Alignment is Needed Everywhere

February 8, 2014 By Paul Hobcraft

Alignment is so important. When we align we are able to focus on the task, not what surrounds it. We spend disproportional time working on alignment, we must find ways to address this to 'release' the energy towards positive innovation needed.

Working in most organizations you spend a disproportional amount of time on looking to achieve alignment. This can range from aligning your meeting schedules to the bigger strategic issues by gaining agreement on the way forward.

I would bet you that working on alignment is certainly one of the main tasks that is sucking up a large part of your working day. Interesting enough the higher up in the organization you go, the more you have to seek alignment. Gaining alignment is actually very hard.

In corporate life we are constantly attempting to also link organizational goals with our own personal goals. To make this alignment, it requires the difficult aspect of achieving common understanding of all the parties for the specific purpose you are requiring, so as to achieve a consistency between ‘agreed’ objectives and the implementation of these across those involved.

In pursuit of alignment

We seek alignment to many things but three are critically important to us as individuals. Firstly alignments from others to our creative activities, both in those that contribute to the strategic objectives and those personal ones in the work we do. Secondly, we always need to work on how we set about the way we communicate if we want to achieve anything within a team or our organizations. Thirdly, alignment becomes essential in how we execute, is it going to be heaven or hell or simply nicely in the middle, well done? We just can’t avoid alignment, yet we seem to do a poor job of this when you ask, why is that? We constantly talk more about misalignment.

Part of this reason we see more misalignment going on around us is the magnitude of this constant change that is swirling around us, coupled with the incessant pressure for new sources of innovation is causing us increasing anxiety to work on the knowing/ doing gaps more and more. Alignment remains one of our best answers to communicate the ‘need to agree and do’.

Achieving alignment, arranging all those planets to be in line, can provide the much needed impact to a whole lot of what we do. Alignment also needs that other magic word of ‘objectives’, that specific need to always set clear objectives between ‘us’ to gain this essential alignment.

Understanding the complex linkages within alignment

To get closer to achieving alignment for innovation, as an example, we need an overarching strategic design, to reduce the ‘disconnects’. Innovation needs constant alignment. One essential need is to provide a well designed strategic plan that will allow the connections and reconnects needed. so as to allow innovation that greater freedom and scope to contribute into the growth organizations leaders are demanding to keep us all ‘still on track’. We need to seek out alignment through clarification, through talking to each other, to working explicitly from the ‘same page.’

Yet good intent is not good enough as I have outlined before “However, even when executives understand the linkage, they may fail to understand how to ensure linkages between corporate strategy and innovation actually does lie with them to be communicated throughout the organization. When executives simply request innovation and delegate the decisions and definitions to business line leaders or executives outside the boardroom they are delegating the growth and future of the organization to others”

We are constantly fighting the failures within organizations for achieving alignment

There are so many failure points. For instance how often do you see those failures to translate the strategy of the leadership’s thinking (often those vaulting high-level ambition ones) into offering the additional leadership guidance to achieve these? This lack of guidelines or framework reduces the potential for alignment, it stops turning ambitions into specific actions that allow these strategic objectives to be translated into specific realities, that others can really identify with.

We fail if we don’t have the abilities to translate and communicate those objectives throughout our organizations to gather around and work towards achieving makes significant difference. Leaders leave strategy far too much in the abstract. They need to consciously work on the design principles and downstream choices. I have offered the “choice / cascade integrated innovation model” to help in this.

We also fail to communicate when conditions in the market place show signs of real change, we stay aligned to old objectives, we don’t dynamically adapt our strategy and thinking. We allow it to remain static, locked into old, out of date thinking, missing the essentials of new knowledge to flow through adaptive learning.

Then we fail when we simply struggle within ourselves, we can’t personally or organizationally adjust quickly enough. We still find great difficulties to really learn how to pivot in larger organizations or in our personal learning, yet this is becoming essential in today’s world, to adopt to rapidly changing conditions. Take a read within Steve Blank’s postings on pivots, maybe as a start here on a critical aspect of managing today.

