Proof

Alignment begins at the top

by Bea Aarnoutse

Alignment is something every board of management should aspire to. After all, what management would rather not have staff who have made a conscious and positive decision to work for their company? What management would rather their people were not putting their energy and passion into their work? An aligned workforce is more productive, more efficient and delivers a stronger bottom line.

 

Alignment doesn’t happen by magic

Alignment asks a lot of an organisation. It requires having the right leadership and the necessary HR tools, facilities and processes in place. These are things an organisation must be willing to invest in. And this is exactly why it’s essential that top management is involved in and prioritises alignment, and, as a team, are on the same page.

A successful alignment programme begins with company leaders making a conscious choice and commitment. The importance they attach to alignment determines the priority it gets within their organisation. In practice, this first step receives insufficient attention. Too often, management teams become involved too late, too little or even not at all – even though in most organisations it is still the case that a strategy or change has the biggest impact when management shares its story with the rest, calls on the support of staff and stimulates dialogue. Clear management support signals importance and urgency. Having a top management that clearly lives the values of the organisation and actively involves middle managers and employees helps the whole organisation to embrace and apply the strategy. Involved management stimulates others to contribute more to achieving the given objectives.

 

A multiple role

Ideally, management leads the alignment drive. Their role is multifaceted:

  • Inspiring – top management tells the story – the strategy, the change – in an inspiring way and so spell out the urgency and importance of the ambition.
  • Exemplary behaviour – management lives the story and shows the behaviour they expect from employees.
  • Make resources available – management determines how much budget is available for alignment.
  • Engage in and trigger dialogue – it is top management’s job to involve middle managers and employees in the strategy, engage in dialogue and listen to their views and experience. This helps employees to make the story their ‘own’, and increases commitment. Dialogue should be an integral part of communication. A precondition here is that feedback from the organisation leads to action by management.

 

A visible CEO

The influence exercised by the chairman of the board or CEO gives them a special role in any alignment process. The CEO is not only responsible for setting the strategy and managing operations, but also for inspiring the organisation and living the story. A good leader helps to build a positive reputation around the organisation. Experience shows that employees are more likely to react positively and feel personally involved when the CEO takes the lead in telling the story personally. A CEO who is visible, ‘authentic’ and a good speaker becomes a living, breathing figurehead that can rally people behind him or her on the road to alignment. The era of top managements sending messages into the organisation from their ivory towers is over.

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