Leadership Alignment: How important is it to you?
How important is it to you?
A recent issue of HBR had an article entitled “Unite Your Senior Team”. I was somewhat surprised, not entirely, to see the low statistics on senior team alignment given that this was fresh information. The article quoted an MIT Sloan School survey of more than 4000 managers which found that only 28% of the leaders surveyed could correctly list three of their firms’ top strategic priorities. According to the authors of the HBR article and their case study of Swisscom, this is mostly due to misalignment or what they termed a “strategy-execution gap.”
We all know what a strategy-execution gap feels like when we experience the companies we do business with. Their brand promise is not aligned with what they deliver – as simply put as that. Internally to the company, however, it can look like missed targets, lack of innovation, inability to grow. We’ve been hearing about this for a long time from various versions of stating the “why” of your business, to purpose-driven management, to employee engagement but we still don’t seem to have “cracked the code” on how to actually achieve the alignment of senior leaders and their teams.
What I know to be true is that it always comes down to communication.
It is what I used to refer to as the “plumb line” through the business from top to bottom or from side to side. As R. Daniel Foster, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2018, A Father’s Lesson: Keep the Spirit Level, “My father’s simple existence has been like a horizontal plumb line for me, one to gauge myself against.” Foster’s dad was a carpenter and he showed his son that when things are in balance the bubbles in the level float properly. He taught Daniel the importance of equilibrium and gave him his own pocket-sized level. When Daniel’s father died years later, Daniel brought the level to the funeral and used it as a metaphor for the balance of life in the eulogy he delivered. Daniel’s dad had lived a beautiful life, on an even keel, and practiced what he preached.
Visualizing the plumb line, whether vertical as the plumb drops through water to the bottom of a well or horizontal like the carpenter’s measure of wood beams, is a strong image for leaders to ponder. If every leader in an organization can look to the left or right and to leaders above and below them in the hierarchical chain with the confidence that all those leaders would be able to state the top three strategic priorities of the firm (e. g. what business are we in, what are our growth goals, who do we need to serve) in harmony and balance, think what could emerge:
• Improved team communications
• Fewer disagreements
• More efficient, action-oriented meetings
• Staff empowerment for innovation without repercussion
A measured and deliberate approach
I know this seems like “pie-in-the-sky” but it is achievable because that is exactly what happened at Swisscom. According to the HBR article, improved communication and alignment can occur if senior leaders, first take a pause and ask, “what have we got to lose” when what they are currently doing is just not working. It also requires admitting that a team needs precise, measured assumptions if they are going to address the right things and achieve results. The Swisscom leaders did just that and took a carefully measured and deliberate approach to achieve improvement in their leadership alignment. As a result, they developed a 2025 plan that included:
- A compelling story
- Accountable governance
- Separate management for growth governance
- New metrics and incentives
And, the following year, they and already launched new entrepreneurial efforts that would lead them quite confidently to their 2025 goals. What will you do differently in your organization to get to 2025? Can you take that first step?