Then we can fail because we struggle to align organizational capabilities with our strategic and innovation growth objectives. We are constantly battling fatigue, resistance and ownership. We fail to often take the dedicated time and consistent focus to build our capabilities to establish new ways of working, to regain those creative energies.

We then really fail if we can’t convert strategic intent, this ‘strategic enthusiasm,’ into a clear translation of fresh but sustaining investments into those that can help change our organization capabilities to learn and deliver afresh but with renewed vigour . We need to align our desire with clear intent, purpose and objectives.

I’ve written about innovation failures before, it starts at the top, if you need further thinking in this area take an additional read but the critical point here, is recognize and then work actively on all the potential failure points that are stopping your aligning.

Once you recognize these and what they are potentially doing to you, you can address them and remove these blockages to regain the essential alignment necessary.

Overcoming potential failure, alignment might come through more dynamic linking.

To achieve a more dynamic linking we need to find new ways to translate strategic ambition into clearer downstream choices for our innovation activities. I believe we need to offer a more explicit design from the top of our organizations to guide and frame innovation, one that offers an outline of actionable design principles.

The design needs to be specific enough but without prescribing all the details. It is amazing on how much knowledge does reside within our organizations. If it doesn’t, well it is getting easier and easier to go specifically outside the organization where you will find more thoughts to stimulate the potential answers, but I’d tend to place the caveat, as long as you understand the context but these ‘answers’ can show up in so many totally unexpected places, particularly if you wear different inquiry lenses.

We need to translate the organizations innovation ambitions by providing adaptive frameworks to build within. Finally to sustain them there is the leadership need to provide all the necessary ‘capitals’ for building the required capabilities and the capacities to be understood and established, to achieve innovation alignment.

Putting together alignment and objectives needs a specific design
The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

I’ve argued that the adoption of the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer a terrific framework for achieving this triple alignment of 1) communicating strategic ambitions and goals, 2) aligning the conditions to allow innovation to be put to meaningful work and then 3) working towards building the necessary design of capabilities and capacities to execute around these plans.

By working through a better understanding of the innovation ‘parts’ that make the whole we can translate our executive intentions by engaging and then communicating through the work mat so innovation can become explicit to all. You come closer to organization and personal alignment. You create the conditions for more explicit outcomes, aligning activities within the overarching frame of a desired culture, environment, governance and processes that flows through specific contexts, better communicating channels and choices.

You move closer to alignment because you are all working within the same overarching innovation framework creating the common language, gaining the appropriate context and all communicating on this- you are moving closer to alignment.

The Executive Innovation Work Mat can be summarized as a place for real beneficial alignment

The framework can create cohesion and consistency of innovation purpose that will reduce many existing barriers and uncertainties around innovation
The framework itself will generate work flows that links, become more dynamic to explore and promote the holistic needs for innovation to work. In innovation skills, capabilities and competencies needed. They become more cohesive, coordinated and focused.
As the framework connects, in its understanding and as its impact grows, we certainly can ‘see and believe’, our confidence builds. Both formal and informal areas are addressed in parallel, growing all-round identification and alignment.
It can reduce present tensions and increase the dynamics within innovation in dialogues, framing and identifying with the organizations innovation goals
You can begin to align compensation and incentives into your abilities to generate the innovation activities that provide the impact the organization is looking for. You can understand and measure innovation impact far more through a well-designed framework

We do need a unified view of innovation design and I believe to ‘arrive’ closer to alignment there is a clear, perhaps a compelling value proposition that a well-designed innovation framework, like the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer.

I certainly believe this can move you closer to spending less of your day working on the negatives of bad alignment into generating positive innovation outcomes, simply because you do have in place an aligning framework that works on dynamically linking all the parts, one you can gather around.

I can’t promise it might not make you business day any shorter but it might make it a far more positive experience,where you are aligning your contributions and expertise into a specific innovation design, where innovation activities do link into organizations strategic that is needed and achieve this often elusive alignment we all are search for, far more than we want to acknowledge.

I’m more than happy to explain the approaches taken in the Work Mat methodology for Innovation’s overarching design, if interested.

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