It’s up to them: Why leaders must do the hard work of alignment
Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD
One of the biggest challenges to change comes up when executives confuse surface-level agreement with the hard work of aligning to deliver on transformation. Guess what the results are of not moving from agreement to alignment?
What’s the biggest challenge leaders face when trying to drive transformation?
In our experience partnering with senior leaders to drive transformation, we’ve learned that one of the biggest challenges to change comes up when executives confuse surface-level agreement with the hard work of aligning to deliver on transformation.
Guess what the results are of not moving from agreement to alignment?
A lot of nodding heads saying ‘Yes, that’s what we should do,’ and not a lot of thoughtful consideration of what needs to start, stop, and change. When leaders leave the room, nothing changes. Decisions aren’t different, investments don’t shift, behaviors don’t adjust, what gets communicated doesn’t get refreshed – nothing changes. And as a result, the outcomes stay the same.
Many leaders are happy to believe that agreement is enough. It isn’t.
Misalignment malaise is common in all kinds of businesses – it is industry, market, and size agnostic. If you are looking to transform your organization, investing in aligning leaders during transformation will return to you exponentially. Not only will your leaders be more successful in delivering on today’s transformation, they will also develop the skills and intuition to align themselves and others going forward. They will learn to detect misalignment faster and respond to it better, driving more efficient and effective results.
So what does leadership alignment look like in the real world?
Many leaders are happy to believe that agreement is enough. It isn’t. Agreement doesn’t deliver transformative results.
Leadership alignment to transformation looks like this:
- Moving budgets and people to other groups
- Stopping favorite programs and projects
- Delaying short term results for long term impact
- Letting go of traditional symbols of power, success, and status
- Changing hiring guidelines and reassessing talent
- Reassessing supplier relationships
- Developing new leadership skills at the most senior levels
- Reimagining distribution models
It takes a courageous leader to go first and do the hard work of aligning to deliver on the promise of transformation. And no individual leader can do it alone – the most senior leaders in the organization must align and deliver together for success.
If it is so hard, why do it?
We see three main reasons to invest in the hard work of aligning leaders:
- Financial opportunities are realized more quickly as cohesive and informed investments are made, and existing efforts are redirected to be inside the guardrails for alignment. When leaders agree to the goals of a transformation, there should be an expectation that they are reviewing their own P&L, budgets, and short to mid-term goals and revising them based on what it will take to deliver on the new direction. No senior leader can be immune to this process.
- The energy of employees is unified toward the desired end state. Nothing is more frustrating to employees than hearing one thing and seeing something completely different from leaders. Employees check out quickly and trust deteriorates when leaders don’t have consistency between internal communications and collective leadership action, so ensuring that leaders show up aligned to the transformation goals is important to keep the organization’s energy focused in the right direction.
- Customer engagement and marketplace support for the transformation will increase significantly if customers and external stakeholders see leaders actively aligning their behaviors, decisions, language, and commitments to the transformation goals. In both B2C and B2B environments, customers are incredibly savvy at understanding when there is a disconnect between what a company says and what leaders do. In today’s fast information cycles, corporate narratives are defined by communities, not press releases, making it even more important for leaders to be consistent in their individual actions and behaviors.
Hold leaders accountable.
Holding leaders accountable to alignment is a daunting task, especially if it means asking them to delay short-term results, compromise individual success, move investments away from current obligations, or develop their own leadership in new ways. Doing the hard work of creating and sustaining alignment during transformation will pay dividends well into the future as leaders learn to identify and hold themselves accountable as they work together to accelerate growth and increase impact.