19 Aug 2017 Organisational Alignment
Pulling in the same direction
It is widely accepted that a high performing team can achieve more than the sum of its parts, be that an Olympic relay team, a rowing crew or a business. It is also generally understood that to achieve this high level of performance, a team needs to understand what it is trying to achieve and what each of its members can do in pursuit of that goal.
Whilst many organisations have a high-level view of their goals, setting out the direction of travel, (often in the form of Vision, Mission and Values statements and/or a 3 to 5-year strategy) relatively few seem able to develop the levels of teamwork and collaboration required to ensure everyone is pulling together in pursuit of these goals on a day to day basis. And whilst many businesses invest in individual training and development, relatively few seem comfortable developing teams across functional / divisional boundaries to work effectively together.
Most businesses have a published organisational structure and, inevitably, these structures create division with individuals being assigned to specific reporting lines and teams. As these individuals are primarily accountable to their line manager, this breeds a strong focus on the performance of the individual within the team and can weaken the relative importance of the individuals’ role in relation to other teams and within the organisation.
In most, if not all, of the organisations we have worked with over the last 15 years, this has been a major challenge and one that restricts the growth potential that could be achieved if everyone was pulling in the same direction. In these instances, the challenge is not just to breakdown the silos that have arisen but to promote and embed a true sense of common purpose and teamwork that works on an ongoing basis.
Breaking down existing silos is often achieved by changing the organisational structure but, as every model has its inherent weaknesses, this can sometimes serve only to remove the current silos and create new silos in their place.
The key to achieving organisational alignment is thus to promote and embed a true sense of common purpose and teamwork, in a way that raises the focus above traditional structural boundaries and towards goals that all employees can engage with.
The Golden Thread
The single area of focus that can best create this sense of unity is the organisations’ customers as it is they, and their use of the businesses products and services, that keeps the business trading.
Ensuring that a focus on the organisations’ customers is kept at the forefront of everyone’s mind, whatever their functional role or place in the structure, is a relatively simple concept but requires a lot of sustained effort to achieve. Having said that, it has been shown that being customer focused is one of the best ways to engage employees and to get the most out of them. Research into the motivations of employees regularly highlights that being clear about one’s role within the organisation and being recognised for the contribution one makes in it, are the main drivers of satisfaction, being much more valued than pay and reward, etc.
The trick is to ensure that the organisations’ leaders understand this and the link between meeting customer expectations and the operational and financial performance that follows. In simple terms, customers are satisfied, and most likely to come back for more products or services, when the experience they get meets their expectations. And as this customer experience is usually delivered by the organisations’ employees, aligning employees with the needs of their customers is the key to success.
Focusing on customers and what they expect of the organisation and ensuring all employees are aligned in meeting these expectations is the golden thread that runs through most organisations that enjoy sustained high levels of performance. The principle is that simple and, whilst it isn’t necessarily easy to achieve, it should be at the top of the agenda for any organisation that wants to achieve long-term growth and success.