'The Alignment Factor': The Map That Will Help You Sustain Alignment
This is the fourth 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.
Successful entrepreneurs often decide to scale up and grow their company from small to large. This is an exciting journey, but not one without pitfalls. Besides the financial pressure that scaling up brings, new technologies, new resources and new ideas emerge that could be overwhelming. How do you manage your way through the pressures, take advantage of promising opportunities and stay aligned with the path that led you to success? We suggest creating an instrument that will serve as your guide and your ally that we call the alignment map. And it has three sections: the center, the left side and the right side.
The Center: Mission, Vision and Values
The center is the most important. This is where you can write out the mission, vision and values of your company. These are at the center because they define who you are and where your company is headed. Naturally, filling this section will require important pre-work, including crafting your mission carefully and with the participation and involvement of your team. The result of this activity will be a statement that serves to inspire you and your stakeholders to stay the course when sacrifices become necessary.
Next, create your vision with the involvement of your team that will serve to define the goals for everyone in your company. And the third element to be captured in the center is your core values. These are important statements that must be well-conceived, as they will serve as uncompromising guidelines for the organization.
The way these central statements are created determines how successful they will be in guiding your way forward. They will have life and meaning if they inspire action in your entire team.
The Left Side: Processes
You are in business to deliver value defined in your mission to people now and in the future. The value you provide to your customers now is through the products you sell or services you provide, and these are prepared and delivered by internal processes. Your current processes could include: marketing, sales, order entry, production, shipping, delivery and after-sales service. These have enabled you to deliver your company’s value proposition to customers, and if they are well designed, you are able to deliver value consistently. You are familiar with these processes and have probably charted them in terms of the key steps from start to finish. Each key step should meet specifications that you have established. If you measure the outcome of the important steps or even define just one outcome measure for each process, you will end up with key indicators that define how these processes are performing. These indicators belong to the left side of the diagram. Your close attention to that left side will ensure your continued success in meeting customers' expectations.
The Right Side: Projects
The right side of the map will help you stay aligned with your market. This is where you place your strategy for the future, along with the strategic projects that need to be developed to deliver it. Some of the projects might include the following: enhancing or upscaling the production and delivery of your products and services; creating new products and services to respond to the current needs of your customers; or creating products for future needs of your customers. The right side of the map is critical to assuring your sustainability and ongoing relevance in the market, and includes three broad categories: business strategy, support strategy and closing-gap strategy.
Business strategy involves identifying the right strategic projects to ensure continued alignment with your market. To arrive at the right projects, you will need to segment your market and define homogeneous groups of customers in terms of their needs and preferences. You should also identify what differentiates your offering from the competition for each segment. Segmentation and differentiation, while key elements of your plan, need to be complemented with a clear understanding of your reality; that is, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each of your segments. Putting this all together, you will be able to arrive at the best approach.
However, as all segments are not created equal, you can’t afford to invest heavily in each. You will need to decide which segment receives the lion's share of your investment to grow, which should be kept at the same level and which should be abandoned. The strategic process we're summarizing here will enable you to identify the right strategic projects based on the analysis of each segment’s current market position and its market attractiveness.
Support strategy includes projects that support the implementation of your business strategy in all segments. This category could include human-resource projects that involve hiring, training and compensation; or information technology projects that provide you with the right technology for your segments. Digitalization projects that take advantage of online platforms, and Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) projects that create an effective data warehouse with access by the segments, also fall into the support-strategy category. As support projects benefit all the segments, they should be the servants of the segments, not their leader. This is often the opposite in many organizations.
Closing-gap strategy refers to projects to create new processes you need for the future, or projects to re-engineer processes you have now that will not be adequate for the future. Closing-gap approaches might also include the acquisition of companies that already possess the necessary processes you need, or the acquisition of companies from your supplier chain to strengthen your vertical integration.
Once you have constructed your alignment map, you will have clear statements of your purpose or mission, with your vision and core values at its center; the measurement of all key indicators that keep you in business on the left side; and strategic projects that build your future on the right side. If you keep this map as your radar, and dynamically update it, you will have a powerful instrument for alignment that will guide you towards increased success now and in the future.