Orchestrating an alignment

Some organisations astound me. Those that I’m talking about have two things in common:

  1. they have fantastic vision statements, that are used to communicate the ‘why’ of the organisation to the world. In many cases, these vision statements resonate with just about all that hear it. They’re catchy, they’re inspiring.
  2. communicating the vision is delegated to the marketing department and they are the only ones who really keep pushing it. Internally, the place the vision is most prominently displayed is the last slide in the corporate presentation template, as mandated by corporate communications. To take that further, those in the employ of said organisations seem to act contrary to the public vision of the organisation.

The result: the organisation fails to deliver against its vision. Looking inside these places you’ll find the decision making process managers follow, and the way they lead (or don’t) those below them in the organisation chart are major cause of the problem. There are many case studies on that. Less obvious is you’ll often also find the internal policies, processes and practices don’t align to the vision either.

Misalignment of internal policies and practices, is undeniably a management and leadership issue at its core. So the root of the problem remains one of leadership, however, solving it takes a different set of steps to those most commonly referred to for leadership development. In situations where an organisation is not aligned to its vision, one of the first points of call is ensuring managers behave and encourage others to act in accordance with that vision. Aligning practised values with a vision is easier said than done of course, organisations acknowledge that and often invest heavily into making it happen.

An investment in cultural alignment, quickly becomes undone when the need to follow internal processes to get things done throws up policies, processes and practices that are incongruent to the vision.

When internal processes aren’t aligned to the vision, any investment in cultural and behavioural change gets stymied by the misaligned internal processes. Fixing that requires further, deliberate investment; one in what’s commonly referred to as business improvement. Unfortunately, investment in internal process improvement to support a vision or transformation is often not done adequately (and in some cases, not at all).

Implementing deliberate, comprehensive, lasting change to your internal processes is not considered glamorous work by many people. Yet commercially, it can be equally rewarding. There’s no external glory, no big and immediate revenue numbers, no commissions; just the equivalent of a few internal pats on the back for reducing OpEx and helping to improve this thing called net profit (for which you might get a bonus, but often not).

Although not usually seen as ‘glamorous’ as winning massive sales deals, as internal business improvements are just as equally about net profit improvement – they must be equally as important, don’t you think? To that end, any strategic transformation needs to look at how to align both the top and bottom drivers of the profit and loss statement, and ultimately, how to generate and save cash in a coordinated approach.

There’s little point generating extra cash if all you’re going to do is burn it.

There is more to it, though. What often goes underappreciated is the top line value that is unlocked because front line staff can thrive, unencumbered by misaligned back-end processes. While there may not be any direct revenue from a business improvement initiative, there most certainly can be top line growth.

Take the client relationship manager that spends two days a month in preparing invoicing using manual processes, in line with tight deadlines set to ensure the numbers hit the correct month in the financial reports. Or the account manager who has to follow up through multiple approval steps for a small proposal. Meanwhile various calls from customers sit waiting, opportunities that are awarded to competitors who were able to respond promptly. In these examples, the ultimate return from the investment in the back-end process is increased sales revenue. Even better though, is that due to the investment in the back-end, the additional sales are at higher net margin.

There is not always sufficiently concrete and direct evidence to include these sort of numbers in a financial model, i.e. quantify an investment decision, for an internal business improvement (mainly because data on ‘opportunities lost because our backend processes got in the way’ doesn’t get collected in enough granularity, if at all). However in its absence, spending some effort in exploring this is justifiable – and absolutely should at least be included as a qualitative benefit in the business case.

Ultimately, for an organisation to truly live up to it’s vision, both the external positioning and internal processes need to be aligned.

Articulating how any given internal improvement initiative will enable this, is part science and part art. Developing your managers’ abilities to do this, and following up by making business improvement investments that align with the vision, is every bit as important as teaching them to be good leaders to begin with. This will enable orchestrated alignment of your entire organisation, enabling the entire organisation to work in unison towards achieving the vision.

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