'The Alignment Factor': The Keys to Internal Alignment
This is the first in an exclusive series of articles from Total Alignment authors Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem titled "The Alignment Factor." Check back in every Thursday for new installments.
Every entrepreneur knows that alignment with the market, or external alignment, is vital to the success of the business. But what about internal alignment? Internal alignment is just as important and includes the alignment of people in an organization to work efficiently and collaboratively to fulfill the purpose of the company.
The alignment of people has two distinct characteristics: alignment with a center and alignment with movement. The first is primarily in the realm of thought; the second in the realm of action. In alignment with the center, the thinking of people is aligned with a single point of reference. In alignment with movement, people’s talents and energies are directed to activities related to the execution of strategy to move the organization toward its vision.
Successful startups provide a good example of alignment with the center. Cohesion with a center is manifested in the leadership of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur's mission becomes the mission of all, and the alignment with a center is assured. The entrepreneur's keen sense of the needs of the market translates into a vision of the future and a strategy for achieving it. Vision and strategy set the direction for the movement of the workforce.
If the company is successful, momentum generated from this two-fold alignment spurs it to significant levels of growth and success, which further reinforces the alignment with the center and with movement. A state of alignment exists in most successful startups, as the twin conditions of alignment are simultaneously present.
Challenges of Misalignment
As a company continues to grow and expand, misalignment inevitably creeps in. Things become increasingly complex, and many issues arise. For example, financing the growth may become difficult. Staying up to date with the needs of a changing market is a challenge, and the inability to receive timely and relevant key information to guide decisions becomes a roadblock.
As a business continues to scale up, the need for financial resources and new talent often dilutes the control and even influence of the original founder. Soon, the alignment is lost as new voices are heard and new people bring in their own vision and input. Often the new perspectives are what the company needs, but how does the internal alignment survive all these transitions? The entrepreneur is unable to sustain the two-fold dimensions of internal alignment.
As the organization grows larger, so does the challenge of misalignment, overt or covert. Misalignment slows the progress of the organization and disempowers the committed team, while promoting the personal agendas of individuals. Many entrepreneurial organizations fail during scale-up.
The Alignment Solution
To help the organization during this scale-up process, a new structure is required. It is wise to avoid the trap of adopting old structures and management practices where misalignment can easily enter and prosper. A fundamentally new infrastructure is needed to deliver the firm’s promises and value proposition in a state of alignment. A series of transformational processes becomes necessary for building that infrastructure and using it to navigate through the scale-up phase of growth.
The transformational process must begin by engaging the entrepreneur and the top team in meaningful conversation with everyone's participation. At this stage of expansion, a new mission and core values should be defined to serve as the new center of alignment. Agreement with that center is assured when everyone is involved and provides input into the creation of the mission and values. The same team should engage in formulating a shared vision of the future and strategies to realign with the market. The vision and strategy that emerge from such a process sets the direction of movement for all employees.
It is important to guard the process of alignment from being misaligned itself. Alignment must not be forced. True alignment will come about naturally through active participation, involvement and understanding. Further, the actors in this alignment activity must know that alignment enhances, not diminishes, the creativity of everyone. Creativity and innovation are the necessary elements of growth. In an aligned state, when the direction of movement is clear and the responsibilities are spelled out, the individual’s creativity becomes more focused on fueling the speed of movement rather than flowing haphazardly.
The value of the process of building an infrastructure of alignment must be clearly understood and agreed upon in order to ensure the sincere participation of all the parties. Without understanding and wholehearted acceptance, the process will not truly result in alignment. Personal opinions abound and should be channeled in a constructive flow to contribute to the transformational process. For this reason, the facilitation of the process must be done with care, patience and respect for everyone’s point of view. A positive and attentive approach in facilitation eventually wins any natural resistance to this effort.
The Role of Methodology
The existence of methodology is key to implementing internal alignment. It is far easier to unite different points of view in the presence of a sound methodology that everyone understands, rather than the exchange of differing opinions without a methodology. It is far easier to facilitate consensus in a group consultation, for example, in the presence of a set of ground rules for discussion that everyone accepts.
With the correct methodology being used, the following results should be forthcoming: an inspiring mission, vision and values; creative strategy; clear accountability; cross-functional collaboration; access to data; enhanced competencies; and ability to deliver value to customers.
What Does Alignment Look Like?
In a state of alignment, the organization has an inspiring mission guided by core values that are never violated. The mission is not just making money. Rather, it is about providing some service or product that add to human prosperity. Mission gives everyone meaning to their jobs, a reason to strive for excellence.
The organization has a vision of success and goals for delivering its worthy mission. Goals are challenging and require effort and creativity to reach. A strategy for achieving vision has been devised based on a sound strategic process and the involvement of the organization’s strategic thinkers.
Strategy to achieve vision has set the direction for all employees. It is a roadmap to success that is specific enough to allow each employee to find his or her clear path of contribution to its success, yet flexible enough to change with the changing external environment.
In a state of alignment, each individual contributes to the execution of strategy (vertical alignment), as well as collaborates with others (horizontal alignment). In a state of alignment, a rhythm of conversation in teams and between collaborators is present to consult on progress, devise plans of action, act and then reflect on action aimed at sustaining alignment and moving the organization forward toward its vision.
The state of alignment has immense power and will enable the entrepreneurial organization to stay united, survive the difficult scaling up phase and emerge with extraordinary success as a recognized player in its market. It has the power to bring positive change based on fulfilling its well-defined and worthy mission while adhering to meaningful core values.