Alignment for adaptive strategy execution
In the era of the connected, digital enterprise, alignment is the holy grail to delivering outlier outcomes.
Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people working together in harmony across functional, geographic, and cultural boundaries, everyone focused on the delivery of company mission, strategy and goals.
Nobody ever argued against the idea of alignment. A distracted or misaligned team is not a productive or effective team. Alignment is a no-brainer in theory. But the difference between theory and practice is greater in practice than in theory. In practice, achieving effective alignment is hard.
Of course, as with most things, these are not new challenges, and there is a tried and tested corporate approach to alignment.
Management and/or some highly paid consultants analyze the challenges and comes up with the best response in the form of a strategy. Next, define long term goals, to be rigidly cascaded to the workers through such mechanisms as Management by Objectives (MBOs), and related concepts.
In a traditional industrial setting, workers do not need to know how their individual contribution fits into the bigger picture. What is needed is effective management to ensure that each worker puts in the hours, delivers the required output, below a certain cost, and above a minimum quality threshold.
There are several problems with this approach. Aside from any concerns you might have about treating employees like mindless worker drones, you should be concerned because these industrial management practices simply no longer work.
In his white paper – How the Chief Strategy Officer Drives Multi-Axis Alignment, Evan Campbell our Chief Transformation Architect, examines how applying 19th century management practices to solve 21st century problems can be extremely counterproductive.
Not least of all the issues is time. Defining a compelling strategy is still a must, and should not be rushed, of course. But cascading goals through many layers of hierarchy takes a long time, and by the time an employee receives word of his or her supposed priorities, much time will have passed (often months).
Secondly, by the time the company goal has been cascaded through several hierarchical layers, in a corporate game of telephone, it has often morphed into something unrecognizable and meaningless. Without a clear understanding of how the goal supports a greater purpose, employees are left uninspired, and engagement and performance suffer.
Thirdly, the siloed and hierarchical nature of a cascaded goal structure means that it takes a long time for any feedback to travel from the frontline employees and back up to the executive layers. Likewise, by the time feedback does arrive, it is often diluted and distorted having passed through several intervening layers of middle management.
The end result is plain to see.
A strategy poorly communicated, teams disconnected from purpose, requiring heavy handed management overhead, and an organization lumbering along at low speed, and yet still unable to determine or change direction.
The response from organizations should not be to abandon strategy development. Executives must still take ownership of clarifying and communicating company mission, strategy, and even its goals.
In How the Chief Strategy Officer Drives Multi-Axis Alignment, Evan provides actionable insights for how organizations should enable vertical alignment to ensure alignment around strategic priorities, while enabling horizontal alignment across functional boundaries, and to break down silos and avoid the millstone of rigid goal cascades.
It is a must read for any Chief Strategy Officer or anyone concerned not only with compelling strategy development, but also with effective and adaptive strategy execution.