Why organisational alignment?
We live in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. For a company to be successful in this day and age, it must stay alert to changing situations and always be one step ahead of the market. This is only possible if departments are properly connected and able to move quickly with each other in the event of necessary short-term adjustments – and do so without losing sight of the longer-term aims.
In this respect it is comparable to a flock of starlings. They fly close together, all at the same speed. Each starling keeps an eye on up to seven of its neighbours and reacts very quickly should any of them change direction. This allows the swarm to move quickly without collision and change direction as a unit to avoid problems.
Their short-term changes in direction are not a sign of opportunistic behaviour; they could be a response to an attacking bird of prey. The ultimate goal is clear and will be achieved.
(Photo: Jelle de Jong)
What is organisational alignment?
Organisational alignment means that vision, strategic goals, targets, the operating model, behaviour and skills of the people in the organisation are in line with each other. This is shown in the figure below.
How to achieve organisational alignment?
Alignment starts with a compelling vision – one that connects, inspires and appeals to the different populations within the company. It is important that everyone in the organisation feels as if they own the vision.
This sense of ownership will not come about simply by organising a few sessions with the leadership team and company-wide communication. Instead, it is a journey that starts at the top, but then goes through all levels of the organisation. At the end of that journey is a vision that everyone has contributed to, recognises and wants to go for.
Incidentally, a vision is not static and will continue to evolve in line with developments in technology, the market, society, amongst other things. The people in the organisation do need sufficient stability. That is why an appealing vision consists of a fixed part that always remains and a variable part that always develops.
However appealing a vision is, it is relatively worthless if it does not translate into a set of strategic goals with targets (Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs) – not just at the top of the organisation, but at all levels including the shop floor.
This process of cascading goals and targets is a delicate one. The goals and targets at the top of the company must be achieved, while department heads and team leaders must accept their derived goals and targets. Good insight into the current performance, the formulation of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time based) and a careful dialogue support the acceptance process. There must be strong ownership of the goals and targets for them to be realised.
Anchoring in the daily running of the business
Subsequently, the plans and targets are anchored in the day-to-day running of the organisation. This requires transparency of actual performance against the KPI targets as well as attitudes and behaviours that drive the actual performance towards the targets.
An operating model that is aligned with the vision and strategic goals provides this transparency and supports the development and maintenance of effective attitudes and behaviours.
Organisational alignment – the key to success
If vision, strategic goals, targets, operating model, behaviour and skills of the people are aligned, the organisation can quickly and adequately navigate changing circumstances without losing sight of its longer-term goal and realise its ambition.