Why organisational change fails without strategic alignment.
Camiel Gielkens is a frequent observer of the pitfalls in organisational transformation. ‘What’s often truly missing, is a coherent strategy from the onset. A shared why. A common purpose. How can an organisation as a whole ever become successful when the collective interest is secondary to that of the individual?’ The Schouten Global CEO shines his light on personal experiences and challenges, surrounding strategic alignment.
‘Right from the start they were in each other’s hair; the design, R&D, and production department of a car manufacturer. The company was undergoing a massive change: from producing cars to offering digital services to make transportation safer, more sustainable, and fun. However, every department had its own separate vision on the topic of digitisation.
It’s not a unique situation, it’s actually very common. In my observations, across numerous organisations, half of the employees don’t know what their company’s strategy is or how to carry that out.
What’s the risk, you might ask? Well, let’s see. A lack of focus, inability to compete in the market, insufficient drive to innovate, higher costs, bright red numbers, and a severe case of unhappiness amongst employees. In addition, any organisational transformation is destined to fail. People have different frames of reference, meaning there is always a certain dissonance in where the company is now and where it’s headed. Which in turn makes it impossible to collectively determine what is necessary for a smooth transition’.
‘The car manufacturer asked me and my team to help shift these departments into a higher gear. In essence, it meant prioritizing the collective objectives over the individual interests. That would form the starting point for redistributing the available resources. Shaping the strategy - the ‘how’, consisting of people, company culture, processes and structure - in such a way that it actually contributes to the ‘what’ (realising the longterm mission), is easier said than done.
You want my opinion? If you don’t purposefully work on strategic alignment, it’s just not happening.
Getting everyone on board is one thing, activating people in their core and having them really feel what your company is about, is a whole different game. The only way to successfully align people, teams, and departments is by organising a bottom-up approach. If employees feel heard and included, that’s when your company starts humming in the same tune. How leaders can help create the music? By offering support. Build the frames, but entrust your teams with their personal leadership to design the interior’.
Putting the collective front and center
‘Leadership is mainly about understanding the collective interest. To take a step back and look at the total playing field, and then ask yourself the hard questions. What are we doing? Is this the right way?
However, more often than we’d like to admit, as soon as things get tense we retreat into our own departments and take only responsibility for our ‘kingdom’. But thinking small is the biggest roadblock on the path to strategic alignment.
If I fall prey to this as well? At Schouten Global we value an entrepreneurial mindset and work largely in business units that operate autonomously. The urgency to be aligned with each other is very apparent throughout the organisation. Of course, we run into our fair share of conflicting interests. Or I might catch the board - or myself - in steering too much on the results of separate units. It is why we have recently restructured the way we collaborate, with recurring sessions on collective leadership.
These sessions are intended as recalibrating moments. Where are we? What does our playing field look like? Where do we want to go and which mindset and actions will take us there? All of this is done with a clear intention: to reconnect with each other, determine our common goals, and work on our collective consciousness. It is in our similarities, not our differences, where you will find the keys to success’.
Which is precisely what we worked on with the car manufacturer as well. Shifting attention to the similarities, not the differences. It started with two thought-provoking questions: does the current strategy help you to accomplish the mission? And, is the organisation allowing you to flow or does it hinder you in achieving the mission? These questions put the wheels in motion and gave way for reflecting and connecting. Over the course of several sessions, we let the departments form the strategy together. The end result: a flow in collaboration, a positive working environment, and increased dedication and joy towards the company’s transition’.
‘I come across plenty of organisations that want to be strategically aligned, but say that it simply costs them too much time. This to me is a bad excuse. The time of planning linear goals, getting from A to B, is far behind us. You can’t plan for change, it happens right in front of you. Strategic alignment lets you think on your feet, not just faster, but better. It allows your organisation to be ahead of the curve as societal and technological developments continuously change the landscape.
The argument of time investment becomes a fallacy when weighed against the difficult situations that strategic alignment will help you prevent. This brings us back to the collective, because alignment is a shared responsibility. The moment you find each other is the moment you really start using each other’s strengths and find support for your weaknesses. It is then you will truly start to act as one’.
6 steps to strategic alignment
1. Communicate your strategy to all levels of the organisation.
2. Empower and welcome everyone in shaping the strategy and the implementation.
3. Align individual values and goals with those of the organisation.
4. Ensure everyone is aware of their role and task, and has access to obtain the necessary skills.
5. Guarantee a free flow of information between business units.
6. Monitor progress and celebrate your successes together.
‘Thinking small is the biggest roadblock on the path to strategic alignment.’
‘It is in our similarities, not our differences, where you will find the keys to success.’
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