ALIGNMENT LEADERSHIP – WHAT ARE WE SAYING YES TO?
We are living through a period where the levels of complexity and the speed of change that our organisations face, have grown demonstrably. With this comes a need to ensure that as leaders, we are developing the right types of capabilities in order to effectively respond.
Prior to our most recent lockdown, I was spending a lot of time working with executive teams and Boards on helping them remove the ‘noise’ within their organisations. They had lots of urgent work underway, plenty of projects to keep people productive, but also a concern that there was too much happening, with a lack of prioritisation, impacting their ability to focus the organisations finite resources (i.e. time, money, people) on the right outcomes.
Interestingly just like last year, with lockdown has come greater focus - an ability for organisations to tune out so much of the ‘noise’, ensuring that their teams are solely aligned behind delivering to what is important right now.
A few years ago, we (the AlignOrg Solutions collective) coined the term ‘Alignment Leader'.
This came from research we had done with large fortune 500, through to start up, organisations. What we found was that the most successful leaders, during periods of change, displayed 4 key characteristics:
Makes Choices and Trade Offs
Drives Change (which was the topic of one of my videos last year, Alignment Leadership - Change Focus)
It is the first two, that I want to talk about here.
There is obviously a lot about Covid 19 that is horrendous. However, what I do find compelling during a crisis like this, just like a successful change process, is its ability to sharpen our focus.
Making Choices and Trades Off is exactly this. It’s the capability, as leaders, to compel our organisations to say yes to those things that right now will drive our strategy (or enable survival), while at the same time saying no to those things that are diverting focus.
We need leaders who will champion the choices that enable the greatest performance from the most effective use of their organisation’s resources, removing those elements that drive inefficiencies and are misaligned to the strategy (e.g. ending the pet projects; stopping low performing products/ services and moving customers onto options with higher margins).
Alignment Leaders® actually create the environment where there is robust discussion to then make definitive choices and ensure that the agreed trade-offs are executed upon. Choosing to focus in some areas, means resources are not available for others, and the consequences of that need to be accepted and agreed on.
How many of you have a project list that, when consolidated across all of the teams, results in a long laundry list, when realistically to be successful your organisation should have a myopic focus on the top 10 or 20?
And then when a new opportunity or project presents itself, how often is there a conscious decision around whether a project on the existing list is:
paused (e.g. we can delay go live 3 months as the new item needs to be a priority), or
stopped outright (e.g. we have been working on that new product launch for 6 months and customers aren’t buying), or
consciously funded (e.g. time, money, resource) an additional project so the list grows, without removing any focus from the remaining items on the list. This is a key point as often we overload already busy people with one more thing, rather than resourcing it appropriately.
And this then takes me to ‘Ensures Alignment’. As leaders we must have a ‘worldview’ of our organisation, that is all about alignment. We need to be continually asking ourselves – “How can I maximise outputs through ensuring I have the right structure in place with clear roles and responsibilities, supported by efficient processes/ systems, staffed with the right levels of capability, assessed through insightful metrics and supported through the right culture?”.
We need to be constantly looking for areas of development, or misalignment, making adjustments at pace so that this focus on continuous improvement supports our strategic choices/ trade-offs. As leaders we also need to support our teams to consider the implications of the choices they are making and the impacts this has on the whole system, especially if it’s driving inefficiencies.
For example, a myopic focus on cost control in the warehouse (ordinarily a good thing), which constrains our ability to meet the orders that our sales teams have created, at a time when cashflow is critical, is not useful. How do we balance the needs of both to ensure alignment?
Its easy to forget that amongst the madness of Covid 19, there have been some amazing sporting achievements this year with the Americas Cup, Olympics and Paralympics. What is phenomenal about these sportspeople is their sole focus on the outcome – the win, first place, personal bests, the cup, the medal.
They are exemplars of making choices, sticking to the agreed trade-offs and driving alignment into everything they do from nutrition, rest, training, equipment, etc. to get the desired outcome.
The same could be said for organisations. I often hear the statement “we are amazing in a crisis, our alignment as leaders, the focus and execution is exceptional”, normally followed by “how can we do this day to day, in a sustainable way, without the adrenalin spike and drop-off?”.
That is where a focus on these two elements of Alignment Leadership become key.
What are the priority things we are focused on and how do we ensure everything in our organisation is effectively aligned behind this work so we can see demonstrable outcomes, fast?
Let’s not wait until the next crisis or lockdown to build this muscle – instead make it part of our day-to-day capability as a leader.
If interested below you will find some further ‘food for thought’ – previous videos that could be useful as you think about next steps:
Speed to alignment
Change ready areas of the business
Four steps when facing a crisis