'The Alignment Factor': Consultation Is the Driving Force Behind Alignment
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This is the final installment in an exclusive series of articles from Total Alignment authors Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem titled "The Alignment Factor." Thank you for reading, and happy holidays.
There is an immense power within a simple concept that connects and unifies the thinking and actions of people to arrive at a line of action that benefits all. This concept is consultation, or the exchange of views that coalesce into a plan for forward action; an exploration of new insights or knowledge; a reassessment of priorities; or the achievement of unity of vision.
When is consultation necessary? Broadly speaking, the answer is always. In other words, consult before you act. Consultation is necessary in all situations. Think of any circumstance in which you want to know what to do. Before automatically taking action, consider consulting with someone who can give you another perspective. You can consult with your parents, your spouse, your children, your coworkers or your boss. You can still find, after consultation, that the action you had originally intended is the right one. No harm is done. Consultation has turned conjecture into certainty.
The Consultative Process
Consultation is a process of finding the best path forward and has a distinctive set of guidelines. First, decide on your topic. In other words, what you want to learn about, what you want to decide to do or not to do, what problem you want to solve, what issue you want to get to the bottom of.
Once you have picked the topic for the consultation, it is important to identify the right people to consult with. The right people are those who can give you the best information (subject matter experts); those who have the most relevant experience; and those whose lives will be impacted by your decision.
When you meet and review the topic for consultation, start with a fact-gathering exercise. This can be as simple as saying, "Let's take a step back and look at the circumstances. What happened that makes this issue important or relevant?" Or it might require a step to gather information. True consultation begins with a review of the complete and accurate facts. Be sure that the source of information is reliable. This is a prerequisite for finding the best path forward. Consultation loses its power if this step is skipped.
The next step is to invite the participants in your group to have an open and frank discussion. We have found that a simple set of ground rules for consultation will enable this group to provide valuable input and arrive at the best possible conclusion. Here are some recommended ground rules:
- Everyone is encouraged to participate.
- Listen to understand, not to respond.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t suppress your contribution because of hierarchy.
- No put-downs verbally or by body language.
- There are no bad ideas.
- It’s okay to build on other people’s ideas.
- Be fully present (laptops closed an d cellphones silenced).
- Offer your opinion, but don’t insist on it.
- Be detached from your own agenda.
An open and frank consultation on the topic unearths promising ideas that grow through the contributions of the group and eventually emerge into the best path forward. This path should be captured in a clear statement.
Who Makes the Decision?
The result of the consultative process is input to a decision. Who makes the decision depends on the type of decision. In the article, "Decision Making and the Culture of Alignment," we have described four decision types: command, consultative, consensus and delegated. If you have chosen the consultative type, you make the decision based on the input you have received. If the decision is to be the consensus type, the group makes the decision. Whichever type is used, the decision should be clearly recorded and communicated.
Consultation Is the Driving Force Behind Alignment
The culture of alignment thrives on consultation. In an aligned organization, solo actions are not generally the best way forward. Consultation could have provided a better solution. Acting solo leaves out those who have indispensable influence and contributes to the silo mentality that encourages misalignment.
The culture of alignment permits and encourages a diversity of ideas. This does not mean clash of personalities, contention, gossip and put downs. The guidelines of being detached from one’s ideas and from personal agendas are aimed at creating a culture where the participants seek after truth regardless of how it might affect them personally.
Consultation has a pivotal role in forming this culture in the organization and in motivating the workforce to collaborate across functions (horizontal alignment) and down the levels of the organization (vertical alignment). In fact, consultation is the driving force behind alignment.