Why do many businesses, organizations, and new initiatives start with a BANG! and end in a fizzle? There are many reasons, but one pattern I see frequently is an erosion of the high alignment they had at their beginning. If you’re thinking “Alignment of what,” continue reading…
I was part of a couple of high-growth businesses that started with all the right “mojo.” We had a clear purpose, in pursuit of a higher cause enabled through our efforts. All our people had great passion for the work. Our products and services were clearly aligned with our purpose, and the needs of our customers. We had a laser focus on a few key priorities that would enable us to deliver value and grow. Our rockstar employees were outstanding at what they did, and delivered quality with little overhead and with few formal processes. Everyone was in constant communications, and we learned very quickly from our successes and challenges.
We were winning! We grew at an astounding rate, and developed a great base of loyal customer fans. But after a few years, we started to wander. Saying “yes” to almost everything our customers asked for stretched us beyond our expertise. Recruiting people to deliver on those promises diluted our culture with folks who didn’t share the same passion and values. We stretched our people at the expense of frequent communications, and small issues began to fester into larger problems. Team morale suffered, and those problems began to snowball. It wasn’t pretty.
From the outside looking in, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s pretty apparent what was happening. Which makes this a cautionary tale for all of us: when stuck in this downward spiral, it’s difficult to recognize it, and even more difficult to fix it. If you sense some of these things happening, here are some key questions to ask, that may lead to improvements:
- Are our Products still aligned with our Purpose (as defined in our Vision, Mission Statement, etc.)? If not, we either need to consciously and carefully revise our Purpose, or re-align our products, services, and how we deliver them. Just making the Purpose more vague and all-encompassing is not the solution.
- How are we tapping into the Passion of our employees? This Passion may be bubbling up in the form of frustration. If so, are we suppressing it, or harnessing it for energy to drive improvements?
- How many “top” Priorities do we have? If more than one, we need to reconsider what “top” means… and build a single Top Priority and other supporting priorities and goals to enable it. The Top Priority must be the single most important thing we need to accomplish to advance toward our Purpose.
- Does our Planning approach balance our need for agility, with our employees’ and customers’ needs for predictability and stability?
- Are our management Practices and business Processes aligned around maintaining clarity across the entire organization, and enabling organizational learning and improvement? If we focus on those objectives, many other issues will tend to take care of themselves.
- Have we fallen into the trap of measuring (and perhaps rewarding) the wrong aspects of our Performance? Why are we measuring the things we’re measuring, and what do we hope to accomplish by doing that? What behavior are we incentivizing, and does this align with our Priorities and the culture we want to develop or maintain? Are we organizing our teams just so we can measure and compare them? That’s a recipe for misalignment.
Maintaining your organization’s “mojo” during periods of growth and change is challenging. Focusing on alignment can foster a culture of sustainable success and agility.
[reminder]What other things can we do to align organizations stressed by growth and change?[/reminder]
For more ideas on creating and maintaining alignment, get your free copy of my eBook The P Principles Primer: Eight Questions for Aligning People and Organizations.