This week, I am focusing on the word, alignment.  Alignment is a term people discuss and use in virtually every context of life.  Alignment is also a term that is overused in my opinion because it is often a dismissive term when pressing issues or strategic differences remain outstanding.   This is what it sounds and looks like after an intense discussion about the direction of handling a given situation: “let’s align after the meeting”.  In organizations, alignment seldom happens; what typically occurs is “compromise” but the two parties do not align. 

The value of alignment is huge!  Alignment equals momentum, and people are accepting their roles as well as being confident the team is marching in unison towards the same outcomes.  For example, you might have a CIO, who makes a proclamation that states in two years we will be 100 percent in the cloud with all administrative applications.   Even better, the CIO rules we will provide complete visibility to all IT operating costs to help business units make more informed purchasing decisions and establish better controls with a goal of reducing IT costs by 30 percent.

What’s Next: The Reality

Stakeholders are brought together with everyone brimming with excitement about the prospects of reducing costs by 30 percent.  Then the meetings start to galvanize the team with the goal of reaching alignment.  The CIO asks you, “how long will it take to get aligned with the business?”  You reply, about 2-3 weeks depending on everyone’s schedule.  What happens next is the stuff that contributes to the downfall of the vast majority of efforts; momentum slows, people become less engaged and lose interest as they move onto the next thing.

Momentum Drives Results

Why is it so difficult to align stakeholders on a common goal?  Countless reasons get in the way of people aligning, and I will share the most cancerous reasons that often go “unchecked”. 

1.      Need more of whatever.

2.      Don’t see the value for me.

3.      Personality clashes

Need more of whatever.  This behavior most often comes off as a friendly request with a smiley face.  The requester may require a more compelling business case to gain the confidence they need.  The requester needs more data or more time to compile the data.  Here’s what makes this difficult, this is the person who will not advance something unless their request is 100% complete.

Don’t see the value for me.  I like this one because it forces IT professionals to demonstrate empathy with the individual who does not get it.  Also, this is a terrific opportunity to refine your story to show the value by learning what is not being said by stepping in the shoes of the person who is simply not seeing the value.  By using some therapy based techniques from Imago dialogue therapy, you can slow down the conversation by paraphrasing, validating, showing empathy and making a commitment to give the requester what they seek.

Personality clashes.  People issues and technology are typically not mentioned in the same sentence.  However, as companies undertake digital transformation, higher levels of engagement, evolving roles, governance, and changes in business and operating models, will all rear their collective heads.  This is where leadership comes in—and not the HR kind to help “work through things”.  Rather, this is about business and technology leaders modeling, coaching others and making it safe to address topics albeit in the right settings.  Personality clashes often yield more robust and trusting relationships as people accept they need each other and their respective strengths.  By checking titles at the door, creating healthy rituals (e.g. put cell phones in a box when meetings start) and creating an atmosphere of genuine support and discouraging duplicitous talk “offline” will let everyone know the team can competently address personality issues in a productive way. 

From my experience, these are just a few of the prevalent themes that interfere with alignment amongst teams and thus gaining momentum that will demonstrate solid progress.  When you compound the idea of making digital investments and doing in short cycles, alignment of stakeholders becomes essential to establishing a unifying purpose making substantive progress.