You might think the word “deadly” is a bit extreme in this context.
But I choose to use it here because the costs of organizational misalignment can be very high and all too often underestimated. They can also go undetected until it is too late to recover.
Organizational misalignment can cost productivity and performance that can be measured in terms of both time and money.
Yet there is a significant cost that can’t be measured in economic terms, but can nonetheless thwart the progress and effectiveness of any team.
It can kill the spirit of an individual or a team and even discourage the most committed and optimistic of team members. You may not be able to measure that explicitly, but you can certainly feel and experience it. If you buy into the notion that how we feel about something affects our behavior, then you don’t have to take a big leap to see the potential downstream, measurable impact.
As a leader your ability to build and sustain organizational alignment is essential to the performance of those you lead.
The key is to recognize the symptoms of workforce misalignment before they cause potentially deadly damage to a project or even an organization. Below are the three primary symptoms of misalignment, followed by a suggested “antidote” for turning things around.
1. Lots of planning, little action
In the beginning of any endeavor, workforce misalignment can be masked by the appearance of a lot of action in the form of lots of planning meetings. Planning is critically important, but at some point you must begin to take decisive action.
The antidote… get clear
When you recognize this symptom at play, stop and go back to the beginning. By that I mean stop and make sure everyone is aligned to a common purpose and goals before you attempt to get to work. Make sure these are both clear and specific.
Getting clear and focused on your goals and purpose is hard work. Yet for many people it doesn’t feel like they’re accomplishing anything. It just feels like long, and perhaps even arduous, conversation. They want to jump into something that feels more like action.
Planning seems to “scratch that itch” to act in the beginning, but it rarely leads quickly to the kind of action that results in genuine and meaningful progress.
2. Individual agendas ruling instead of shared commitments
Even when you have a clear purpose and goals, your efforts can still be thwarted if individuals are more committed to their personal agendas than to the common purpose and goals.
When a shared commitment is lacking, you might observe: lots of positive banter and little real conversation, persistent meetings after the meeting, and lots of attempts to compromise with more take than give going on. Each of these results in one very specific thing: little to no meaningful progress being made.
The antidote… connect individual “agendas” to team purpose and goals
Keep in mind that groups don’t align with a vision, a plan, or even a decision; individuals do.
We all have an agenda — a set of interests and commitments we act in service of. Individual agendas are most often a problem for a team when they aren’t acknowledged. If you truly want someone to align to a purpose and goals they must clearly see how their personal agenda is being served.
Of course, sometimes there are competing interests that can’t be resolved. Acknowledging them openly can help keep them from getting in the way.
3. But, I did my part
When things aren’t going well and individuals retreat to their proverbial box rather than immediately rolling up their sleeves to address the issue at hand, you can be pretty certain alignment is missing.
The antidote…reward team performance
Personal commitments will naturally take precedence in thought and action.
The practice of formally rewarding only individual performance will amplify any tension created when an individual’s commitments are not clearly aligned with the team’s. This is especially important to be mindful of with cross functional teams.
If your compensation system allows for both individual and team rewards make sure you use both.
But even when team compensation is difficult to formally administer, you can still find ways to reward the team and those individuals who demonstrate great teamwork. Informally acknowledging an employee’s contributions to the team, particularly a public or written way, to someone who has influence over their compensation can help to ensure their work on the team becomes an important part of their personal agenda.
Achieving true organizational alignment
True alignment requires that individuals choose to get behind the vision, taking ownership as though it were their vision.
Ultimately, the only way to know if any individual team member is truly aligned is to observe their conversations and their actions over time.
By being on the lookout for these three symptoms of workforce misalignment and being attentive to applying the antidotes from the very beginning of any project, you can ensure you’re leading your team to aligned action.
Learn more about how to achieve organizational alignment by reading Susan’s post How to boost organization performance through effective leadership.