the ceo magazine, organizational culture,
Riaz Khadem

Add up all the time wasted doing things that aren’t important in your organization—by you, your direct reports and those reporting to you indirectly. You’ll probably end up with a large number. That number represents your organization’s misalignment.

We once facilitated an executive session with a large company that included three levels of managers. A manager and her direct report volunteered for an exercise you may wish to try in your company.

We had the manager write down the top five ‘right things’ the direct report should do to excel in his job. Independently, we asked the direct report to do the same for himself. Next, they each distributed 100 points among the five topics designating their relative importance, with the highest points going to the most important activity. The executives then viewed the two lists on the screen side by side.

Was there a difference between the two lists? Absolutely, both in terms of the items each listed and the weight they assigned to them. So, who was correct, the boss or the direct report? What would constitute the right things with the right emphasis?

Were both individuals aligned with vision and strategy, there would be no gap. Unfortunately, a misalignment exists. When you cascade that down several levels in your organization, the seemingly small snowball becomes huge.

In an organization, doing the right things means doing activities that will directly advance its vision and strategy. Here are 5 steps to help your organization achieve this.

1. Develop a clear and unified vision & strategy.

Look at your organization’s mission and vision. Do they give you a cause worth striving and sacrificing for? Do they impart an inspiring vision of future success? Do you see yourself as a contributor to that success? If not, then they must be reviewed and revised. Clarity of vision leads to clarity of understanding and is the fundamental prerequisite for any organization to achieve greatness.

Examine your company’s strategy. Do you understand it? Does it make sense to you and your team? A creative strategy that aligns with your vision, and that people understand, gives you a solid foundation for alignment, the energy to move forward, and the inspiration for everyone to find a part to play.

2. Create a frame of reference for alignment.

Do you know how you contribute to strategy execution in your company on a day-to-day basis? If not, then you need a mechanism to define everyone’s focus. 

An Alignment Map, or diagram, can provide clarity to everyone in the organization. Once your shared mission, vision and values are defined, place them at the center. Then, construct a tree of progress indicators that measure the intent of your vision on the left side. Next, attach the strategic initiatives that emerge from your strategic planning process on its right side.

The left side includes the outcome measures of present processes that help you achieve vision, and the right side include the measures of the strategic initiatives that create new processes for the future.

Creating this frame of reference for alignment is vital to strategy execution, as it will enable everyone to see, align with and contribute to strategy. It helps the organization to prioritize, avoid strategic initiatives that don't fit the budget, attach incentives to assure excellent execution, and assure collaboration of people at different functions and levels. The map becomes a frame of reference for the entire company.

3. Assign Accountability and Individual Scorecards.

Alignment is established by people who define the right things to do in their jobs using the map. Every key progress indicator and strategic initiative needs someone to be accountable for it: a director, a manager, a supervisor or a front line jobholder. Following a simple methodology, indicators and initiatives on the Alignment Map can be assigned to the right person at the right level of the organization, and cross-functional shared responsibilities can be defined. The result is an individual scorecard for each person that establishes clear accountability and cross-functional collaboration. The scorecard lists the right things for each person including the right weights of importance.

Companies worldwide that have defined business scorecards have found it challenging to cascade their scorecards to individual jobholders. Total Alignment is a response to the challenge. While business scorecards consolidate important financial information for the KPIs of the company, individual scorecards contain information at the individual level. They display and escalate real information from the source, avoiding good or bad numbers hidden behind averages or consolidated numbers. The result is a clear and measurable focus for every jobholder, transparent information, and a clear line of sight to each person’s contribution to vision and strategy.

4. Sustain Alignment through Feedback Information

Just as a car in motion needs to adjust its course to reach its destination, managers need feedback to help adjust their course. It must be accurate, timely and applicable to the indicators on individual scorecards. Managers need feedback on their own performance and on the performance of the people they manage.

Three one-page reports can become the mechanism for sustaining alignment. A Focus Report is the monthly status of your scorecard, including the goals for each of your indicators, and performance trends. A Feedback Report lists positive and negative exceptions—indicators that have performed better than the satisfactory goal and those that have performed worse than the minimum level. A Management Report lists the upward escalation of both the positive and negative exceptions from lower levels. This report provides transparency of performance throughout the organization.

5. Strengthen Alignment through Management and Leadership

Knowing what the few important ‘right things’ are in your job is a great start. Having these listed clearly on your individual scorecard is even better. But translating them into action is the key. What is required is management. What will make your organization great is a combination of good management and leadership.

Management consists of self-management and management of people who report to you. Self-management is what you do to prioritize attention to your scorecard indicators. It requires the discipline of watching your progress by carefully studying your Focus Report, analyzing what happened in the last month on the performance of each indicator, what the trends are, what your learning has been about actions you took, and what strategy you will need to improve your performance. Whether you’re a CEO or a frontline jobholder, this self-management is critical.

Unless you become fluent in self-management, you won’t have the moral authority to exercise your management influence, which includes examining how your direct reports respond to their scorecards and how they do with self-management.

As a manager, you’re in a position with wider scope than your direct reports and will have to pay attention to several people who report to you. The Management Report can be a useful tool to enable you to focus on the positive and negative exceptions coming from below.

The true power of alignment appears when you complement management with good leadership, which empowers the workforce, reinforces good performance, encourages collaborators, develops capacity, and compensates people for their real contribution.

Effective leadership combined with self-management and management will reinforce the efforts of the entire company to do the right things and reduce the misalignment gaps that persist in too many organizations.

With these five steps, you’ll transform the organizational culture of your company, progress towards total alignment and see great results continue year after year.

About the Author

Riaz Khadem is the coauthor with Linda Khadem of TOTAL ALIGNMENT: Tools and Tactics for Strengthening Your Organization.


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