Alignment is Key to Strategy

David Overcash

February 5, 2019

CORTAC Senior Associate David Almond shares his thoughts on the importance of alignment and strategy in any program or consulting effort.  His vast experience leading large organizations as well as critical initiatives has solidified his belief that bringing people together in a unified direction is vital to success.  In his words:

Alignment is key to Strategy

“Oh, Canada … The true north strong and free…”

Canadians sing these words in their national anthem hundreds of times during their lifetime. Yet, like many rote lines, never give them much thought.

True north, for an organization, is a clear statement of intent, often captured in concise mission and vision statements. Practitioners of transformational change (whether public, private or non-profit) understand the value of a true north. It provides direction and purpose to those operating within its bounds.

In his 2010 book, “Drive”, Daniel Pink posits three conditions that motivate people – money is not one of them. Rather, he states most people find motivation in mastering new skills, working with autonomy, and having a profound sense of purpose.

True north and purpose have a common underlying principle: alignment.

The philosophical underpinning of alignment is twofold:

  1. Focusing the resources and energies of an organization towards a well-defined set of outcomes optimizes performance; and
  2. Alignment improves employee engagement.

Alignment is the conscious action of an organization to define a high-level operating framework. This can be at the division, department, or unit level.

In the DNA:

Alignment must be consistently communicated at all levels – even to external audiences. Alignment done well can foster amazing change. When combined with consistent tools to improve processes, it becomes “the DNA” of an organization.

A great example is a Lean Six Sigma practice. The full potential of Lean Six Sigma can only be realized when it becomes the operating system of the organization – part of their DNA that influences everything they do .

Employee engagement measures the degree to which the workforce believes their ideas count and are enthusiastic about their work. We find this often is a strong part of a Lean practice. These are people aligned with the mission, vision and outcomes, motivated by a sense of purpose. An engaged workforce will outperform one that isn’t.

Failure to Align:

Many groups fail to achieve alignment. Author John Bernard is a leading business expert on organizational change and often talks about the failure of self-directed work groups in the 1990’s. Organizations would form teams and send them off to change the world . Their failure, according to Bernard, was due to a lack of consistent and concise overarching direction. In a word, they lacked alignment to organizational goals.

A mark of effective leadership is the ability to align an organization and keep it focused on their true north. This may seem like hard work.

It is. But it’s worth it.

True north: strong, but not free.