How Leaders Achieve & Communicate Alignment

By Erica Peitler

The ability to “execute with excellence” in any organization is dependent upon its leaders’ abilities to make good decisions and appropriately communicate these across their organization. Unfortunately, most leaders struggle with these skills. Consequently, their companies fail to have transparent, effective decision-making and communication processes. This leads to dysfunction and misunderstanding, instead of the clarity and closure that was intended. And this is inhibiting organization success.

The core of this problem stems from a lack of alignment. Within the context of organization leadership, the word “alignment” means all team members are clearly on the same page and moving forward in one direction with focus and energy. And we can break the definition down even further. Fundamentally, alignment is an output of an input and a throughput:

Input + Throughput = Output

INPUT: The decision-making process by which a team or organization discusses, weighs in and evaluates a range of possibilities for solving a business challenge

In solving a business challenge or making a decision, creativity and opportunity are born out of debating a range of options and then selecting the best one for the circumstances.  The team and organization win when a wide variety of ideas are considered, versus the alternatives of groupthink or leader-mandated solutions.

Possibilities and choices need to be identified, debated and examined through a variety of lenses. Through one lens, perhaps a functional department view, an option may look like a slam-dunk, while through an alternative lens, it might have significant downside risk. The power of a debate fueled by team dynamics and organizational leadership is its ability to examine and determine the overall best path forward for this organization at this time. It is not as simple as just running the numbers. The complexity of business today requires understanding the dynamics around business conditions, life cycles and the competitive landscape, not to mention the possibility of a game-changing, disruptive risk that you may or may not want to take at a particular moment in time.

Selecting one path forward obviously means that there will be options that are not selected, despite them having potential validity as a solution and advocacy from one or more passionate supporters. This is where the challenging nuance of alignment comes in. Alignment is the ability to agree with and fully support the go-forward decision, even when you have expressed an alternative viewpoint and your position has not been selected. Sometimes, this process is referred to as “weighing-in.” Having your chance to weigh-in and voice your issues is very important and it is a critical step in achieving organizational or team alignment.

Individuals, teams and organizations run into trouble when they misunderstand alignment.  Not being agreed with, being overruled and/or claiming to have “lost” a debate can be hard to take for some leaders and might be even tougher to “appropriately” explain to your team. Your team members might have been counting on you as their team leader to convince the organizational leadership of their preferred choice or outcome. Here is where “leadership skills” come into play. Some leaders mistakenly turn a healthy opportunity to debate options into a personal “win-lose” scenario, where there are disappointments and a lack of willingness to support the ultimate decision.

THROUGHPUT: The consistent communication across the organization of the go-forward decisions by its leaders

Coming out of a meeting and appropriately communicating the decision outcomes, most importantly the “why” behind the choice, is a critical role for a leader. Skilled leaders openly express that the decision was thoroughly explored, acknowledging that different perspectives were shared and debated. They credit their teams and colleagues with broadly covering and passionately providing insights and rationale for the range of considerations. Then they share the decision outcome, why it was the one that prevailed and verbalize not only their support for it going forward, but also state the expectation that their teams and direct reports will do the same. During the communication exchange, they may empathize with the potential disappointment their team may feel. However, the key is to not break from the alignment with their leadership team and to use the conversation with their team as a learning opportunity around the dynamics of organizational decision-making and alignment. Taking the time to coach and develop your talent bench around these healthy communication dynamics is your job as a leader.

OUTPUT: Alignment!

The challenge with alignment is not only getting your leadership team to have the right understanding of how to move forward but additionally, how to appropriately cascade the communication across the organization. Alignment is fundamentally giving your heart and mind to the “go-forward” plan without second-guessing or undermining the decision. Anything short of this amounts to not being a team player. Without alignment, teams and organizations waste “blue dollars,” which are people, time and energy thrown away by having emotionally charged and unproductive conversations about what could have been. Imagine, instead, all that could (and will) be achieved if that time and energy are focused on your go-forward plan.

Erica Peitler is an accomplished leadership performance coach and high impact facilitator. She works with Fortune 500 Companies, as well as CEO’s from progressive small to mid-sized and privately held organizations, to create the conditions for change and growth. Read Erica’s previous Octane blog article, “Do You Need More Mirror Time?”

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