By nature, humans strive to feel aligned in every aspect of daily life – either intrinsically with our own values and ambitions, or extrinsically with the people we interact with and the groups we belong to. The professional word is no different. Alignment is an essential part of the foundation in any workplace. And when done right, it can be the defining factor in the success of an organization.
We recently attended the webinar, “Keys to Creating Alignment Throughout Your Organization”, with Aja Smith, Executive Leadership Coach and Community & Partnerships Catalyst at ThinkHuman, to talk about the impacts of alignment (and effects of misalignment!).
As teams, individuals, and leaders, these key takeaways from our conversation serve to remind us all of the true power of alignment.
📺 Didn't catch the live webinar? No stress, you can watch it on demand!
What does alignment mean to you?
The beauty of alignment is that even if we all define it differently, a unified vision is what brings us all together. From rowing in the same direction or getting your ducks in a row, to everyone pulling together towards a shared purpose and being on the same page for growth — it’s about being all-in together. When everyone on the team is clear about the company's mission and purpose, it acts as a guiding North Star of sorts.
Here’s how the webinar panelists define alignment:
“When my personal values, motivations, and aspirations are all in alignment with where I work, who I work with, and how I work.”
- Andrea Kalavsky, Coach, Mentor, and People Consultant at peopleOsophy
“Good people who are collaborating together and having fun. Who are aligned on values, and goals, and heading in the same direction, and accountable for their role and impact within the organization.”
- Julie Jeannotte, HR Expert and Researcher at Officevibe
“Everyone having clarity on what you're trying to achieve, whether that's the goal, the metrics, the vision, or mission, but also how you're going to achieve it.”
- Kavita Vora, Chief People Officer at BrainPOP
Beyond having our own definitions, one of the most important steps to ensuring alignment is for the organization to clearly articulate what it is to them. It has to be demonstrated as a shared set of facts and a vision to move forward in. Alignment begins with a shared reality.
The power of achieving alignment together
Strategy, resources, and organizational capability all matter in their own right. But the real magic happens when they’re all aligned. Achieving alignment within your organization can have a powerful impact if everyone is moving in the same direction with a unified mindset. Think of it as the glue to performance excellence and the essence of good management.
Alignment gives everyone a sense of purpose and serves as super powerful driver of retention, engagement, and performance. This allows employees to see the impact of their individual work, how it helps achieve team goals and business outcomes.
It's also important to differentiate it from the simple absence of dysfunction or conflict in the workplace. Alignment is what helps employees feel like they’re part of something bigger, more engaged, and motivated to play a vital role in enabling the organization to function as a well-oiled machine.
When an employee is working hard but doesn’t know whether their work is contributing to the greater purpose, they get the feeling that they’re simply spinning their wheels. This becomes both frustrating and exhausting, which in turn leads to burnout. They’ll either disengage and stay, or disengage and leave. Sometimes it’s of greater benefit to slow down and get realigned rather than race haphazardly towards an unclear goal and burning out as a result.
The impact of remote work on alignment
Today’s workplace reality sees more remote and hybrid work models than ever before, so it’s inevitable that this kind of distributed work will have an impact on alignment. While allowing relationships to flourish within teams that regularly work together is still feasible in a remote context, it’s significantly more challenging to maintain connections across different teams.
Finding ways to preserve alignment while working remotely is essential to ensuring engagement, performance, and even retention. This new working reality has put an unprecedented spotlight on how critical alignment truly is in the workplace. It helps employees see the concrete impact of their individual and team work on the success of the organization and its business outcomes.
Alignment also plays an important role in ensuring employees don't feel a sense of isolation when working remotely. This sense of purpose at their organization helps them feel like they're part of something bigger, and in turn more engaged in their roles. The right tools and meaningful communication help everyone achieve this.
Power dynamics and misalignment
When it comes to misalignment, it can simply stem from positionality instead of curiosity. When we think from our own position, push our own agenda, and see a different way of doing things as the wrong way, we can’t possibly achieve alignment.
