Eight warning signs that your business lacks alignment (and how to fix them)
Step away from your business for a moment. Look at it objectively. What are the most significant issues facing you? Is there a need for more accountability? Do your Executive Team tend to work in siloes? Perhaps it’s hard to get them to make decisions independently. They get bogged down in work that never seems to lead them anywhere, and growth is painfully slow.
All of these are symptomatic of a lack of alignment. And yet I bet you didn’t jump to that as a root cause of all your issues. People don’t realise they’re unaligned. They see the symptoms but not the disease. And until you cure misalignment, it’s impossible to improve everything else.
A lack of alignment can lead your business into a growth trap. You end up chasing disparate revenue that isn’t strategically important, adding complexity and stifling innovation. A-Players start to leave because everything is harder than it should be. Productivity and engagement drop like a stone.
So what are the main warning signs to watch out for? And how do you fix them?
1. Lack of direction
This is the most fundamental sign of all. There’s no shared sense of direction. Every team member should be able to clearly articulate to you the company’s BHAG and purpose. This is why you’re doing what you do. Your team will only feel empowered to make decisions if they know what this is.
Ask yourselves why you exist. What are you passionate about, and what do you want to be world-famous for? Also, what drives your economic engine? Get clear about your core customers and the unique problem you solve for them. Then make sure the whole Executive Team is aligned around this.
Once everyone’s on board, you can plan your revenue growth over the next three to five years, and there’s no room for alternative views. How often have I interviewed Executive teams where some say the business is moving too fast whilst others think the opposite? There can be a 10x difference in opinion, which will stop you from scaling. Make sure there’s unanimous agreement on your direction of travel.
2. Decision-making is taking too long
Your people are taking on way too much and then not delivering. Without alignment, they have no rapid way to make decisions. And there’s a reluctance to own any decisions that they do make.
You need high levels of utilisation in your teams to scale quickly and effectively. They need to continue to innovate. So you’ll have to kill the things that aren’t working by saying no with speed. This only comes from strategic alignment.
Something that can be hugely helpful is the Rockefeller Habits survey. This is an execution tool that will focus your efforts on finding alignment. Can everyone through to the front line clearly articulate your strategy and priorities? Most of the time, the Executive team struggles to outline priorities, let alone everyone else. A survey like the Rockefeller Habits will give you a sense of how big the challenge is, and then, if you repeat it every six months, you’ll get a sense of how you’re doing (and what else needs to happen to make progress).
3. Siloed departments and lack of accountability
If team members work in isolation and they’re not collaborating, it could be a sign of a lack of trust. So, building a culture of inclusiveness is essential.
Often, some roles and responsibilities need to be clarified. People tell me they need to do a RACI exercise (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) to fix this. (This should be called ARCI, as surely accountability comes before responsibility?) RACI can be helpful to work through as people often hold false expectations of their involvement in a project. They’re trying to build their empire within their silo and argue from that position.
They’d be less bothered about this if they were more aligned around the strategy. It would give them context around why things are happening the way they are and lead to more of a growth mindset (rather than scarcity). Ultimately you can’t be involved in everything in a fast-moving business.
4. Too many KPIs
A sign of a misaligned business is too many KPIs that have no relationship to the overall strategy. Are you measuring the things you’re doing rather than the outcomes of these things? Look for leading indicators to track – the activity that will generate the results. We suggest to our clients using a Target Operating Model to identify the areas of the business that are a priority. Then they limit the KPIs to these areas. There should be a small number of these health metrics that everyone can get behind. Every 90 days, choose three to six and ditch the rest. This focus can be transformational for a leadership team.
It’s a sign of maturity when the Finance team steps in to do the reporting for the whole company. What a joy! It ensures one version of the truth and prevents functions from fudging their numbers. Instead of each silo managing its stats, the Executive team decide the most important result for the next 90 days. This might mean giving up on something you wanted to do to support another part of the business with resources and time. Again, this comes from everyone understanding the direction of travel and what’s important.
5. Lack of engagement
If you’re observing a lack of engagement in your teams, have you stopped to wonder if your staff are happy? Remember that team managers drive 85% of team member happiness, so this is a good place to start. Make it clear to your managers that they can’t be A-Players until their team is, so weekly 1:1s and coaching sessions are vital. A-Player performance and engagement go hand in hand.
Encourage open communication and provide opportunities for praise, celebration and professional growth. Regularly seek feedback and act on it to show that you’re listening. And make sure you’re measuring engagement. Don’t do it every six months. Make it a part of your week with tools like Friday Pulse or Gallup Q12. Then you can track engagement within teams as well as individually.
6. Resistance to change
Change is hard – fact. But to scale quickly, your people must embrace it rather than resist it. This always links back to alignment. If you don’t know why change is essential, you’re less likely to support it.
Looking back at the battles and wars throughout history, they all entailed vast amounts of personal sacrifice. This was only possible with an understanding of why they were important. Clarity of purpose means that you’re prepared to continue even when things are hard. It needs to be clear to everyone that once they’re through the change, it will be worth it. Then you’ll have less resistance. So, involve staff in decision-making, communicate the benefits and rationale and foster a growth mindset.
7. Too much gossip and rumour
If rumour and gossip are rampant, it’s a sign there’s a lack of transparency. Triangulation is toxic. Be careful it’s not happening in the Executive team because, if it is, it’s likely to have become endemic. I’ll often get Executives together and encourage them to talk openly to each other. Then, when we break, one of them will corner me to say things privately. I ask them, ‘Why didn’t you say this to the group? It won’t get fixed until you speak up.’ Yet too often, there’s little muscle around feedback, either positive or negative.
Companies with a habit of gossiping tend to have no culture of celebration or praise. The two go hand in hand. In the vacuum of praise or conflict, people avoid difficult conversations and bitch and moan instead. I start by getting deliberate about celebrating success. Recently I talked to Jim Harter, Chief Scientist at Gallup, for my Melting Pot podcast. He said if all managers ensure they catch up with their team for ten minutes each week to give praise, it can be transformative. But for this to happen, there need to be clear expectations and an understanding of what constitutes good performance. This is often lacking, as is any form of measurement. Every week, the manager and team members need to know what they should be achieving and what will be measured.
8. Lack of continuous feedback
If there’s no structured feedback and performance evaluation, it can hinder alignment. I have a pathological hatred of annual appraisals. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a pointless waste of time and effort. Instead, design a framework using job scorecards for each role to give a small number of individual KPIs. Then make sure every manager checks in every week on these performance metrics.
To measure cultural fit, consider a behavioural framework based on your core values. Make clear what will be rewarded and what will be punished. And articulate it in a way that’s clear to every team member. Then everyone will know what good looks like in your business.
Again, this also links back to alignment. Every time we do this exercise, we spot Toxic A-Players lurking in our clients’ businesses. By allowing this toxicity to continue, they say that Toxic A behaviour is acceptable, causing a total lack of alignment as they’re saying one thing but doing something different.
I have conversations with CEOs every day. Some have businesses that are scaling fast and others that are growing more slowly. There’s a big difference in the problems they’re facing. In the slower growth companies, CEOs invariably complain about a lack of urgency. It seems hard to shift the inertia that’s set in. I tell them a lack of alignment drives this. Only when everyone heads in the same direction with a clear purpose will their business continue to be mired in poor growth.
- NAVIGATING AND COMMUNICATING CHANGE
- BUILDING COMPANY CULTURE
- CHOOSING THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES
- ORGANISING YOUR A-TEAM