Play From the Same Sheet of Music
Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment. — Jim Collins
Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone seemed to be headed in a different direction on the same topic? Ever been in a situation where nobody seems to agree on what we are supposed to be doing or what we are trying to accomplish? I think we have all been there and it is not only unproductive, but demoralizing. When we experience this, we know we are a long way away from being a high performance organization.
When everyone has a different interpretation of what is being asked or does not really understand the vision, we do not have alignment on what we are trying to do or where we are going. Without clear communication and leadership we are all left to wander around the topic trying to persuade others to join our solution when in fact we are not even all working on the same problem. Just having a vision is often not enough, we need to have alignment around the vision to come to a common understanding.
So what is alignment and how do we describe it? According to Wikipedia, “Strategic alignment is the process and the result of linking an organization’s structure and resources with its strategy and business environment (regulatory, physical, etc.) Strategic alignment enables higher performance by optimizing the contributions of people, processes, and inputs to the realization of measurable objectives and, thus, minimizing waste and misdirection of effort and resources to unintended or unspecified purposes”.
There is a lot of substance to this definition and more than we can cover in a single article. For the purpose of this discussion let’s focus on the second part “…higher performance by optimizing the contributions of people, processes,…” When we take the time to ensure we have alignment around where we are going or what we are trying to accomplish (our vision), we enable resources to focus their energy on developing a solution rather than debating the objective. It creates a better efficiency in our use of resources and ultimately allows them to produce a better result in less time.
Though sometimes overused, the metaphor of the relationship of the orchestra conductor and the musical score to the musicians is a great example of alignment. Imagine a conductor in front of a sellout crowd at the music hall stepping up to the podium and expecting the orchestra to play a complicated piece of music without anyone actually having a sheet of music. While the highly talented and experienced musicians probably have familiarity with the music in concept, there is no way for them to join together or even know where they are at any point in the performance. The conductor may think he is leading the orchestra, but in fact all he is doing is waving his arms. Without the sheet music, there is no way for the orchestra to be in alignment even though they are assembled in front of a leader.
Much like the conductor, we need to make sure that everyone has the sheet of music (alignment) to create a solution. In addition we need to be sure that everyone is at the same place in the music with a full understanding of where we are headed and what we are trying to accomplish. By taking time to make sure we have alignment, we are ensuring that we are producing an environment that will allow our resources to work more efficiently and produce better results.