With the beginning of the year in full swing, I am starting to talk with more and more clients about conducting strategic planning sessions, so teams are aligned and moving in the same direction. Most issues that I deal with involve two parties who are not on the same page and in certain cases not even the same book. A manager has different objectives than the employee. Department X has different priorities than Department Y. Or, Executive A has different goals than Executive B.
The ramifications of a misaligned workforce are significant. It increases your costs, time, and frustration. And, it reduces morale and your ability to reach success. That is, if you reach it.
Here are five strategies to increase alignment within an organization.
1. Communicate Your Mission, Vision & Values
All companies were started for a reason. It could be they wanted to help a group of people or solve a business problem. It could be they wanted to cure a major disease or make life easier in some way. In some cases, customers did not realize they needed the product (think Apple and FedEx) or they were desperately waiting for a better alternative (think Uber and Tesla).
Whatever the reason, clearly articulate the Mission, Vision, and Values.
MISSION – WHY we exist. This describes an organization’s purpose and what it hopes to accomplish.
VISION – WHERE we want to go. This shows the long-term goal that should inspire people to move in that direction.
VALUES – HOW we want to work. These are guiding principles that help explain what the organization stands for and how it will operate.
Fundamentally these help leaders make decisions. Decisions around where we focus our time and how we operate. Strong organizations make them a part of everything they do including their annual/quarterly planning process, hiring/firing practices, rewards/recognition systems, and performance discussions. It should be regularly communicated and visible.
2. Define Your Goals
Once everyone is clear why we exist and what we hope to accomplish, start developing the path that leads in that direction. Whether using MBOs (Management By Objectives) or OKRs (Objectives & Key Results – See John Doerr’s TEDx Talk on OKRs), have a system that allows you to state what you need to accomplish in the next year (or two or three) and the corresponding actions necessary to complete the goal. They should be action oriented and move you closer to the vision.
OBJECTIVES – WHAT we need to do. There is no optimal number as I have successfully seen organizations have as little as 3 and as many as 10. It is important to remember these are meant to help you prioritize your resources, your money, and your attention. In general, 3 – 7 high-level objectives are manageable.
KEY RESULTS – HOW we will complete Objectives. These are much more action oriented and should follow the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, & Timebound) criteria and are generally a much shorter timeframe. In our quarterly-focused business environment, this becomes a good guideline.
3. Set Your Priorities with the Team
Getting the strategy right is difficult and relies on conditions often outside one’s control. We make assumptions based on current competition, technology, financial markets, regulations, and a variety of other factors. A change in one can drastically impact our strategy. So, while it is not guaranteed your strategy will be correct, you can at least make sure everyone is aligned. That is completely in your control. As my former CEO used to say, “We may be wrong, but we’re not confused.” Make sure your team is not confused.
At the beginning of the year, pull the team together and determine your annual objectives and the first quarter’s key results. At the end of each quarter, evaluate your progress, make course corrections, and set the new quarter’s key results. Make it a routine and build it into your annual calendar.
When everyone is in the room talking, disagreeing, talking more, and eventually walking out of the room with clearly defined priorities you will have greater buy-in and a higher chance of success. There are hard costs to doing this, but they will pay you dividends throughout the year.
4. Be explicit
We all know what happens when we assume. Each person and each management level should be able to clearly articulate the most important projects they plan to accomplish for the quarter. Say it out loud. Write it down. Communicate it out. Then communicate more. In my 25+ years of doing this I have never heard a team say, “You know, my boss communicates too much.” Try to be the first. Start each Quarterly All Hands, Team Meetings, or 1:1s with the goals.
5. Set up Programs to Support the Desired Behavior.
When annual planning, performance management, training, compensation, rewards, recognition, hiring, firing, and other people-related programs are directly linked to your mission, vision, values, objectives, & key results, you will see forward progress. In one company I worked with they said, “We want to reward our top talent and pay for performance.” Shortly after I started and evaluated the annual merit system, I realized the top performers were getting about a 1/2% higher merit increase than the bottom performers. Hardly an incentive to be a top performer. Measure your performance then reward for that performance. As another boss of mine said, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”
Getting everyone on the same page is difficult but following these 5 strategies will improve your chances.