Why Goal Alignment is good for your Business

unlocking growthThe oxford english dictionary gives 2 definitions for the word ‘alignment’ – the first relates to “the arrangement of things into their correct relative positions”, the second relates to “the position of agreement or alliance“.   We all tend to use the word ‘alignment’ quite quickly, but as with all business jargon, it is easier to say it than to mean it…  I am finding that both definitions are very relevant when it comes to ensuring not only leadership team alignment, but also cross functional alignment…

I am currently facilitating a “goal alignment” initiative for a private sector client organisation where the brief was “we need to ensure that functional objectives for the next financial year are in not only in line with the key battlegrounds outlined in our strategic plan but will also deliver on the business commitments that we have made to our stakeholders as reflected in our approved Budget”.  What I thought was a straight forward intervention (I have done this before) is proving to be a real eye-opener for all concerned.

The process requires functional leadership teams to dialogue the strategic plan, and translate what these strategic focus areas mean for their business and organisational priorities for the year ahead.   As we are progressing with each department, it is becoming clear that there had not been sufficient time and effort invested to ensure that senior managers really dialogued the strategy to ensure shared understanding.  Perhaps this was due to a history of performance objectives being prescribed (top-down), but I sense that it is also due to managers being reluctant to really test their sense making of the plan.  How often do we see strategic plans being communicated in clever powerpoint slides, but the words used are not mutually understood, with very different inferences being made from what is being said…

We start with the strategic intent and spend 70% of the time allocated for the workshops to craft meaningful objectives, and then change gear to focus on defining ‘targets’ (what we will see when we achieve this objective) and ‘KPIs that matter (metrics that will enable us to monitor and measure whether we are making progress).  Goal Alignment is about arranging the data/concepts into their correct relative positions (how this links to that and/or relates to that) in an arrangement that makes sense (visually and semantically), but it also about clarifying one’s positions of agreement and the implications these decisions would have on ways of working together – the alliance aspect of the defintion.

Not only are we seeing the benefits of stepping back from the plan, and allowing managers to bring their own meaning to the fore, but we are also seeing how significant the learning is from the goal alignment conversations.  As one manager remarked, we all assumed we knew what excellence meant for our function, but only now are we taking effort to explain to ourselves and others ‘what winning looks like’ and the standards that we would expect in terms of delivering on these commitments.

Whilst we are using cumbersome tools to capture the outcomes of the conversation (spreadsheets and summary bullet points in powerpoint slides), I am convinced that these senior managers leave the sessions with a real sense of being heard  and being understood – and having a well defined set of objectives that will inform their work-plans for the year ahead to meet the requirements of their performance contract with the organisation.  The nexus between top-down and bottom-up-and-across function understanding of business priorities is giving all participants a real sense of shared meaning and common purpose.



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