Power dynamics can really change the course of things. For example, when leadership is confident and persistent about one direction being the right one, it can be uncomfortable for other people to share the fact that they don't agree or have a different viewpoint. When people say that they agree, but deep down they don't, it can create issues where you realize you never really had alignment to begin with.
Remember that superficial verbal alignment is not true alignment. While nobody wants to be the one to disrupt or derail the mission by going against the grain, not speaking up can be even more detrimental. We must find ways to translate emotion into language, and to express our sentiments so as not to over-intellectualize a problem.
The head, the hands, and the heart.
This leads us to the three archetypes commonly found in an organization:
🧠 The intellectuals who function organically using their heads.
🧡 The people who function through their hearts and emotions and tend to be more naturally creative.
✋ The ones who use their hands to throw an idea at the wall and see what sticks.
While everyone approaches matters differently, recognizing that if we are going to create alignment with our business, we need to speak to all three parts: the head, the hands, and heart. We all also know that ego gets in the way of healthy debate. But we need healthy debate to meet in the middle and achieve alignment.
Sharing a vision to meet in the middle
Now that we recognize that building a shared reality is the most effective way to create a mutual understanding and strive towards a goal together, we can think about the best strategies and tools to foster this kind of alignment within the organization.
With so many different management and personality styles, we must find ways to empower everyone equally. This comes from a combination of teaching clarity and curiosity. Here’s how:
1. Set clear expectations
The first step is to lay out expectations that can be reinforced with clarity and curiosity. One person shares their perspective, then asks for others’ perspectives. When you genuinely listen and ask questions, you’re able to land at a new place together and be clear on the expectations. For there to be true alignment, people must know what they’re aligning on, and then have some reference point they can go back to.
2. Provide clarity
It’s not enough for leaders to simply set the expectations without exploring what success looks like for other people. Where do we start? What one action or task can you implement to get the ball rolling together? Sometimes it simply starts with smaller, bite-sized pieces to get clarity from the jump.
3. Strive for progress over perfection
Once you get more organized and structured, you can build on the clarity by adding in consistency through rituals. Think one-on-ones between managers and employees, and between peers. Have a point of reference that employees can check in real-time to see their progress. Whether it’s monthly or quarterly, having information available to everyone in the company will help everyone feel that they are aligned and understand how they can contribute towards its goals.
4. Double-down on listening mechanisms
Whether it’s forums where people chat and discuss, tools where people share feedback, one-on-ones, coaching sessions, group calls — or whatever else works for you, double down on your listening mechanisms. This can really help identify misalignment before it becomes problematic and even harder to remedy.
🚀 Go above and beyond with these 5 extra ways to ensure team alignment and improve performance.
Create achievable goals
It’s clear that to achieve alignment we need to set targets and create goals. But we also need to be extra mindful to avoid setting goals that are unrealistically out of reach and unachievable. Being overly aspirational can inadvertently create moments of misalignment.
When you've got a goal that you just can't reach, it feels like you're being set up for failure. We have to remember that it’s okay to shoot for the stars and hit the clouds. Be realistic about factoring in today’s reality and the ever-changing work landscape. Instead, mark every single milestone by creating a culture of gratitude and celebration.
The human side of alignment
While alignment is about tools, processes, goals, and business outcomes, we always have to remember that it's also powered by people, relationships, and trust. In the mix of it all, we can’t forget the human side of alignment, and the importance of bringing your whole self to every conversation (no matter how messy, chaotic, or creatively driven you come across!)
What each individual brings to the table determines the outcome. You cannot expect joy if you haven't created joy within yourself. You cannot expect people to achieve amazing things if you haven't shown them what success looks like. Be demonstrative in what you're doing, even when you’re building goal-setting systems, tools, and processes.
Rolling it together, rowing it together.
What it all boils down to is that in order for people to become aligned, they need clear expectations and the right mechanisms to support them. There needs to be accountability and training, clarity and curiosity, and everyone feeling good about rowing in the same boat together.