Continuing in a series of posts that touch on 10 challenges for you to consider as you embrace a 2012 that is more productive for yourself, as well as for those around you. As I do so, I am borrowing from a book I read last year, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Stories for New Leaders by Michael Watkins.

Read previous challenge articles:
First Challenge – Promote yourself

Second Challenge – Accelerate Your Learning

Third Challenge – Match Strategy to Situation

Fourth Challenge – Secure Early Wins

Fifth Challenge – Negotiate Success

Sixth Challenge – Achieve Alignment

When things aren’t working the way they used to, or the way we want them to, the knee-jerk reaction is to immediately blame the people. After all, if the processes and systems have always worked, then it has to be the people using the processes and systems, right? Not necessarily.

In order for any group to achieve its goals, there are certain elements that need to be in alignment.

Strategy – The identified approach the organization will use to achieve its goals.

Structure – How people are organized into groups and the ways in which their work is coordinated.

Systems – The processes used to add value and make workflows easier.

Skills – The capabilities of the collective groups and individual people in the organization.

Culture – The values, norms, and assumptions that shape behavior.

While misalignments between any of the five elements can make even the best strategy useless, it is important to remember that the strategy is what drives the other elements. For example, if you decide to change your overall strategy, it is likely that you will have to alter the structure, systems, and skills to support the new direction.

Some key misalignments to watch for:

Skills and strategy misalignment – Let’s assume you have set a strategy of becoming more profitable by only working on larger accounts. However, if you don’t educate yourself and the rest of the team on the issues important to those larger accounts, your skills will never develop to the point of supporting the strategy.

Systems and strategy misalignment – Imagine your strategy is to be more accountable to your clients by more proactively reporting on the results you have delivered. If you don’t establish an effective way to compile and report the information for those customers, your systems will fail to support your strategy.

There are countless other examples, but hopefully you can see why the alignment is so critical. If you are regularly frustrated in your efforts to get yourself and those around you to adopt more productive behaviors, step back and ask whether organizational misalignments might be creating the problem.

Acceleration Checklist as suggested in The First 90 Days (paraphrased in places)

  1. What are your immediate observations about misalignments among strategy, structure, systems, skills, and culture? How will you dig deeper to confirm or refine your impressions?
  2. What decisions about customers, capabilities, and commitments do you need to make? How and when will you make those decisions?
  3. What is your current assessment of the appropriateness of the organization’s current strategy? What is positive about it and what is inadequate? Do you feel it needs to change?
  4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current structure? Where do you see the need for potential structural changes?
  5. What are the core processes in your organization? How well are they performing? What are your priorities for process improvement?
  6. What skills gaps and underutilized resources have you identified? What are your priorities for strengthening the skills base?
  7. What are the functional and dysfunctional elements of the culture? What can you begin to do to change the culture?

It’s easy to focus on each of these elements in isolation, but it is the alignment of the elements that matters most.

Photo by Wetsun.