Imagine how your car would drive if you never had your tires rotated, your oil changed or regular maintenance performed. If you kept it long enough, eventually everything would get out of alignment and it would become a useless clunker.
Same thing happens to some businesses.
Just like with a car, if no one pays attention, your company can get out of whack. People start heading off in different directions, working on their own priorities, putting out fires, possibly creating them, and generally focusing on the wrong things. As this happens, your business gets less and less efficient, less and less productive, harder and harder to operate.
I’m moving away from the car analogy now because I really don't know all that much about cars. But I do know about aligning companies and I'm happy to share what I've learned with you.
How does company misalignment happen?
Remember the beginning when you only had a few employees? Your company was well aligned by default. Everybody was in close contact (real or virtual) focused on one or two very important outcomes.
Then success comes along and you start to grow. You add more people, create more products, snag more customers and the machine becomes more complicated. Communication takes place through layers. People are not constantly reminded of what the priorities are. It's more difficult for employees to understand how they contribute to the company's goals. Sometimes it's hard to focus on the goals yourself.
Welcome to misalignment.
What you can do about it
I’ve found there are five basic steps to getting and keeping your people into alignment.
Step 1: Step back, look at the big picture, and define what it is you're really trying to accomplish. What's the primary goal? John F. Kennedy had a great goal for NASA when
he became President: Put a man on the moon within the decade and get him back safely.
Step 2: Figure out what needs to happen to reach that goal and what everyone's role is in accomplishing it. This is not as daunting as it may seem. It's pretty much the way you'd plan any project. Figure out what needs to be done, who's going to do it, and by when.
Step 3: Communicate your expectations – loudly, clearly, and often. When I conduct management audits for clients, one of the most eye opening things we do is to find out from employees – managers and individual contributors – what results they think they're expected to deliver. Usually sales closers and some accounting people are able to answer this question quickly and with some accuracy, but more often than not people can't answer the question right off the bat. Many aren't able to answer at all.
Step 4: Measure progress and make it visible. Nothing keeps people on the right track better than being held accountable for results. Whenever you can, let them do their own measuring, reporting and posting where others can see it.
Step 5: Adjust. Even if you religiously follow steps one through four, some things will get out of whack. But you'll know it while the misalignment is still small and when you can fix it with a few minor adjustments.
How to get started
Getting your company back into alignment and keeping it there is not the mountain climbing expedition you might be imagining when you follow a tried and proven process, which I just happen to have. The first thing I recommend to most CEOs is an Organization Audit to discover where your company is out of alignment and and to get an easy-to-follow plan to get back in sync. Demand on your time is truly minimal.