Alignment - Around What?
Updated: May 18, 2021
Are we aligned? That is the question asked at the end of almost every leadership meeting whether it be a board of directors meeting, transformational initiative meeting or, program meeting. You will get some head nods and an occasional “yes”. But are we truly aligned? And If so, around what?
I have been consulting, reading, and thinking about alignment for several years and am convinced that we are missing something. The vast majority of books, articles, and attempts to define alignment address “Corporate Alignment” which seems to be some state of nirvana where everyone in the organization from the CEO to the parking lot attendants all has goals that build upon one another to form a single unified purpose and deliver industry excellence and exemplary shareholder returns.
Alan Mulally the former CEO of Ford Motor Company famously said “Alignment is the ultimate competitive advantage”. At Boeing, Mulally made alignment part of the corporate culture with “Operate as one Boeing”. Andy Grove former CEO of Intel, pioneered Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) at Intel. Now OKRs are the alignment tool of choice at Google. It struck me that all of the examples were after the fact. I have worked at many different organizations over my 25 years of management consulting and, I can tell you alignment is not defined, not measured, and is typically identified using “Stewart’s test for obscenity” where Justice Potter Stewart, a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States famously described his threshold test for gauging obscenity as “I will know it when I see it".
More often, there is no test, no measure and no path to achieve alignment, and we only know we did not see it or experience it - at all. Then we simply assign it as the root cause of an initiative's failure. In addition, we don’t even know what we supposedly have aligned around. The “around what” is missing. The corporate alignment focus is pablum – who is going to say they are not aligned at that level? We can be aligned at the corporate level as to a corporate goal but we can still be woefully misaligned as to how to achieve that goal. In many cases, the heads nod in faux-alignment at some high-level utopian goal, but when the rubber meets the road in hard execution “alignment” if it ever existed, falls apart.
We have got to fix this. Only in corporate America would we continue to use and value a word we cannot define. I founded AlignedAround with Steve Blunt to address this very question. The next time I hear someone ask “Are we aligned?” I am asking, “What does that mean?” You should too!
The AlignedAround framework and product defines, measures, and improves executive and leadership alignment in the context of a transformational initiative. With our groundbreaking and proprietary metrics of Leadership Alignment Score (LAS), Weighted Leadership Alignment Score (W-LAS), and Impact Weighted Leadership Alignment Score (I-LAS), we quantitatively define, measure, and improve an organizations executive and leadership alignment and ensure alignment around the transformational initiative(s) essential to its success. In addition, AlignedAround offers Leadership Coaching, Program Detailed Reviews, and Program Operational Excellence to further enhance your leadership team and initiatives.
What is alignment? How do we align around an initiative? How do we know we are aligned? These are really hard questions. Questions we are answering at AlignedAround. I would welcome your thoughts.