How often do you hear someone say that they “need to get aligned” with a colleague or team member?
In the type of complex and interdependent environments that we work in, building alignment is a core skill required of us all. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that many individuals and teams struggle with. I’ve observed 2 primary reasons why organizations struggle with alignment and 5 steps to improve your effectiveness.
2 Reasons Why Alignment Fails
1) Alignment is an ongoing process, not an event.
Too often we assume that once we have the alignment conversation, we’re good. We will automatically remain aligned and follow a similar path of experiences and decisions. The challenge is that once we leave our alignment conversation and go our separate ways, we are constantly and independently encountering new information and new situations. How we each experience and interpret these experiences and information will differ thus our alignment begins to drift. The only way to sustain alignment is to stay in a continual rhythm of communication to compare experiences, interpretations, and decisions.
2) We assume vs. verify context and intentions
In the fast paced world we live in, we all look for ways to be most efficient with our communications and actions. We typically use short-hand descriptions of situations that may communicate the general intent but leave a lot open to interpretation. For example, I was involved in a recent client exchange between the President and a regional business unit head regarding a perceived misalignment on incentive programs. The CEO made the following statement, to which James, the business unit head, immediately agreed. “We need to move quickly to resolve the incentive problems so that we feel confident we will hit Q4 revenue targets.” Now, on one hand this statement seems straight forward and understandable. However, because I had recently discussed the situation separately with both the President and business unit head, I knew that they had completely different interpretations of what was wrong with the current incentive program and completely separate ideas for how to solve the problem. It wasn’t until I called a time-out and asked each of them to describe their perspective that they recognized the disconnect.
5 Steps to Establish and Sustain Alignment
1) Clarify the goal or intent
As I mentioned in the prior example, in our effort to be efficient with our communication, we are often imprecise with our descriptions and leave too much open to interpretation. Take the additional 3-5 minutes to clearly state and/or clarify the mutual goal or intent.
2) Clarify the current status
We often assume that we are each seeing the same data and are interpreting the data in the same way. Rather than fall into this trap, practice stating the data or observations that you are working with and your interpretation of them. Remember that we all have a partial and incomplete view of reality. By sharing your perspective and remaining curious to the perspective of others we can expand our individual and collective understanding.
3) State your respective commitments
Once you’ve aligned on the goal and interpretation of current situation, be precise on what actions and outcomes you are each committing to next. This insures that your actions will be as efficient and effective as possible in moving you towards achieving your mutual goal.
4) Decide how you will evaluate progress
Determine how you will evaluate whether or not your individual and collective actions are moving you towards your goal. Having an effective feedback process to evaluate progress can help verify whether your initial assessment of the situation was correct and whether your chosen actions are effective.
5) Determine when you will have your next conversation
As discussed earlier, alignment is an ongoing process. Always leave each conversation with a clear understanding of both next steps and your next conversation. Frequent, precise, and efficient communication is key to sustain alignment and adaptability.
If you’re not already practicing these 5 steps, give it try and let me know your results.
Remember to stay curious and enjoy the journey!