by David Youland, Luminas Senior Consultant

Alignment (Noun)

    1. arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.
      “the tiles had slipped out of alignment”
      the act of aligning parts of a machine.
      “oil changes, lube jobs, and wheel alignments”
      the route or course of a road or railroad.
      “four railroads, all on different alignments”
    2. a position of agreement or alliance.
      “a state of agreement or cooperation among persons or groups with a common viewpoint”

The dictionary defines alignment several ways but all share a common perspective that elements are arranged in a similar direction. When performing routine maintenance, we have our vehicles wheels aligned at frequent intervals. Alignment within organizations is arguably even more important than maintaining our vehicle’s alignment yet typically isn’t done on an ongoing basis. When one section of a railroad track isn’t properly aligned, a train can derail with devastating results.  Similarly, when an organization isn’t aligned at all levels on how it delivers customer value, the results can be equally damaging. If just one individual in an organization, especially someone on the front-line, doesn’t understand or can’t communicate your differential value proposition, the positive momentum of the business is at risk. Conversely, when you achieve organizational alignment, all employees from those on the front-line to the executive leadership team can effectively act on and deliver meaningful differential customer value which will, in turn, drive organic growth.

The Role of Leadership in Alignment

Organizations need to be aligned with understanding how they create value for their customers and making sure this is communicated, understood and can be articulated by everyone in the organization. This is a critical leadership role. As a starting point, all members of the leadership team must be in agreement on how the organization delivers differential customer value. An aligned leadership team can also more easily get back on track during periods of dysfunction. Misalignment can result in chaos and confusion and employees can end up working at cross-purposes leading to frustration throughout the organization.

After the leadership team is aligned and is in agreement on how differential customer value is created, then this must be clearly and simply communicated throughout the organization. Just articulating your differential value proposition throughout the organization isn’t enough. Studies suggest that although 65% of organizations have an agreed-upon strategy, only 14% of employees understand it, and less than 10% of all organizations successfully execute it1.

As succinctly articulated by George Bernard Shaw, “the greatest illusion in communication is the belief that it is taking place.” Or its corollary as sarcastically stated by Dr. Irwin Gross, Director Emeritus at Penn State’s Institute for Study of Business Markets, “It is nearly impossible to communicate anything to anyone at any time”.

It is common for senior leaders to believe that they have clearly communicated their vision and the importance of customer differential value, only to later discover that these aren’t understood at all organization levels. As goals cascade downward, they can be miscommunicated or ignored altogether. Messages do not age well and often mutate as they cascade downward. Isotherms in meteorology refer to lines on a map of the earth’s surface having the same temperature at a given time. Temperature variations can be extreme between different isotherms. Likewise, there can be organizational lines where beliefs about customer differential value are very different, despite top-down communications to the contrary.  To compound matters, larger matrixed organizations can easily fall victim to lack of clarity and inaction. Entropy measures the degree of a physical system of disorder, and weakly managed organizations tend to become less focused over time. keep in mind, this doesn’t happen overnight; instead it’s like an insidious disease that slowly erodes an organization from within. Surfacing misalignments and miscommunications won’t magically make them go away. It is critical to make sure that leadership discovers why they exist, and then takes action to resolve.

Sometimes misalignment occurs because the information is too complicated to be understood by everyone. When articulating differential customer value throughout the enterprise, leaders should take on the minimum amount of complexity needed. A.G. Lafley is the former chairman of the board of Procter and Gamble, and under his leadership revenue doubled and profits quadrupled. He reflects, “one of the biggest lessons that I learned at P&G was the power of simplicity and clarity. I found that clearer, simpler strategies have the best chance of winning because they can be understood and internalized throughout the organization”2.

It is leadership’s job to ensure that an understanding of the importance of articulating customer differential value proposition cascades throughout the organization. It is imperative that this needs to be clearly communicated to each team, manager and individual in a relevant and measurable way. Each level’s cascading goals need to be tied back to the organizational goal so there is no question if it was achieved.

The Benefit of Organizational Alignment

When people are aligned on how the organization creates differential customer value, things can get done a whole lot faster and a whole lot easier. Team alignment creates numerous benefits including improved productivity, higher motivation, increased efficiency to achieve goals and the ability to adapt to market-place changes.

Luminas has worked across a variety of industries and has achieved impressive results in defining organizations’ differential customer value proposition and organizational alignment. The result?  Accelerated organic growth.

Ready to get aligned, so you can accelerate? Let’s talk.

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1Myler, Strategy 101: It’s all about Alignment, Forbes, 10.16.12
2Lafley AG and Martin R, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, Cambridge Mass, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013