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The Importance of Goal Alignment

Using Group Process and Systems Thinking to Achieve Extraordinary Results

All workplaces are trying to achieve goals. To align goals effectively, use a process that ensures dialogue with each intact work group (boss and direct reports) to 1) sharpen your organization’s measurable goals, 2) align your employees, 3) ensure each employee understands their purpose and priorities, and 4) set in motion a plan for achievement. In contrast, misaligned workplaces often waste time blaming people, groups, or processes for their failure to achieve results.

To align an organization, the top leader must sharpen the goals to be as measurable and clear as possible, then align their direct reports to those goals. Start with a dialogue on the overall goals followed by each report develop their department goals to achieve the overall goals. Include feedback across departments from each department head. Have each department head identify what inputs their department needs from the other departments to accomplish their goals and clarify them through dialogue.

Why? When managers are highly aligned to each department’s goals and the inputs that are needed from the other departments to succeed, then the amount of competing priorities and confusion throughout the organization decreases exponentially. Misalignment is often manifested in blame of one department or another.

If I blame me or you I am seeing blindly. If I recognize the pattern and

take accountability for my part, I am seeing systems.” -Barry Oshry

How often do you hear direct or indirect blame in your organization?

An aligned organization requires dialogue, focus, precision, and persistence, followed by diligent conversations to maintain alignment. Please do not expect to align a complex organization by handing goals to each department and hoping that they do the right thing. All workgroups are in some state of alignment on a continuum between highly aligned to very much out of alignment.

Dialogue is required to build and maintain high alignment. Calm leaders understand and remain persistent during moments of misalignment when slight shifts are required. The question is not if you will get out of alignment but, rather, when. Then, how quickly is it recognized, and will you be ready with a response that calms the organization? Or will you hurt alignment by giving a reactive response? My hope is that you will return the organization to alignment with calm and consistent leadership.

Clarity of goals is key to helping your employees understand why the tasks they are doing matter, how they connect with the overall direction of the business, and which areas they need to help improve on to reach them. Employee engagement is increased by spending the time to help the employees make the connection between their job’s tasks and the organization’s success.

Recent neurological research suggests that the neocortex literally shuts down if employees are unaware of why they are doing their task, and how it contributes to the organization’s success. The neocortex is the thinking center of the brain. It is responsible for helping people process information, overall brain functioning, and the analysis needed to contribute ideas for improvement. That scenario literally means that the amygdala (fear center) and the reactive parts of the emotional brain will have a larger impact on employee behavior.

Take the time to align to your goals. If you do not, you will spend lots of time in confusion, silos and lower business results. Last year I worked with an organization of about 500 people and did goal alignment sessions from the top all the way to the floor. The result? They started at 52% on time shipping and are at 92% today. Was it the only factor? Of course not. Yet, it was a critical piece of the improvement strategy that many forget or do in name only.

In chapter 3 of my book Strategic Engagement Vol II, I outlines a process called goal alignment.

The process involves working with the lead team of the plant and then cascading a similar group process throughout the organization. The result is that all employees will accomplish the following:

  • Reach goal clarity.
  • Clarify input needs across workgroups and departments.
  • Raise issues to achieve the goals.
  • Influence which issues to solve.
  • Develop actions to solve selected issues.
  • Implement those actions.
  • Follow up until issues are resolved and goals are obtained.

Do not forget the importance of mid-level manager cross group alignment. Effective goal alignment provides a platform for each workgroup to raise what they need more of and less of from those groups they support or are supporting them. This is a critical dimension that can be lost to mid-level managers when they are focusing on their own workgroup. Managers above mid-level managers must recognize the importance of this and ensure it continually happens.

Goal alignment done well 1) builds sponsorship throughout the organization 2) sharpens each managers goals and expectations, 3) involves all employees in understanding the goals and in creating solutions to obtain them, and, 4) through an interactive process, sets in motion a plan for achievement.

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