Making the Business Case for Organizational Alignment
The following is adapted from The Art of Alignment A Practical Guide to Inclusive Leadership.
Last winter, on my way to Denver, I hit a pothole and knocked my wheels out of alignment. Suddenly, I had to drive the car with a tight grip on the steering wheel to keep from veering around like a drunk driver. Rather than get it taken care of right away, I just kept driving with my wheels out of alignment. Not only were my tires wearing unevenly, I stupidly ran the risk of a blowout. By the time I made it to the auto shop, I needed two new tires.
With my new wheels aligned, I was blown away. I could just cruise down the highway with one finger on the steering wheel. If it wasn’t dangerous, I probably could have driven hands-free for a few hundred miles while reading a newspaper. Alignment made that possible.
Turning ideas into realities is a lot like driving a car. The key players involved need to be in the appropriate positions; otherwise, things will drag.
As a business coach, one of the first questions I ask my clients is, “What do you want to achieve?” Here are a few examples of what I have heard:
- “I want to build a software platform that will transform how people work.”
- “I want my team to work more collaboratively across silos.”
- “I want our decisions to be driven by data.”
- “I want all employees to embrace safety as a priority.”
It’s wonderful if you are blessed with great ideas and vision. However, even the best ideas are worthless if you can’t get any traction behind them. In business, you have to get work done through others, and it can be quite a challenge. To do it well, you need to get your team members on the same page so they can deliver on goals when you aren’t around. If you don’t do this effectively, they will either flounder or feel micromanaged.
While aligning direct reports is hard enough, at least you have some jurisdiction over them. It’s much harder to align someone you don’t have authority over, such as the boss, upper management, peers, vendors, and clients. Even CEOs have board members and investors they have to line up.
Alignment becomes harder in a business that has been around awhile because people become entrenched in the “way things are done around here.” If this is your reality, don’t give up. All organizations must evolve. Someone has to challenge the status quo; otherwise, the business risks being killed off by agile competitors and disruptive technology.
Alignment is especially challenging in a sizable, multilayered organization where functions are specialized. Divisions and departments often become siloed. When something is improved in one department, it can have a negative consequence in another. Larger organizations especially need systems thinkers who connect the parts of the system and get it working as a cohesive whole.
All businesses require alignment because groups of all kinds, including leadership teams, boards, employees, customers, vendors, and investors achieve more when aligned. Alignment isn’t just about getting groups to agree. It’s required whenever any two people come together to make a plan, whether they’re business partners, a boss and direct report, a consultant and client, or two colleagues working together. Imagine how much you could accomplish with alignment between all these parties.
Alignment drives growth and scalability in business. To scale and grow, you have to get others to do things, and they, in turn, have to get others to do things, and so on. When your employees are aligned, they run on their own steam and don’t need your will to move them along. Furthermore, when customers are inspired and committed to your mission, products, and services, they become passionate advocates for your business’s success.
Now let’s take a second to think about the cost of misalignment. How many dollars are wasted in redundant work, ideas that fail to launch, decisions reversed, and policies not followed? We may never know. You don’t have to be a financial genius to figure out that the cost of misalignment is astronomical.
Let’s take one of the most obvious downsides of misalignment: time wasted in meetings where nothing gets decided. For example, if you have a management team with five people at an annual salary of $100,000 per person and they spend an average of fifteen hours a week in meetings, the team’s weekly meeting cost is $4,076, and the annual costs are a shocking $212,000! If the team could reduce the time wasted in meetings by 40 percent, they would save $85,000 per year! While the savings is easy to calculate, the real value is the growth that happens when good ideas finally land new customers and lead to profits.
I hope by now, I’ve made my case. Alignment is flat-out good for business. It still may seem like there is never enough time to get everyone on the same page.
But in business, you can’t afford not to.
For more advice on aligning your team, you can find The Art of Alignment on Amazon.
Patty Beach is the founder of LeadershipSmarts, a consulting firm that transforms managers into creative leaders that build “teams on fire that never burn out.” Her approach to leadership development evolved over twenty years of designing award-winning programs for companies, universities, nonprofits, and government agencies. Before earning a master’s degree in organizational development from Pepperdine University, and becoming an ICF Master Certified Coach, Patty was a geologist and manager leading initiatives in new technology and emerging markets in the energy industry. Patty and her husband, Roger Toennis, also developed the Versatility Factor assessment to foster gender intelligent and inclusive leadership.