Looking for a Breakthrough? It’s time for the CNBH (Conversation NOT Being Had)!
A ‘Killer Question’ for Your Tech Project Kickoff
‘We are totally aligned’ said the leader in a confident tone. The rest of the digital transformation team stayed silent or simply nodded in agreement. This mix of confidence and silence was a red flag for the coach, or at least, an invitation to be curious.
For the leadership team to ‘totally aligned’ at a time of such change and uncertainty was simply ‘too good to be true’. Moreover, it was far from the norm.
Yet, many leaders find it difficult to accept that their organizations, projects or teams may not be fully in alignment. It is as if anything less than 100% alignment is an admission of failure, or a dereliction of duty. However, for the vast majority of organizations, 100% alignment is wishful thinking.
The Illusion of Alignment
When the data comes in, alignment is typically somewhere between 63% and 78% alignment. For this ‘totally aligned’ team, the result was 71% alignment. That is: 29% misalignment regarding the strategy for digital transformation. In particular, stakeholders had widely varying definitions of success for the digital strategy.
Clarity & alignment on priorities, purpose and results (what we call the triple lock on alignment) ranged from 62% to 78%.
The message is: If you believe that your organization is totally aligned, then think again. To assume alignment is dangerous. But it is a mistake that many leaders make. The assumption of alignment is widespread. That leaves leaders blind to one of the key opportunities, as well as challenges, facing any key project or initiative.
Alignment is not the Norm
Leaders should be able to admit to less than total alignment. Alignment is not the norm, nor is it the default within organizations or teams. Moreover, perfect alignment may not even be the ideal.
The only way for an organization to be perfectly aligned is to stand still, but in a fast-changing marketplace that is not possible. In a complex, fast changing environment, alignment isn't constant, but rather dynamic.
Total alignment is an artifact of a different age – an age when change was slow and predictable, and where strategy was set at the top and dictated downward.
Total alignment is a casualty of accelerating change and uncertainty. It is one of the things that gets lost in the shift from hierarchy to a matrix or cross-functional network of teams.
Alignment – the New 100%
Like every other aspect of leadership, alignment is situational. In a time of change and uncertainty, it is different from a time of little change. Indeed, we say that 80% alignment in a time of change and complexity, is the equivalent of over 100% alignment at any other time.
‘To achieve 100% alignment in a complex dynamic environment is simply impossible’ says another of our coaches. ‘Even if it were possible, it could be dangerous’ she adds. ‘The only type of alignment that works is dynamic alignment’.
Alignment Meets Complexity
What is required is a very modern type of alignment – a fluid alignment where people and resources can flow to where they are needed most. That is something that the annual budgeting and multi-year strategy cycle often struggle with.
‘They say if it is easy then it isn’t strategy’ says one of our coaches. ‘Well, the same applies to alignment’ he adds. ‘If alignment is easy – the difficult decisions are probably not being made and the difficult conversations are not being had’.
Business Unusual Alignment
Ambitious organizations will inevitably wrestle with alignment, as there will always be more priorities and projects than resources. When the need for performance meets the demand for transformation, alignment comes under pressure.
When business as usual meets business unusual, alignment will be stretched. Moreover, when greater speed, agility, collaboration and innovation are required.
On Being Aligned
Those that are aligned work at it continuously. Moreover, it is not always easy. There are lots of difficult decisions and difficult conversations required. Perfect alignment is transitory and fleeting. It is hard won't and easily lost.
To continuously question alignment is the leader's job, in this agile world. To encourage others to test and challenge alignment is a leader's job, too. As one of our more experienced coaches says: ‘If everything seems fine, then you're probably not moving fast enough’.
Perfect alignment is an illusion. But an understandable illusion, in organizations where people don’t speak up. Naturally, leaders will believe they are totally aligned if people don't speak up to say otherwise. However, as a decade of research on psychological safety tells us, they don’t speak up because it is not safe.
SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients: