Think of a business in alignment as being similar to a well-practiced symphony orchestra. Together, they play a piece of music with the strings, wood instruments, percussion and every member of the orchestra doing his part. If any section or player in the symphony is playing out of tune or rhythm, the whole symphony suffers as well as the listeners. In business, like in music, we can only fully achieve our purpose when all the parts within our organization are working together in harmony, unity and with great intention.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Business alignment occurs when every aspect of an organization and how it operates aligns with its clear purpose.
Understanding Business Alignment
When a business is in alignment, that means that all levels and players are clear about the organization's purpose and make decisions in accordance with it. The company's resources, strategies, management systems and communications illuminate the purpose so brightly that it is unmistakable.
For example, when a fair-trade market's purpose is to impact artisan lives for the better, it will source products, market products, train employees and communicate with customers in ways that communicate this without any doubt.
In contrast, if the same fair-trade market lost its alignment, it might start purchasing some products from large corporations, market products without mentioning how they make a difference, neglect properly training employees and forego proper marketing. In this case, the entire system and customers are likely to become confused about for what the company stands and how it is different from the competition. This can negatively impact the bottom line and result in pursuing conflicting interests.
Staying Focused on Your Purpose
Business alignment relies on an organization being laser focused on its purpose to the exclusion of anything that does not fall within it. In order to be laser focused on the purpose, a business must first define what its purpose actually is.
For instance, a diabetes-supplement company might have a mission to produce new supplements and products that treat diabetes. This is their mission, but it is not their purpose. In order to arrive at their purpose, the diabetes-supplement company needs to ask why it is doing what it is doing.
The answer to that question could be to improve the quality of life for people living with diabetes. This is their purpose and what should be driving every decision they make within the organization.
Resources and Alignment
The budget and allocation of resources is the lifeblood of a business. Whatever a business funds is what grows. When it comes to resources and alignment, it is vital to use the company's purpose as a litmus test for what receives funding. Anything that falls in line with the company's purpose and stage of growth is on the table for funding consideration, and everything else must be excluded.
For instance, if a business's purpose is to make office productivity easy, it would not choose to provide funding for anything that would slow down productivity. It might fund a development team for a new scheduling software but would not fund a development team for video games or office decor.
In business alignment, every level of the organization and the employees responsible for allocating funds are aware of the purpose and make financial decisions according to it.
Strategies and Alignment
Alignment strategies are the tactics that a business uses in order to achieve its purpose. Strategies are how the purpose is fulfilled. Even though an organization's purpose is likely to stay the same over time, the alignment strategies it uses to fulfill it will change over time.
For instance, a smoothie bar with the purpose of making healthy food an easy choice might begin with the strategy of operating out of a food cart that visits office buildings. Later, its strategy could expand to include one restaurant in a busy area, and a few years down the road, it could include options for franchising. While its purpose remains the same, the way it fulfills it flexes over time with its growth.
Management Systems and Alignment
Management systems include everything a company uses in order to get things done. This includes everything from management teams to meetings, webinars, conferences, employee communications, customer service guidelines and more. When an organization's management systems operate in alignment with its purpose, this gets all departments and employees on the same page and operating in accordance with the business's purpose.
For instance, a shoe company with the purpose of alleviating foot pain to increase activity in senior citizens might increase business alignment in the following ways and more:
- Senior health highlights during all management team meetings.
- Designated health experts on all teams.
- Webinars on the importance of foot health and physical activity.
- Customer service talking points that highlight shoes that provide relief for specific foot conditions.
Organizational Capabilities and Alignment
Organizational capabilities are the things a business does with excellence that positively impact the bottom line and performance in the marketplace. In order to stand out from competitors over the long haul, a business must be crystal clear on its purpose and pursue it well. Without this focus, an identity crisis can emerge that causes a business to lose its competitive edge.
Let's say there are three florists in a small town. Why would a customer go to your shop instead of your competitor's? Perhaps you have become known for your smashing peony arrangements that steal the show at local weddings. You started making these arrangements due to your purpose to put a smile on every wedding guest's face.
Without aligning your strategy with your purpose, you might have focused your efforts evenly between funeral arrangements, hospital arrangements and wedding arrangements, never fully developing your skills in anything.
Strategic Alignment Benefits
Strategic alignment benefits are numerous and noteworthy. The following benefits and many others could help your business grow deep roots and enjoy a successful future:
- Increased bottom line.
- Decreased budgetary demands.
- Ease of decision making.
- Increased organizational capabilities.
- More effective teamwork.
- Streamlined management systems.
- Strategic flexibility as your company grows.
- Clear purpose and identity.
- Solidified reputation.
- Increased productivity.
Some of these strategic alignment benefits begin to show up as soon as you start eliminating anything within your organization that does not fall in line with your stated purpose. Other things, like an improved reputation and increased organizational capabilities, show up more gradually over time. The time it takes to see results varies depending on things like your organization's size, your competition, history in the marketplace and industry.
Choosing Alignment Strategies
Choosing alignment strategies once you are clear on your business's purpose can help you more easily achieve your goals and projections. The first order of business is to get everyone on the same page about where you are going and how so you can put your heads together.
This makes it possible to figure out how to orchestrate who is responsible for what, synchronize activities as seamlessly as possible, move forward with your plans, evaluate the results and tweak as necessary. Communication and transparency are vital to choosing alignment strategies that help instead of hurt your business in the long haul.
- Harvard Business Review: How Aligned is Your Organization?
- Harvard Business Review: A Simple Way to Test Your Company’s Strategic Alignment
- Fast Company: Want A Purpose-Driven Business? Know The Difference Between Mission And Purpose
- California Department of Education: Resource Alignment
- BusinessDictionary: Strategic Alignment
- OnStrategy: What is a Management System?
- Inc.: How to Drive Strategies By Assessing Your Company Capabilities
- Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness: The Need for Strategic Alignment
- Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness: How to Grow Your Department with Strategic Alignment