimensions of the organization but it cannot be neglected. Only with proper alignment – communication and comprehension in your organizations, departments or projects, you can really efficiently achieve set goals. Do not underestimate the importance of it. For me, it is one of the most important bases of collaboration within any endeavors I do take. Think about it and reflect how it is in yours?
Delivery Director in an IT company leading a business unit delivering different types of projects for the success of the Clients. Certified Project Manager who is considering Project Management as a science and an art. Project Manager working in complex cross functional and international environments realizing projects such as innovation and transformation, HR with focus on improvements, system implementations, transitions, integrations/ splits (M&A), go-to-market etc. After work – traveler who is looking for undiscovered and surprising places in Europe as well as all over the world. Amateur of macro photography, who likes listening to good music and interesting audiobooks. Usually, looking for perfection in the world around.