Sounds like a simple concept: Alignment. What makes this so hard to achieve? The fact is, if you are hiring the right people, you will have a lot of smart people on your team who disagree with each other. This is a good thing. Alignment doesn’t mean that everyone starts on the same page; if that were true, then you’d just have a bunch of robots running around who all think the same way and who never challenge your ideas or come up with anything creative, interesting, or groundbreaking.
Difference of opinion among your team members is a key ingredient in developing the right strategies for your team, the ones that have been analyzed from different angles and debated in your planning sessions. However, when the dust settles and the decision has been made, this is where alignment takes over from diversity of viewpoints as the key to your strategy’s success or failure.
If the people in the room are still clinging to their ideas and agendas at the end of the meeting and merely give lip service to the decision that was made, you have a big problem. The executive team members in your planning sessions are the ones who are tasked with sharing the decision with the rest of the organization; if those people are not fully bought in themselves, forget having them communicate effectively to engage and align the rest of the company.
To fully align your organization around your strategic plan, you have to do the following steps:
1. Align the executive team around the company plan.
2. Cascade alignment to the department leaders.
3. Develop departmental plans that are aligned to the company plan.
4. Come back together to share the departmental plans with other departments.
5. Communicate the plan to everyone in the organization.
6. Display progress toward achieving the plan on a dashboard so the team can view it.
If you can’t get your executive team to be on the same page about the plan, steps 2-6 will not be as effective. People can tell when you are not fully bought in… you let a little “They decided…” slip out, your body language when sharing the plan with others betrays you, or you simply openly share your frustrations that your ideas were not chosen.
While you are in your executive team planning session, here are some practical tips to build alignment:
Hear all ideas. Make it a point to hear from everyone and have some time for brainstorming where all ideas are heard and not argued. One main reason people do not align to a plan is that they don’t think their opinions were heard or considered.
Agree on a clear process for making the decision. The facilitator should make it clear from the beginning how the decisions will be made. Maybe after you hear all of the ideas and discuss and debate them, the team agrees that the CEO is the final decision-maker. Or, maybe you have a very democratic team and the decision is arrived at by consensus. It is very important to be clear about how the final decision will be made and have a process in place that the team agrees to support.
Be 100% sure the team understands the decision. Once the decision about which strategies to pursue has been made, put some Red-Yellow-Green success criteria on them. Be as specific and measurable as possible so that there is no room to misinterpret the plan. If you are really concerned about alignment, have each person summarize the decision in their own words to share with the group so that you know they are all on the same page.
Check in to see how the group feels about the decision. You can do a quick pass around the room to get a gut check. Usually, a good facilitator can tell when there is resistance to a decision, but sometimes lingering doubts and misalignment are floating under the surface. Give people one more chance to share their concerns and anticipate the roadblocks or questions they may get when rolling out this plan to their direct reports. Having this discussion and coming up with some talking points together can go a long way toward building alignment.
Start building company-wide alignment by aligning your executive team around the plan for the year and for the quarter, and you’ll be well on your way!
This blog has been updated on February 4, 2019.