It’s been a long time since I have heard the Republicans and the Democrats agree on anything. We have gotten to be such a divisive country whereas if you are a Republican, all things Democrat are insane and vis-a-versa. It seems that every election cycle the line between red and blue turns a darker shade of grey. But the Great Collaborator himself, Donald Trump, is bringing the two parties together. That’s right, the two parties agree on one thing which is that Donald Trump should not be Commander-in-Chief.
The Republican Party doesn’t want him in office because he could negatively impact their senatorial races causing a shift in power. The Democratic Party doesn’t want him because he’ll severely impact foreign relations and take away many constitutional rights. This is hardly an exhaustive list. What can business learn from this? Alignment occurs when there is 1) a clear enemy and 2) common goals. Both parties see Trump as a problem and don’t want him in office.
1) Know Your ENEMY
The key element is being crystal clear on who your opponent is. My former CEO used to say, “The enemy is outside these walls.” In essence, work together to solve the problems and do what is best for the overall company versus what is best for your department. Or more bluntly, fight with your competitors not your colleagues.
In the mid to late 90’s, technology companies were starting up and growing like crazy. It was a modern-day Gold Rush as everyone wanted to join one of these organizations and become an instant millionaire. Similar patterns are happening today.
I followed the crowds and joined a pre-IPO payroll service provider who was competing against one of the industry titans. The executive team had come from that behemoth so there was a general disdain for their former employer. The mantra was that the competitor had lost focus on its customers and been unable to innovate with its technology. So, a new company was formed. They were disrupting the status quo and going after Goliath. Every employee knew this.
The CEO communicated regularly to employees about who the main competitor was and how we were going to beat them. Engineering knew they had to build more user-friendly products. Marketing knew they had to focus sales brochures on ease-of-use. Human Resource had to hire innovative engineers. And, Operations and Service had to respond quickly to customer needs. Why? Because we wanted to beat our primary opponent.
While important to understand who you are going after, one must also be clear on the strategic goals.
2) Align around Common Goals
I recall an instance early in my career when I needed additional resources. In my arguments I stressed the benefits to my department. DENIED! I was focusing too much on myself and my team and not on what was best for the company and its shareholders. Lesson learned.
A few years later that lesson paid off. I was responsible for training several thousand employees. The company was completing one of the largest system migrations in the financial services industry. Almost every employee had to understand the new tools, processes, and procedures on varying levels whether in customer service, operations, IT, sales or marketing. I didn’t have the resources to do this. So, I went to my customers – those departments – and asked each function to ‘lend’ me some of their best employees so I could prepare everyone for this migration.
As I gave my pitch about needing resources, I was prepared to be laughed at and kicked out of the room. Functions were already being asked to lower their headcount costs and I was asking them to give up more. Plus, I wanted their best people. I focused on how we all had a common need to understand this system and that a failed migration could result in serious customer frustrations. And frustrated customers leave. Before walking out of that meeting I was promised the resources I’d asked for. Several days later those same leaders came back and gave me more than what I had requested.
Everybody won. My team got the resources it needed and went on to develop a highly successful program. Each department received quality training and was prepared for the change. Several high-potential employees got to participate in a tremendous career opportunity with a high degree of visibility. And most important, the company won because we reallocated resources in a manner that was the most efficient and effective use of those people. We didn’t look at what was good for “me” but what was good for “us.”
Several months ago while sitting in Mexico talking with some Canadians, I said, “Trump will never get elected as the system will take over and weed him out.” While my statement has yet to be proven correct, I maintain optimism. The silver lining in all of this as that we have finally got the Republicans and the Democrats agreeing on something. Working together and collaborating requires commonality and focus on the bigger goals.
To learn more about getting everyone on the same page, read my post, “Five Ways to PLEAD for Alignment.”