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On Alignment

Posted November 11, 2011 7:53 AM by Dylan Miyake

Peel back almost any case study of a failed organization, and you'll see, more than anything else, an example of a failure of alignment. Alignment, at its simplest, is the entire organization working towards a common goal. It seems so simple, but in practice is really difficult to achieve. Why is this? Is it just some perverse quirk of human nature? Or can alignment happen?

When organizations get started, alignment is clear and simple. The founders know what the mission is and work tirelessly to execute on it. Be it something relatively simple, like a neighborhood association, or something more complex, like a new government agency, there is typically alignment during first few months or years of a new organization.

But as the organization grows, and the mission expands (or gets clarified), alignment starts to drift. People are working on different projects, and have different priorities. The development team may have a different view than the program team. The CEO may be pitching one vision while the volunteer staff is executing on another.

This entropy is natural. Unfortunately, it's also harmful to the organization. And fundamentally, the lack of alignment comes down to a lack of communication. Without clear direction, aligned goals and incentives, and "line of sight" back to the mission, people do what comes easiest or what they were last told to do -- not necessarily what's best for the organization.

So how to address this issue?

Well, as Balanced Scorecard consultants, we typically start the conversation with the strategy map. This relatively simple tactic can produce some incredible alignment results. Just having the conversation on what's strategic (and what's not) can open a lot of eyes in the organization and help people prioritize and focus their work around strategy.

But the exercise of building the map alone does not create alignment. The map must be socialized and embedded in the organization. And the person best equipped to do this is the Executive Director, CEO, or Founder. By carrying around the map, and showing it to everyone she meets, she can signal the importance of the map and reinforce the alignment.

The next major hurdle is measurement. Most measurement and evaluation systems are broken. They measure output and incremental growth, not strategic goals. So, in order to align the organization to the strategy, you must align the measures to the strategy. All the way -- from the boardroom to the front line. Ask yourself -- what behavior does this measure motivate? Does it move us towards our strategy?

Finally, the programs, projects, and initiatives at the organization need to be aligned. What legacy "baggage" do we have, and what are we not doing that we should be doing? Are we funding the things that will make a difference? Are we spending our money strategically?

Getting the organization aligned around the strategy is critical. And, like most good ideas, relatively simple to understand, but it can be complicated to implement. Post a comment below and let us know how you're doing with alignment.