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WHY ALIGNMENT HAS NEVER BEEN MORE MISSION CRITICAL

In a world of increasing uncertainty, it helps when employees are aligned – not just with the company strategy, but with their colleagues. Cat Barnard, co-founder of Working the Future, reflects.

11th November 2020

To respond to emergent needs efficiently, we’re better off making sure we’re aligned from the get-go. Misalignment leads to frustration, disengagement, poor performance and, ultimately, loss of competitive advantage.

CAT BARNARD

 


At the start of 2020, our working worlds were already in the foothills of profound change. Meta-trends including globalisation, technology, changing attitudes towards work, ageing populations and increasing inequality were all slowly but surely transforming the complex relationship between work and society.

And then, of course, along came Covid-19.

The pandemic has thrown the construct of work into freefall. Decimating entire industries, coronavirus has created unprecedented economic turmoil that experts suggest will take generations to resolve.

Uncertainty looks set to be with us for the foreseeable future.


Building trust through clarity

With constant change all around, the need for people to make sense of things has never been so great. We humans don’t tend to cope well with ambiguity. Neuroscience tells us that without clear information and a shared understanding of what’s happening and how we feel about it, we make up stories and assumptions to fill the gaps. We then use these as the basis for our responses and actions.

Within our workplaces, the need for coherent, empathic and inclusive communication is now recognised as key. Organisations that struggle with this face a parallel challenge of employee disengagement – undoubtedly undermining their chances of longer-term survival.

The challenges faced by organisations today are complex. Working through those challenges requires contribution from a wider team of participants, because no one individual can know the answers. Teams need trust, interdependence and alignment to avoid the consequences of misunderstanding – costs that easily escalate in today’s fast-paced and dynamic markets.

Alignment of thinking – and, by default, communication – in modern organisations is increasingly pivotal to success outcomes.


Make sure everyone is on the same page

To effectively collaborate, problem-solve or innovate, it’s vital that co-workers build shared mental models that reflect both what they’re faced with and the reasons why, in addition to how they’re approaching these challenges behaviourally. This isn’t to say that everyone should think exactly the same thing – rather that reflection and planning includes different perspectives, with time taken to line these up so they are compatible.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard, director at organisational effectiveness specialists Mirror Mirror, describes alignment as being “when people move in the same direction to maximise outcomes and minimise energy loss. In an organisational setting, this means that individuals and teams are able to make decisions and take actions that line up with the wider organisation’s strategy and priorities.”


Aligning mental models

There are three layers of alignment at work. The first is alignment of the organisation’s functions with its strategic intent: strategy, brand, systems and architecture. The second is alignment of individual contributors with organisational strategy. And the third is the alignment of those contributors with one another.

When we have aligned mental models within a workplace that’s psychologically safe, we’re far more able to learn from one another. Embracing plurality of perspective strengthens organisational resilience – we’re less likely to alienate employees or customers when we’ve considered as many viewpoints as possible. Alignment enhances successful collaboration – something already cited as a critical skill.

A primary challenge emanates from our increasingly distracted lives. The hyper-connected internet age provides multiple streams of information – all available at the touch of a button. But the sheer volume of what we could pay attention to erodes capacity for focus and thoughtfulness.

We’re busier than ever before, and our working lives are a constant deluge of deliverables, metrics and meetings. Given the pressure on our brains to cover as much ground as possible, it’s no surprise we use as many mental shortcuts as we can.

And yet it’s precisely these shortcuts – or assumptions – that trip us up. Making assumptions at work means that we’re not checking for understanding, intent or meaning.


Get it right from the start

When colleagues hold different understandings of goals and priorities, it creates the perfect breeding ground for misalignment – which at work all too often manifests in costly mistakes and delays.

As markets become more complex, pressure at work amplifies. To respond to emergent needs efficiently, we’re better off taking the time to make sure we’re aligned from the get-go. Misalignment leads to frustration, disengagement, poor performance and, ultimately, loss of competitive advantage.

For as long as we seek a viable vaccine against Covid-19, our working environments remain in flux.

Building enhanced collaboration capability to meet market complexity is the challenge of our times. The need for aligned and coherent internal communication is now mission critical. It’s the linchpin by which organisations will survive – and thrive – in our emergent work futures.


FIND OUT MORE

WEBINAR: 4 DECEMBER 2020: Aligning People for Performance – What, Why and How

Alignment is when all forces move in the same direction to minimise energy loss and maximise outcomes. In an organisational setting, this means people can work from a shared reality about purpose, goals, behaviours, and mental models to achieve the best results.

Learn about the role of alignment and how to incorporate it into your workplace during this webinar on Friday 4 December 2020, hosted by Mirror Mirror.

 

To respond to emergent needs efficiently, we’re better off making sure we’re aligned from the get-go. Misalignment leads to frustration, disengagement, poor performance and, ultimately, loss of competitive advantage.

CAT BARNARD

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