True Alignment

Linking Company Culture with Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results

 True Alignment

Author: Edgar Papke
Pub Date: December 2013
Print Edition: $29.95
Print ISBN: 9780814433362
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814433379

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Excerpt

Introduction

It's All About Alignment

The key strategic imperative of any business is alignment.

Alignment has long been the greatest challenge of leadership. Its importance, along with its effect on performance, has only increased over time. Today, to come close to competing and succeeding in the chaotic and rapidly shifting business environment, leaders must create aligned teams and organiza-tions.

For extraordinary companies--those that consistently com-pete and win in the marketplace--the overriding characteristic that is invariably present and separates them from their competi-tion is alignment. And, because it is so important, the challenge is all the more difficult.

Most leaders, teams, and companies struggle with alignment because, until now, they lacked an effective and easy-to-apply framework and approach. As a result, they tackle individual as-pects of business--such as vision, strategy, processes and systems, and culture--without aligning them. The following chapters will introduce you to the Business Code, a framework for alignment that can be applied to any organization or team, regardless of its size. It will show leaders and their companies how to confront and overcome the challenges of misalignment. The code also provides the tools needed to create strategies and initiatives and take actions that result in the alignment required to compete and achieve high levels of performance. The outcomes of applying this framework include:

Alignment that clearly defines the trusted relationship of the business to the customer, the customer's expectation, and what the brand stands for.

Alignment of leadership that is responsible for role modeling, reinforcing, and leading an aligned culture and is committed to the reputation and success of the business; leaders who hold themselves and other leaders responsible for their personal alignment to the organization, as well as its vision, and its culture.

Alignment of goals and strategies across and down through or-ganizations and teams, large and small, demonstrated by the contribution each group and team member makes to the or-ganization's vision and strategies.

Alignment of each individual to the values, beliefs, and expecta-tions of the culture; each member knows how success is cre-ated at individual, group, and company-wide levels.

Alignment that results in every person being responsible and acting in alignment with the business's intention, as conveyed through each member's commitment to the customer.

Alignment that contributes to the resilience that great companies and teams demonstrate when confronted with difficult issues and challenges and keeps them from going off course or los-ing sight of their mission, vision, and intended outcomes.

Alignment that is demonstrated through every decision and ac-tion taken by every member of the organization or team, how they fit into its culture, and what the company and team have promised to deliver to the customer.

THE DANGERS OF MISALIGNMENT

Most of us are all too familiar with the consequences of misa-lignment. We get caught up in the conflicts and blame games that result when everyone is not working toward the same out-come. Time and energy is wasted trying to overcome misa-lignments, which can disrupt and destroy teamwork and even-tually bring down entire companies. The consequences of mis-alignment are grave. Among others, they include:

A lack of focus on results that support the vision and strategy of the team and organization, resulting in poor performance.

A lack of a shared and consistent approach to serving the cus-tomer, which damages the company's reputation and brand and creates customer distrust.

A lack of the ability to leverage and fully utilize team members' individual talents and strengths, which decreases motivation and reduces their desire to contribute.

A lack of clear expectations resulting in unmet performance re-quirements, poor accountability, distrust, and potentially divi-sive conflict.

A lack of responsibility and mutual accountability among team members that results in the loss of trust and commitment to individual and team performance.

A lack of open communication, resulting in finger pointing, poor conflict management, and dysfunctional behavior.

A lack of aligned approaches to problem solving, deci-sion-making, role definition, and processes and procedures, causing confusion and disengagement.

A lack of teamwork among leaders that cascades through an organi­zation, which results in conflict, an "us versus them at-titude," and an inability to perform at the required level.

Clearly, misalignment is costly. Typically a negative financial impact results, which can be obvious or often hidden.

Among the hidden costs are unmet goals and objectives; missed opportuni-ties; missed sales; unmet promises to the customer; and a myr-iad other failures that result from dysfunction within a group, team, or company. One way or another, misalignment results in a failure, or a lack, of execution, which has a negative financial impact on a business.

All too often, leaders find themselves searching for answers to these problems without realizing that misalignment is at the root of them. They instead rely on hit-and-miss approaches and fixes, as well as temporary measures that provide only short-term solutions.

Obviously, the consequences of misalignment are too many and too powerful to ignore. Therefore, leaders must focus on the challenge of creating and leading aligned teams and organiza-tions and view it as an opportunity to improve performance. Great leaders and team members actively seek out and confront misalignments.

THE PATH OF ALIGNMENT

Recognizing that alignment is the greatest challenge leaders face is only the beginning. The ongoing effort of aligning people to work together to contribute to and accomplish a set of shared outcomes and goals requires knowledge and well-developed leadership competencies. The most difficult job is managing and leading others.

At the root of the failure of organizations and teams to per-form is the inability of people to work together in support of one another and their shared goals. No one accomplishes anything without the help of others and working together toward a shared goal requires alignment.

To begin effectively aligning and leading their organizations and teams, leaders must clearly and consistently address the what, why, and how of the company. If this were easily accom-plished, being a great leader would be much less demanding, less difficult, and less valued. This is what makes alignment the single most important aspect of leading in today's complex and fast-changing world. Whether you are a CEO, business owner, manager, or team leader, it is not only your greatest chal-lenge--it is your calling.

The what, the why, and the how are the three questions the Business Code addresses. Too often people are unclear about what they are contributing, are disengaged emotionally from why what they are doing it, and confused and fearful because they don't really understand how they are supposed to do it.

Extraordinary companies and teams are those in which the what, why and how are aligned.

They have a clearly articulated and understood vision of what they want to accomplish. They know what the desired out-comes are and are able to innovate to continuously create and deliver a product or service that reflects and aligns with the customers' expectations.

Their people are emotionally engaged because they know why what they're doing matters and the benefit it brings, believe in what is being created and care deeply about it, and have a shared sense of purpose and feel responsible for their contri-bution to making it happen.

They are aligned on how to work together to achieve results. They have a plan or strategy. More important, they know the steps in a process, system, or procedure and act in alignment with the values and beliefs of the organization or the team's culture.

For several reasons, why is currently getting the most atten-tion. There is widespread concern over the lack of employee engagement in larger companies. A second, less obvious reason is that customers buy products or services to fulfill individual needs. To succeed, a business has to align those working for it to the emotional aspirations of the customer.

Today's complex and fast-paced world leads businesses to focus on finding a solution that offers the best return. It's much like getting someone's mindshare. This often keeps them from seeing that there's more they could do and benefit from. Last, as businesses and consumers, we seek greater meaning from what we produce, sell, and buy, and the significance these have to our quality of life, social benefit, and environmental impact. This, along with the abundance of options, leads us to look for less complex choices and simpler yet more powerful solutions.

Simplicity and alignment are not mutually exclusive. When all three components of what, why, and how are present, a company or team works well. Leave one out, and things become complicated. The alignment of the three is the true source of ex-traordinary performance. Place too much emphasis on one, and a leader will soon run into trouble. Therefore, leaders need to remember the importance of and pay attention to each. This be-gins with clearly communicating the "what"--the vision, goals, and outcomes the organization must accomplish to compete and be successful, defining and leveraging the emotional motivators of "why," and articulating the "how."

What: I often see leaders with a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. They articulate and share their vision and goals with the members of their company or team. They may even have a well-defined roadmap and lay out a set of measur-able outcomes with key performance indicators intended to challenge their group. Yet people still don't take the initiative to get the job done.

When this happens, leaders are disappointed and wonder why the team doesn't exude the same energy and commitment that they do. They question why there is conflict among team members about who is responsible for what, who has the au-thority to make decisions, how roles are defined, or how people are expected to communicate and share information. They have a great idea of what they are supposed to do, yet they lack the emotional commitment and an understanding of how they will work together to achieve the intended outcome. The leader and team members are clear on the definition of what. However, they lack the emotional why and a description of how to work with one another.

Why: Throughout my career, I've coached many leaders who are able to charismatically engage others in a cause. They connect with and draw on people's emotional motivation. Unfortunately, a reliance on this component can result in a false hope that a shared sense of purpose and mission will emotionally engage people and result in success. The hope is that if there is meaning and everyone shares in why, what will organically emerge, and the team will find a way to work together to get it done.

