Alignment: The Key To Your Middle Management Development Plan
Today we explore the cornerstone of any truly effective middle management development plan: Alignment.
Previously, we have discussed at length the importance of fostering an environment of openness and trust, in order to support your people in getting aligned. With an open and trusting environment in place, it is then time to move on to an inclusive conversation that increases alignment among everyone on the team. Alignment not only on goals and priorities, but also with regard to what kind of culture everyone desires.
Alignment can be defined as 100% willingness and commitment among all team members to pursue a shared vision.
Coming to Alignment unfolds in three parts:
Engaging everyone on the team by bringing them to the table and getting their input on company direction.
Articulating a shared vision through the use of tools for collaboration and effective communication.
Sustaining the use of these tools in order to maintain Alignment as the group begins executing on the shared vision.
Alignment On Internal Priorities Before External Priorities
Many organizations have a vision statement of some kind. These tend to refer to service goals and market performance. While these are incredibly valuable, we would propose that before creating any vision statement that proclaims an organization’s intentions for the outside world, that it first establish a vision for a desired culture inside the organization.
In order to achieve buy-in and alignment around this vision, we suggest the organization develop an inclusive process involving all of its people, or at least an adequate representation.
Before You Roll Your Eyes…
…declaring that you have too many things to get done before considering a topic like this, consider these questions:
What if all your people were thrilled to come into work each day, driven by a sense of purpose and esprit de corps?
What if different divisions of the company proactively collaborated and communicated with each other?
How would your organization’s performance in the marketplace improve if it attracted the best talent in the industry?
What exactly does Organizational Alignment look like, and how do we create an effective middle management development plan that helps our Organization get into Alignment?
Let’s first explore what it is not.
Not In Alignment
An organization that is not in alignment can be modeled by the diagram to the left.
Overall, the company has a direction it desires to move in, represented by the large black arrow that encapsulates all the little white arrows. This overarching direction is usually clear-cut: increased profits, marketplace dominance, competitiveness, retention, innovation and the like.
The small white arrows inside of the black arrow represent different departments. Or, if the company is small, they can represent individual employees. In the diagram, the white arrows are all pointing in different directions. Each arrow has its own priority, or agenda.
In other words, while each individual entity is participating in the overall left-to-right trajectory of the company as a whole, the priority of each arrow is its own direction, which is at odds with the direction of others.
The diagram succinctly illustrates what it looks like when individual employees or entire departments place their own well-being or priorities over those of the overall organization.
The Cost Of Operating Not-In-Alignment
Each individual vector (person or department) moving in its own direction generates enormous friction. Time, energy and capital are lost – even morale if we evaluate the model from the perspective of HR.
Generally speaking, unaligned organizations are burning up energy through the friction caused by everyone operating and contributing according to their own priorities.
How often do you feel like you are expending more energy fighting battles within your own organization, rather than presenting a united front against your competition?
Agreement (aka Command & Control)
The most common intervention used to treat the condition of Not-In-Alignment, is to force all of the little arrows into one arrow, pointing in the direction leadership wants them to go.
This is not easy to do, but has been implemented successfully throughout history. From major corporations like Disney and Samsung to the armies of Frederick the Great of Prussia, if leadership can articulate the vision, implement it top-down through fastidious management and mandates, it is possible to score victories.
This is the paradigm of Agreement, more popularly known as “command and control.”
As this is the default leadership paradigm for most cultures and organizations, everyone is accustomed to this style. Most, if not all of us, know very well what it is like to be told what to do. Most people can also affirm that being told what to do is not their favorite thing in the world. Thus, while Agreement may get results, the employee experience of such leadership cultures is not good. Retaining employees can be an issue. After all… there is little to no real room for personal growth and learning.
Potential Impact Of Agreement Strategy
While Agreement can lead to resounding wins, it leaves out the voices of the rank and file. When people aren’t extended an opportunity to share their perspectives, opinions and ideas, they may follow you (Agree), but they won’t be fully invested (Aligned.)
Soliciting input and inviting your people to the table as active participants in the creation of a common vision and strategy transforms them into stakeholders. They now have emotional and intellectual skin-in-the-game of how the company fares after undertaking the shared vision.
Without this investment, we run the risk of our people becoming passive, sticking to their lanes, and refraining from speaking up when they notice something amiss. This is because Agreement incentivizes the team to prescribe instructions, take orders, and maintain the status quo.
Furthermore, employees in organizations operating under the Agreement strategy may not personally care one way or the other about what happens to the company. Sometimes, employees may even sit back and wait for the “mandated” direction to fail. According to this Gallup Poll, approximately 18% of the workforce is “actively disengaged,” or actively aiming to subvert their employer’s progress.
So, while Agreement can lead to quick results, it may not be the best long-term strategy for success.
Now that we have explored what Alignment is not, let’s explore the best model we currently have for what it is.
The diagram to the left shares elements in common with the previous two. Like the “Not-In-Alignment” organization, the larger black arrow is full of individual entities – departments or people. Like the organization in “Agreement” they are all pointing in the same direction.
Here the individual entities have remained independent agents. They are moving together as one, but they have not become one. This is very important. Unlike the folks at the “Agreement Strategy” company, no one has forced anyone to do anything. The individual arrows are moving of their own volition, and in the direction they helped establish… which happens to be the same direction as everyone else.
No active disengagement here, but the opposite. The little arrows may even be fired up to appear in the workplace every morning, taking on their projects in a collaborative and interdependent manner.
How Do We Get To Alignment?
The way is simple: if you desire to get all the little arrows inside of your organization moving enthusiastically together in the same direction, it is time to talk.
What do we mean?
Create an environment of openness.
Bring your people to the table and invite them into a conversation about the organization. Get them talking about work, sharing with each other the challenges each is facing. Invite them to suggest solutions of their own, and generate ideas for processes that facilitate collaboration.
Whatever you decide to discuss, or how or what to change, just get people talking. Once they begin to open up and trust each other, they are walking the road to Alignment. This is the key to your middle management development plan.
There are tools and mental frameworks that support them in the process of coming into Alignment, and sustaining that Alignment as they progress through their days and weeks. Some of these tools have been discussed in previous articles, like open communication and feedback, and clearing the air of obstacles and misunderstandings.
It is also important to engage with discovery-model exercises and low-risk activities where participants can experiment and experience collaboration, in order to grasp that the team members are better together than they are alone.
The Case For Alignment Sells Itself
Alignment begins with your people, and people who sustain work through alignment are well positioned for moonshots, innovation and creativity of every kind. The limit is the shared imagination and thought of your entire organization. And if we are told that each individual has potentially infinite reserves of thought and creativity… what could this mean for your organization as whole?
As if the prospects of creativity, innovation and increased performance weren’t enough, there is finally the truth that in an Aligned culture many participants report enhanced meaning and satisfaction in their overall lives: collaborating with others to realize something larger than one’s individual paycheck.
Alignment begins with a shared vision. We previously shared the vision first formulated at 20th Century Fox, which we now share as a placeholder vision for each organization that trains with Hallett Leadership:
To create an open and collaborative culture where creativity and innovation thrive.
We have found this placeholder vision to be a great framework for coming into Alignment.
Please get in touch with us if you are interested in exploring Alignment in your organization.