At Karrikins Group we’ve noticed that there is, of course, a sense of video fatigue – Zoom, WebEx, Teams – pick your platform, people are tired of it. And yet, there is a longing for more team connection and the opportunity to chat with colleagues and friends without the formality of a scheduled call.

This incongruent desire to spend less time on a screen while spending more time together is hard to resolve in today’s mostly online world. Harvard Business Review recently posted a great perspective on how to provide some space for small talk (Make Time for Small Talk in Your Virtual Meetings by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene) by leveraging time and space in existing meetings. They suggest being intentional about including time for small talk, creating space to ideate on ‘what if’ type questions, and letting people know when chit-chat will happen are ways to help people create more personal connections without adding more meetings to already packed schedules. 

One of our favorite suggestions is to “introduce agenda items designed around opinions and conjecture.” We like to use a Yes, and… version of that to inject some energy and fun into our meetings:

Ask your team to go around the zoom and respond to an imaginative prompt like building the agenda for a shared vacation, or what you would bring with you on the first manned trip to Mars. As each person contributes, the next person starts with “Yes, and….” to make their own contribution. It is a fun and quick way to spark creativity and to learn about each other without scheduling a separate Zoom ‘connection’ meeting that often feels forced and frustrating for people who are a little burned out on video.

As we come into the one year anniversary of many of us leaving our offices and working virtually, it is a good reminder of how we can fill in the gaps in team connection that many people are feeling.

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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

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.