Is your organisation aligned?

How much of your work really makes a difference? How much is about achieving your organisation’s purpose and how much about organisational goals? And are they even the same?

One of the biggest drivers of organisational performance is alignment, an area less talked about than two other “A terms” – agility and adaptability. But I’d argue that in many ways, the key to being a truly agile organisation starts with alignment.

So what do we mean when we talk about organisational alignment? One of my favourite explanations is this one from Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varcoe via Harvard Business Review.

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Ultimately it s the way in which we organise ourselves to fulfil our organisational purpose. Are the goals we are working to helping to deliver this, do we have the organisational capability and are our resources organised and supported to achieve these aims?

It also asks us to challenge ourselves about the things that we do that aren’t helpful to this aim. Every act that we do that isn’t aligned to our purpose takes resource and time away from activities that could be.

The meetings that we have that aren’t productive
The processes we create that take disproportionate time versus outcome
The activities that are only self-fulfilling
The vanity projects that we struggle to end

Alignment is a great way of thinking not only about the overall organisational context, but as an individual functional head, or department lead. We can easily look at the work of others and talk about the shortcomings and the lack of necessity, but how about we take the same time to really consider our own work and efforts. What could we stop, start, do better?

Finally, back to the other A word. Agility is best achieved through clear purpose. When we know what and why were trying to achieve something, it helps us to adapt quickly and realign in changing circumstances.

But ultimately, it is exactly that alignment that gets things delivered.

Analyse this…

Data comes in many forms. Yet our obsession seems to be clearly focused on consolidated numerical information. Often called BIG data, but ultimately more analytics.

Other than the wonderful ability for the profession to follow a trend, I can’t help wondering how much the data argument is a result of the deconstruction of our profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of analytics and data in helping to understand and resolve challenges and issues. I’m not against the use of them to help us to identify trends.

I just wonder whether we’re trying to get back, something that we needn’t have lost.

The trend of HR structures has been fragmentation and the repeated calls is for more. Resourcing want to be a stand alone function, learning want to be one too. Talent, leadership, OD, what’s next?

The fragmentation of the HR model is something that I’ve written a lot about before, but is another consequence of it a loss of understanding of the state of an organisation and a need to somehow compensate through apparent “intelligence”?

Evidence starts with what we can see, hear, feel and experience. It starts with our understanding of the environment, when we segment that understanding, we lose knowledge and intelligence that cannot be compensated for.

When I started my HR career we used to know the people that we worked with and supported, we knew who they were, where they came from, what they were paid, how they performed and what they wanted to do. We recruited, trained, supported and developed. We knew which roles were hard to fill, why and what the organisational implications were.

But I fear much of that is now gone.

As we move inevitably forward, we need to ask ourselves how much is really new, how much is really advancement and how much is trying to reclaim the things we’ve thrown away before. Looking back has negative connotations, but sometimes it is the only way we can make sense of the right way to step in to the future.

Care just enough

How many times in life have you put off doing something because of the perceived consequences, only to find out when you did take the action, that it wasn’t so bad after all?

It’s a tricky thing about leadership – the multiple demands on emotion and energy that can make sometimes even the most straight forward of decision, feel just a little bit too hard. And as outsiders we look on and think, “that’s obvious, why aren’t they doing something about it?”

This situation is amplified when it involves decisions that materially impact other human beings. Whether it is a promotion, a restructure, a performance issues or a reward challenge. We can look at this situation with our own lens and see our own version of perfect clarity, but we will never see the situation from the leader’s perspective.

As a partner or advisor to that leader, our job is to seek to understand, to help, to support, to maintain forward movement and prevent emotions from getting us stuck or avoiding the challenge. Most people understand on a rationale level the things that need doing and the decisions that need taking, but they get complicated by the feelings, emotions and fears.

As a leader, our job is to care enough, but not too much. We shouldn’t eschew all reference to the personal or the human, we should recognise that part of what allows a leader to truly own that title is their ability to feel. At the same time, we need to recognise when we’re allowing “emotion” (and I use this term in a more scientific, rather than literary sense) to prevent us from acting in line with our beliefs.

Where people are involved, there will always be difficult decisions to be made and there will always be outcomes that are less desirable than others. There simply is no other way, regardless of the rhetoric that is sometimes easy to believe. And leaders and their advisors, being human beings too, will bring their own emotional frameworks, relationships and history to any given situation.

Caring at work is really important. We just shouldn’t let it get in the way.

Simplicity in practice

For years I’ve been banging on about the unnecessary complexity of the modern workplace. And whilst it is reassuring to hear more and more people talk about the need to make things simpler and, “more human”, I’m more concerned than ever that we just don’t understand what that means.

It means doing less – which probably means smaller teams and lower budgets.

It means stopping – which probably means losing elements of perceived control.

It means thinking differently – which probably means losing people.

It means a new alignment – which means creating a new purpose.

And this is why it is easier for people to stand on conference stages, write articles or sell services, than it is to achieve as a practitioner. Because these changes go directly to the heart of the way in which we operate and have operated for years. They go to the heart of everything we have been taught is right and told to value.

In many ways, the world of “management” is very like the world of diet, health and wellbeing. Full of fads and initiatives that are layered on top of one another, each promising to be the answer, when deep down we know that the problem itself is one that never used to exist – until we created it ourselves.

We celebrate the ditching of the performance review – when that is simply a symptom of a problem that we created. The desire to differentiate and measure individuals within a group.

We champion the need for candidate and employee experience – presenting the treatment of people with dignity and respect as revolutionary or new.

Understanding the solution, means looking beyond the symptoms to the root causes. In the same way that faddy diets don’t deal with obesity and can instead contribute to the problem. We need to take a systemic and focused approach that recognises the multiple complex drivers, that recognises our contribution to them and starts to unpick and unwind, rather than layer on top.

To put it simply, we are the problem and we are also the solution; but only if we choose to change.