Ensuring Hard Organization Alignment Choices are the Right Choices

October 17, 2017

Ensuring Hard Organization Alignment Choices are the Right Choices

We live in a finite world, and no one has infinite resources. Every young adult setting out in the world learns quickly that they can’t afford everything they’d like to have. A dinner out, or that new pair of shoes? A new car, or a nicer apartment? As they grow up the choices may get bigger, but the reality of having to make hard choices never goes away.

It’s no different for organizations. No organization can accomplish all their desired goals, at least not all at once. Everything has to work within the scope of available resources.

When faced with a hard choice, how can you know if you’re making the right choice?

The key is in alignment. Decisions that align with your business strategies and priorities will allow you to concentrate both your resources and efforts to maximize your returns and optimize your results. 

Seek Good Input

Creating the change you desire calls for collaboration between the right individuals within (and sometimes outside) your organization. Ideally, organization alignment should flow seamlessly from you to other leaders in your organization, and eventually throughout the company. This is true of every aspect of your organization from business model development through organization design implementation.

It’s important to have a big-picture perspective when designing your business model and aligning organization choices. Partnering with the right people helps ensure that the transformation you seek is grounded in reality and leads to success in the marketplace. Including people outside of the direct circle of control of your organization—such as partners, suppliers, and customers—can help you gain the perspective you need.

Strategically Align All Elements of Your Organization

A young adult entering the workforce learns quickly that all aspects of their life are interconnected. Without proper transportation they may have trouble landing or keeping the job they want. The quality of their employment determines the quality of the apartment they can afford, which in turn may affect their friendships or dating prospects. A rocky social life or stressful living conditions can affect their performance at work. Each element is essential and affects every other.

Your organization has similar dynamics. Each area of your organization must work with all others to create a harmonious whole. This includes structure and governance, leadership and culture, people and rewards, information and metrics, work processes, and processes of continuous improvement. All areas must be incorporated in a successful change transformation.

Embrace Your Role as Alignment Leader

A critical role in organization alignment is that of alignment leader. Some of the qualities of a good organization alignment leader include:

  • An alignment mentality. A good alignment leader takes a big picture approach to the organization and encourages others to keep in mind how the system as a whole is impacted by alignment choices.
  • Commitment to necessary change—including getting buy-in from all parties and implementing change management.
  • Practical focus. He/she understands the reality of hard choices and the need for trade-offs, and sticks to decisions once made. The alignment leader also is able to keep things moving forward as new processes and structures emerge.
  • Nimble approach. This leader approaches every aspect of the organization alignment process and market changes with swift, decisive responses while being careful not to inhibit growth—an ongoing process that is critical if an organization is to stay competitive in the marketplace.
  • Willingness to sacrifice for the organization’s best interests. He/she is able to make aligned choices to shift resources from less strategic work to work that most fully supports core strategy, in order to simultaneously streamline and grow the organization.
  • Customer-centric approach. A good alignment leader helps the organization stay focused on the customer’s needs rather than on the organization’s products and services, thus absorbing complexity and maintaining relevance and resiliency.
  • Ability to work with others to manage change and maintain alignment through building capability. Organization alignment is work that never ends; even when a significant transformational change is accomplished it will always need to be revisited and tweaked in response to a dynamically changing marketplace. This can’t be done in isolation or by any one individual; good alignment leaders teach and train their partners and employees to recognize misalignments and to think systemically.

Absorbing Complexity

As outlined in our book, Mastering the Cube, to achieve greatness as an organization it’s not enough to deliver an outstanding product or service. It’s also important to support customers by absorbing or reducing unnecessary complexities. For example, many customers do not want to manage such tasks as scheduling and coordinating delivery of products and services.

When an environment changes, it may be necessary to absorb complexity by making selective design choices that are harder for the organization but easier for customers. A good example is the way Southwest Airlines handled the tighter flight regulations that came into play post-9/11. Before that event, Southwest had adopted a fast and cost-efficient boarding procedure where passengers simply presented a plastic card with their boarding number and were allowed to sit anywhere they wanted.

After 9/11, the airline was required to track all passengers and their luggage. The added complexity could easily have changed customer experience significantly. However, Southwest was able to work within the regulatory environment to come up with a way to maintain the same type of experience while still satisfying Homeland Security’s requirements by allowing customers to choose their own seat according to their boarding group and number.

Regardless of the origin of the complexity, such situations demand that an organization and its leaders maintain clarity around their business model and organization design. This requires alignment leaders to align organization choices to deliver value, and stick to trade-offs—even if the organization must absorb complexity in order to make life simpler for customers.

The Authors: 

Reed Deshler is a former HR executive, organization design practice leader, and author of Mastering the Cube: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks and Building an Organization that Works. He has worked with leaders in  top organizations, including General Electric, 3M, Benjamin Moore Paints, Southern California Edison, Consumers Energy, Hertz, Black & Veatch, TVNZ, American Family Insurance, and Honeywell to clarify strategy, align organization choices, and manage change. Reed has facilitated numerous strategic and tactical planning processes for SBUs and BUs leading to significant operational efficiencies and cost savings. He can be reached at reed.deshler@alignorg.com.

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