DRIVE ONE DIRECTION
Imagine a fleet of vehicles.
All of them driving in One Direction, dynamically aligned with a navigation system that can reroute the fleet on a dime.
That was the vision that inspired this book and led us to trademark the term Drive One Direction®.
But, how do you create that level of alignment?
Ten years ago, I started a consulting company to help companies do just that. In fact, my original code name for the business was “aligned.org.” While I did not use that as the company name, alignment has been our focus since the beginning.
Over the past decade, we have worked with dozens of companies, helping them improve strategic alignment. In addition, we studied over One Hundred organizations of all shapes, sizes, and industries. In particular, we focused on companies that were on lists such as FORTUNE Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies or the various Best Places to Work lists.
Based on this work, we came to some important conclusions:
First, misalignment is alarmingly common. Virtually every company—even solopreneurs—suffers from it.
Second, organizational and societal factors have made alignment more difficult than it has ever been.
Third, strategic alignment is mission-critical. In fact, we believe that every organization, regardless of size or industry or operating model needs strategic alignment.
Consider Burning Man, the annual festival in the Nevada desert. It is designed to be the ultimate, utopian experience of individual freedom and “radical self-expression.” It attracts over 70,000 people from all walks of life (including, ironically, billionaires who fly in on private jets).
But even Burning Man has rules to keep everyone aligned.
Yes, but how about the anarchists?
The International Anarchist Federation is fighting for “the abolition of all forms of authority whether economical, political, social, religious, cultural or sexual.” Interestingly, even the IAF has rules. To become a member, you must agree to align with their statement of principles.
Amazing. Even anarchists need alignment.
So, if misalignment is alarmingly common, and creating alignment is more difficult than it has ever been, and every organization needs it, how do companies create strategic alignment?
In Dave Ramos' new book, he answers that question.
The book features case studies of forty exemplar companies. For each company, we identify how they unleashed the accelerating power of alignment.
Some are household names like Ford, Starbucks, Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft.
Some are disrupters and pioneers, like Amazon, Netflix, Tesla, and Facebook.
Some are mid-market innovators, such as Bognet Construction, BTI360, NeoSystems, and Basecamp.
We cover a wide range of industries, ranging from CrossFit to Cirque du Soleil. Chocolate manufacturers to cranberry cooperatives. Churches to construction companies.
The book will be published in March.
ONE WORD - ALIGNMENT
One word. Three syllables. Thousands of applications.
But, what does alignment actually mean?
The etymology origin of “align” is French. Webster’s says the first known use of the word was in 1693. Some of the common uses include:
- to arrange things or people in a straight line.
- to bring things or people into alignment.
- to bring people into agreement with a particular group, party, cause, etc.
- to bring things into a proper coordination (such as the wheels of a car).
Align is a verb. Aligned is a past participle. Aligning is a gerund. Alignment is a noun.
Okay, enough of that.
What does it mean for your company?
If your company is a global conglomerate, alignment means one thing. If your company is a dance company, alignment means a totally different thing.
In addition, our review of the research articles about alignment confirmed that even the scholars don’t have a common definition of alignment.
There are multiple reasons for this.
First, every company is radically different. Synagogues are radically different from symphonies. The United Auto Workers is radically different from the United Nations. 3M and IBM have one letter in common … and that’s about it.
Second, companies are in different life stages. Startups are worried about survival, and spinouts are worried about cutting the corporate umbilical cord.
Third, companies have different operating models and management philosophies. Some companies run like denominations, and some churches run like corporations.
Thus, every company is different, and you must define alignment in your unique One-of-a-Kind Way.
After all, how can everyone Drive in One Direction if you don’t show them the way?
One Way to get started is to take the One Definition challenge.
Ask a group of people to write a basic definition of the word “alignment.” Share the results around the table. Then, ask them to modify that definition as follows, “What does alignment mean for our company?”
My Dad went to work at General Electric in January 1962.
In just One Generation, the workforce has radically changed and creating alignment is now radically more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, the workforce was pretty homogeneous. Most of the “white collar” workers were white males. Most of the women in the workforce were in secretarial roles.
Now, the workforce is tremendously and beautifully diverse. The increase in diversity is a great thing. Let me say that again, the increase in diversity is a great thing, but it does make alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, a large percentage of the workforce had military experience. They were comfortable in top-down, command-and-control organizations. They were trained to obey orders.
Now, the command-and-control style of management is no longer in vogue. As a result, the old way of creating alignment is no longer effective.
In my Dad’s generation, there was a basic civility and decency in society. Children were trained to say, “Yes, Ma’am” or Yes, Sir.” Politicians referred to each other as “distinguished colleagues.” There was a respect for authority.
