“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”—Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

All organizations run best when they are functioning well across a range of criteria. When your company has reached alignment, they run so smoothly that you might not even notice it. Employees are engaged and productive, managers are communicative and helpful and leadership feels empowered to guide the organization from the helm. However, even a single element out of sync can send waves of dysfunction throughout your culture. If your organization has even one element out of alignment, you might observe these behaviors.

Signs of Misalignment

1.) There is a general attitude of, “this too shall pass.” Employees don’t expect real change, so they hope to ride things out until they improve. They expect inaction from leadership.

2.) They say, “I don’t know; I just work here” or “That’s not my job.” Instead of engaging in finding answers and becoming a cross-trained resource, they are mostly interested in not being bothered.

3.) Confusion, gossip and politics are part of your standard operating procedure, causing people to angle and gossip about each other.

4.) Turf wars occur, and employees say “get out of my sand box” because they are primarily concerned with themselves and don’t have a sense of larger goals.

5.) There’s a pervasive lack of awareness of what anyone should be doing. Things are done a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Workers resort to the least common denominator.

6.) Silos form around individuals and departments. Everyone has a singular view of their tasks, and little communication happens across departments.

7.) Experience and expertise are locked into the brains of a few select people. There’s no effort to train or sharing that knowledge. Hoarding knowledge is perceived as job security.

8.) There’s a lack of open dialogue between employees and managers. Employees feel as though they only get talked to when in trouble. They might do ten things right that go unacknowledged, and are chastised when they do one thing wrong.

9.) Good ideas go unheard, because people feel like nobody cares. Workers coast: they show up and do their jobs and leave without contributing more than the minimum.

10.) When new initiatives are rolled out, there’s a general feeling of distrust. You see a lot of eye rolls, and people say, “Here we go again.” Initiatives are abandoned as quickly as they are announced, creating a sense of skepticism.

The Solution

If you’ve been nodding while reading, you might be wondering what you can do to realign your company. Although this will require sweeping changes at all levels, they are not difficult to understand or explain. Chances are that many of your employees will be happy to be part of the solution, although it might become apparent to others that they are not a good fit. If this happens, understand that it’s a natural part of the process and let them go. You can trust that the more aligned your business becomes, the more outstanding and cooperative employees you’ll attract.

Three Steps to Alignment

To get started down the path of alignment, make this your mantra:

“Set a goal. Make a plan. Do the work.”

The key to internal alignment is that everyone should be pulling toward the same goal. If everyone isn’t pulling in the same direction, you risk expending a lot of energy without progress. Make sure you clearly communicate the expectations, goals and game plan for getting there not only to your frontline management, but also to employees at every level.

Make sure your employees understand why their work matters, how it fits into the larger program and how they can help achieve company goals. Many owners tend to fail in one or more of these areas. They might be good a making a plan and executing, but they lose sight of their goal. Others might have great vision, but they lack the ability to communicate to their team on how to execute.

Remember: you either spend time communicating and creating an atmosphere of alignment, or you will spend time fixing things. Continuously communicating goals and making sure everyone understands might feel tedious, but it is far more fruitful than constantly having to undo and redo work that was done without the goal in mind.

Face Forward

Remember that your employees interface most with your customers. Set clear expectations about what good service looks like, and what your expectations are for customer interactions. Your culture and values are critical because they lay down the ground rules for how business should be transacted. Having your mission, vision and values formalized and conveyed takes a lot of the guessing game out of knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. It helps you know which people are a good fit for your organization, and you can easily tell when someone is not in alignment.

The Breakdown

If you’re seeking to establish greater alignment in your business, do these things:

1.) Set long term, short term and immediate goals and clearly communicate them with employees at all levels.

2.) Define your mission, vision and values and make sure everyone knows them by heart.

3.) Be consistent with your messaging.

4.) Engage your team in a dialogue, and meet regularly to keep the lines of communication open.

Creating alignment is hard work, but it’s far more productive than the alternative. Alignment will add value to your bottom line, engage your employees and improve consistency of customer experience. If done correctly, you’ll be unlocking the hearts and minds of your employees and making your customers happy to keep coming back. These are the keys to building a business with real staying power.

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