Alignment is a hot topic in management.  You may have heard it batted around in meetings and if you have been through a restructuring recently, it was probably cited as one of the reasons behind the re-org.  But what’s all the fuss about?  What is alignment and what does it mean to you and your team?

Most organizations have goals and targets at many levels.  At the top there are usually revenue or profit margin goals, and as these filter down through the organization they become sales targets, churn metrics or other KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which show up on your job description or in your department meetings as initiatives.  In an ideal world, every task or initiative being actively worked by any member of the staff should roll up to some larger organizational goal.  This is the true definition of alignment – the act of lining up your goals and processes such that they all point towards the same larger objectives.

In practice business communication is rarely this effective.  Top down management can often feel like a game of telephone – the senior executives get together for an offsite and build a strategy.  These plans are brought to the directors of each department who are in turn responsible for making them into action plans for their teams.  As the goals are diluted, restated, interpreted and otherwise passed around, they become less and less clear until finally someone tells the receptionist that she needs to start wearing a red wig and clown shoes.

So how do you figure out how to keep your team’s goals tied to the big picture of your company’s success? 

1. Get In The Loop – Ask to see the memos, documents or other primary sources of information when new goals come down from above.  Don’t rely on what’s said in meetings (or worse what you remember later if you didn’t take notes), try to get the data from as close to the originating sources as possible.

2. Compare Existing Goals – Anytime that new goals appear on the horizon, you should take the opportunity to lay them alongside your existing initiatives.  Do the new goals conflict or work at cross purposes to anything that you are currently pursuing?  If so you will need to bring that up the food chain and figure out which goals stay and which goals go.  Bringing up this type of anomaly can help clarify situations where targets have been improperly communicated as they came down from the top.

3. Use Common Sense – If something doesn’t make sense, don’t just follow the lemmings over the cliff.  It is a rare (and unsuccessful) business management team that deliberately implements goals that have a negative impact on the organization.  With that said there are times when upper management is not fully aware of the impact a change may have on internal processes.  So don’t just wear the clown shoes and wig without double checking.

Alignment is a powerful tool to help businesses achieve their goals – having all of the individual contributors moving in the same direction avoids inefficiencies and improves morale.  However without effective communication it’s easy for the message to get lost or confused on it’s way down through the layers of personnel.  Your job as a team leader is to be sure you are finding ways for your team to be marching in the parade, not driving the clown car.

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