Now, people denigrate each other every night on TV. They attack each other in social media. They shoot the police. This makes alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, many companies had either explicit or implicit guarantees of lifetime employment. My Dad spent thirty-one years with GE. In fact, when I started at IBM, the company still had a culture of lifetime employment.
Now, the workforce is extremely unsettled, and, on average, most employees will work for multiple companies in their careers. Companies expect loyalty, but they don’t give it in return. This makes alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, the majority of the people working at a company were officially classified as employees.
Now, the workforce is an ever-changing mix of employees, long-term contractors, temporaries, and gig workers. This creates multiple classes of workers with different benefits, different rules, different loyalties, and different goals. This makes alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, when you wanted to communicate with someone who worked in your building, you walked down the hall.
Now, people send the person in the next cube a text or an email. This makes alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, the Fortune 500 was extremely stable: companies remained on the list for an average of sixty-one years.
Now, the average tenure of a Fortune 500 company is fifteen years. Companies are constantly merging, reorganizing, divesting, etc. Companies that were models of stability—like Arthur Andersen, Nortel Networks, and Lehman Brothers—are completely gone. This makes alignment much more difficult.
In my Dad’s generation, companies had physical offices.
Now, many companies have large numbers of telecommuters. Some companies, such as Zapier, are 100 percent virtual. This makes alignment much more difficult.
The combination of these organizational and societal forces has created an environment that makes alignment radically more difficult.
When companies are small, they are in One Business. They target One Market. They sell One Product. There is One P&L. Everyone probably sits in One Office. But, as companies grow, they create divisions.
There is only One Problem: divisions—by definition—divide.
Just to be clear, even small, One Business businesses can have alignment problems.
We’ve even worked with solopreneurs, otherwise known as One Person Companies, who had alignment problems.
But, the larger you are, the more likely you will struggle with strategic alignment. The big turning point is when your company creates divisions.
Some companies divide by product line. Some divide by geography. Some create business units. Some organize by function.
And some have weird and confusing hybrids of all of these models.
How is your company divided?
By product? By market? By function? By geography? Some other way?
Once your company has divisions, you must decide if it is important to align them.
Yes, I said “if.”
Theoretically, your company could allow the divisions to operate totally autonomously, with virtually no alignment.
However, most companies decide that it is indeed important to create a high level of alignment.
“We must unite the divisions!”
Generally, companies create strategic alignment in two dimensions: they align the divisions with corporate and they align the divisions with each other.
Thus, using the standard organization chart as an illustration, there is both a “vertical” and a “horizontal” dimension of alignment.
On the vertical dimension, corporate headquarters develops visions, strategies, goals, priorities, policies, and more.
Every division, department, team, and individual is expected to align with the things that come “down” from corporate.
On the “horizontal” dimension of alignment, divisions must align with each other. Europe must align with Asia. Marketing must align with sales.
The Hatfields must align with the McCoys.
In addition, divisions add their own strategies, goals, standards, priorities, policies, etc.
Then, departments are expected to align with both the things that came down from corporate and the things that came down from the division.
And on and on it goes.
That is why alignment is a universal challenge.
THE CHIEF ALIGNMENT OFFICER
Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative of cranberry growers with over 700 members and sales of $2.2 billion in over 100 countries worldwide.
Their CEO, Randy Papadellis, often refers to himself as the “Chief Alignment Officer.”
He joined Ocean Spray in July 2000 as the Chief Operating Officer and was promoted to Chief Executive Officer in 2003. Here is how he described the transition,
“I believe the biggest difference between being CEO and COO is the job of alignment. When I became CEO, I realized very quickly that it was my responsibility to take the many constituencies we have in our business—our grower owners, our Board of Directors, our key suppliers, our key customers, or most importantly our employees—and making sure that they were aligned and moving in the same direction.”
Aligned and moving in the same direction! My sentiments exactly.
Alignment does not just happen. It takes lots of hard work and an intentional focus on the issue. Someone has to lead the charge.
We think that the CEO is the ideal Chief Alignment Officer, since everything in your company ultimately comes together in the CEO’s office.
Some of the tasks of the Chief Alignment Officer include:
- Ensuring that the vision is clear and is articulated in an inspiring way
- Ensuring that values are clearly codified and enforced
- Ensuring that the goals and priorities are clearly defined and cascaded to every person
- Ensuring that the strategic, annual, and quarterly plans are focused and aligned
- Ensuring that the organization is structured to execute the strategy
- Ensuring that the measurement systems measure what really matters and that everyone knows how you keep score
Whether your company is an agricultural cooperative, a multinational corporation, or a diverse congregation, creating alignment is mission-critical. That’s why we call it Job One.