Today's Challenge: Alignment

Each Friday, I address a question posed by a leader from somewhere in the world. Someone asked me recently if the questions were really submitted by leaders – yes. However, today I’m making a slight exception – this question is one I am submitting. How do I get alignment around a goal, idea or initiative?

The ability to create alignment is one of a leader’s most important skills. Without it, much energy is wasted and countless goals go unmet. With it, I’m convinced more can be accomplished than leaders can even imagine.
As I reflect on my leadership journey, I’ve had mixed success achieving alignment. I think the root cause has been a lack of focus on my part, based on the misplaced belief that if something is clear in my mind, it must be clear in the minds of others – this is just ridiculous.
Here are some of the ideas I’m working to apply.
Embrace the role. Leaders ensure alignment. My friend, Dr. Henry Cloud, reminded me again last week – leaders get what they create and what they allow. If our teams are misaligned, it’s our fault.
Start with why. Simon Sinek wrote a fantastic book by this title. His premise, and my experience, is when people understand the why behind an idea, the probability of alignment goes up exponentially. Give it a try.
Be clear on the goal. I’ve never seen true alignment around a fuzzy goal. By definition, alignment implies clarity and precision. Be sure you and everyone you’re attempting to align know exactly what you’re aligning around.
Narrow the focus. Seek alignment on the critical few goals, strategies and tactics you need for success. One of my mentors, Jennifer Howard, has been challenging me for years to determine the minimum critical specifications. If we attempt to align on too much, we’ll align on nothing.
Communicate… forever. This is how the message stays alive, relevant and vibrant. We’ve got to say it over and over and over again. When we think we’ve said it enough – we haven’t. We’ve also got to say it in many different forms. I wrote about this in my post: 7 Ways to Help People Catch Your Vision.
Leverage systems. Systems drive behavior. Try making a list of all the systems that impact alignment. I’m guessing your list will include: selection, performance management, compensation, training and more. All these will contribute to or impede alignment.
Make heroes. There are always people who “get it” (whatever idea you’re attempting to align around); they embrace it and do it. They make the idea real. Find those people and be sure everyone knows about them. What you celebrate will be emulated.
Don’t get lazy. Have you ever driven a car that was out of alignment? What happens if you take your hand off the wheel? The car pulls towards the ditch. As a leader, I’ve got to be vigilant. If I want us to stay on the road, I’ve got to keep my hands on the wheel.[GLS_Shield]
What do you do to achieve alignment?
 
 

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Soren Sjogren

8 years ago

I always start with the why. If there is a big enough why people can do magnificent things. Explaining the why helps align the team. However, I have also experienced explaining the why led to a different approach on how to get there.
By having team members set goals themselves they automatically took ownership of the goals as well.
But in the end the entire process is still the leader’s responsibility.

mark

7 years ago

Thanks, Soren! I agree with your conclusion. At the end of the day, leaders accept responsibility. I believe it is one of the key traits that separates leaders from followers. I’ll write more about this in the days ahead. Thanks again for joining the conversation! Mark

Susan Mazza

8 years ago

In addition to your list I would add Engage. Alignment is a choice and if you want people to choose to align with anything they must be able to engage authentically in conversation about that choice. All too often leaders get fooled thinking agreement = alignment. Alignment is an act of leadership. Agreement is merely an indication you are willing to follow…for the moment anyway.

mark

7 years ago

Thanks, Susan for making the distinction – agreement is not alignment. A leader can tell someone what to do and have them do it without them knowing why it matters. I think of alignment as appropriate actions with common purpose. Please let me know how I can serve you in the future. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Brad Beck

8 years ago

Always love reading your info on teams. It seems to me like the toughest thing here is clarity. We have so much going on around us, it’s difficult to decide exactly what the focus is going to be on. I feel pretty strong at everything else on this list, but clarity is extremely difficult.

mark

7 years ago

Brad, you are not alone! Finding and maintaining clarity is one of the most demanding roles we face as leaders. And, to make it even more challenging, it is a moving target. What is clear today, may not serve the organization next month. Therefore, we must constantly be in pursuit of clarity. Stay the course – it is critical! Let me know how I can serve you and your team in the future. Mark

Liane Davey

8 years ago

Alignment is such a critical part of the process of creating a high performing team. I agree that starting with why is critical. there are so many “why’s” but one that I find particularly useful is to help the team align around why they are a team. Often, teams over-step and try to do the work of their individual members. If you can pare away everything that is an individual accountability, you can get the team aligned around the exciting, innovative,and unique value that they can only create together. (Helps reduce and focus meeting time as a fringe benefit!)

mark

7 years ago

Thanks, Liane. I agree. If a team can embrace their unique contribution, it will go a long way towards alignment. Thanks for joining the conversation! Please let me know if I can serve you in the future. Mark

Great Leaders Serve | By Mark Miller | Be Careful Where You Aim – You Might Hit it There

5 years ago

[…] it where you want, there could be many reasons – however, I would start by checking your alignment. Great performance begins with great […]

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