While it's inspirational to believe that this can happen, it's rare for it to do so. In fact, when it is successful, some form of individual or shared leadership has usually emerged to provide a framework for the clear articulation of a measurable outcome and the steps needed to achieve it. More often, while everyone puts forward his or her own best intentions, the group has diffi-culty reaching consensus about what the members need to produce to best deliver the shared cause. The result is a lack of agreement and cohesion about how things are done. The group has the why, yet lacks the what, and therefore cannot know how to achieve it.

How: Over the last twenty years, leaders have learned to pay a attention to culture and go beyond the surface definition that it is about processes and systems. In addition, although most leaders appreciate the role of values and beliefs in defining culture, most still don't possess a framework for articulating, observing, or measuring it. Therefore, they can't intentionally lead their cultures.

This is important because culture is the true how. It defines how people treat and work with one another, including how they are expected to act and what is considered acceptable and un-acceptable behavior. Culture provides the framework for how people live the values and beliefs of a group, how they gain and use power and influence, as well as how planning occurs, deci-sions get made, roles get defined, and conflicts are dealt with. It also explains their responsibility to one another. Culture holds the key to defining trust and respect.

Still, if leaders focus only on culture and expect the what and the why to emerge, they miss the other benefits of alignment. The leadership and a team or company that performs to its true potential must have an emotional and cognitive connection to what it intends to achieve and why it exists.

Because business is a human art, the why and how extend far beyond the processes, systems, and step-by-step actions people take to create and deliver a product or service competi-tively to the marketplace. At the core of the relationship between provider and buyer are the why and how of their emotional con-nection. This applies not just to the product or service , it also applies to the emotional affiliation the customer has to the or-ganization's culture and its brand. When aligned, trust is mani-fested and sustained, and the provider enjoys the benefits of brand loyalty.

Alignment's power and influence also applies to the people responsible for delivering a competitive offering to the customer; it defines how they communicate, cooperate, and collaborate. It also provides the basis of the customer experience. How are a company's tenets of trust--its values and beliefs--expressed to the customer? The alignment of internal behavior to the external experience of the buyer results in loyalty that lies at the core of successful competition.

When leaders and team members focus on alignment, they connect and integrate the various elements that make a great business work, including aligning the intention to the customer and brand, vision and strategy, and the business's culture and how it is led. Whether it pertains to the customer relationship, service, product development, operational capability, or human resources, focusing on alignment engages leaders in questioning and challenging how strategies and initiatives support the organization.

Alignment is a key source of innovation and creativity, the building of one idea upon another. It creates an environment in which people communicate at broader and deeper levels and increases the opportunity for the exchange of ideas. When we leverage alignment across a team and organization, we take crit-ical thinking and problem solving to higher levels, resulting in in-creased innovation, creativity, and better performance.

As we look to the future, learning to apply a framework for alignment will continue to be the key skill and competency of great leaders. Leaders can no longer focus on just one aspect of, or strategy for, change, or on a particular facet of product, service, or market development. This will become more evident and powerful if we are to successfully compete in a global mar-ketplace in which the speed of change and complexity continues to grow.

This book offers an opportunity to assess and actualize the strategies that will enable you to better lead and contribute to the alignment of your organization and team. The Business Code provides insight into what motivates customers and how human needs are fulfilled. It will help you understand how brand intention provides the platform for the alignment of deliverables to the customer and how that entices the customer to buy and results in brand loyalty.

We'll then turn our attention to culture, a subject that chal-lenges even the greatest of leaders and companies. We'll explore how the patterns and norms of behavior bring values and beliefs to life and guide organizations and teams in how they create and deliver a product or service to the customer. You'll discover how cultures are influenced and how to measure and observe the alignments and misalignments that hold back a team or company's ability to reach their desired levels of performance.

Next, we'll investigate the influence of leadership on brand intention, strategy, and culture and the importance that leader-ship development plays in successful alignment. What motivates leaders is key to understanding the dynamics of how team members engage one another and the customer.

Whatever your role--customer, contributor, employee, team member, leader, or CEO--you are influenced by alignment.

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