I had the sweetest 1964 white Chevy Malibu during my college years at Santa Clara University. With a loan from my parents, I bought this beauty literally from an old lady in Pasadena. The car was pristine and had low mileage and enough horsepower to impress passengers. Back then, I knew my way around cars. Between high school auto mechanic classes and backyard garage parties where my buddies would break down and put back together our cars’ engines, my knowledge of how cars operated was well above average.
Wheel alignment was always an annual check unless you saw signs of misalignment – unevenly worn tires; steering pulling to one side; the car shuddering when driven at higher speeds. The purpose of aligning the wheels is to reduce tire wear and ensure the car travel is straight and true. Adjusting each wheel’s camber, caster and toe in aligning the other wheels is the fix. Like a tune-up, it’s one of many ways to optimize the mechanics of your car, improving performance and fuel consumption.
The same is true in your business, and the more people in the organization, the more challenging the alignment. Making sure the organization’s direction is straight and true is one way to optimize performance. A best practice is to align your team annually when strategic thinking and execution planning your next business year, or sooner if you see signs of misalignment: lack of direction and purpose; uncertainty or lack of organizational goals and priorities; misuse or misallocation of resources.
We often ask CEOs and their leadership teams where the company will be at the end of this year, next year, in three years, and five years. Aligned groups rattle off specific goals, milestones and visualizations without hesitation or debate by year. Teams that are misaligned lack unification and debate specific end states, outcomes and priorities, and often fight over resources. Groups that lack any alignment are confused, misuse resources, and wait for the CEO to provide direction and clarity; they can’t operate independently.
So how do you get a company aligned? Start with defining your WHY, your purpose for existing. What need does your company fulfill in the world marketplace, and is it understood by all its stakeholders? Next, what’s your vision for the company, and how will you get there? I often quote Gen. Gordon Sullivan, 32nd chief of staff of the U.S. Army, from his book “Hope Is Not a Method,” planning is.
Planning starts with a vision of the organization’s direction and maps a pathway to get there. The vision is future-oriented, aspirational, affirmational, inspirational and actionable, and unifies the organization and informs stakeholders of the company’s direction. Whether you’re a publicly traded multi-billion-dollar enterprise, a governmental institution such as the Santa Clarita city government, a for-impact otherwise known as a nonprofit, or a local 20-seat diner, every organization should have a vision supported by goals.
When seeking alignment, develop specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, time-framed goals with assigned champions accountable for achieving them. Start with the long-term goals, consistent with the vision that the organization strives to achieve, three, then two years from now. Then neck the goals down to this year and next year’s. Prioritize the goals and allocate finite resources to them. Publish and broadcast the goals with objectives and milestones for all constituencies to know and empower your champions to achieve them.
Another way to align your team is to refresh or restate your mission. Your company’s mission is what and how they provide products or services to the marketplace. Doing this may seem elementary. However, we often see a lack of clarity on what companies do and how they do it. And when there isn’t clarity, chaos ensues, resources are misused or misallocated, and the teams fail to organize and win in the marketplace. Without mission clarity, the disunified organization squanders success.
I loved my ’64 Malibu and doted on its mechanical care and interior and exterior looks. I strived to maximize its performance, which made driving it more pleasurable. Wheel alignment was always critical because I wanted my travels from home to Santa Clara straight and true. I learned in the Army and leading several companies, just like my car’s wheels, keeping the organization aligned, straight and true to the direction I envisioned created the conditions for success. Hope is not a method. However, strategic thinking and execution planning is, and one of its critical outcomes is aligning the organization.
Your business will thrive when you align the organization. Do that by planning, publishing and promulgating an aspirational, affirmational, inspirational and actionable vision supported by long- and near-term goals with assigned champions. Then clarify, refresh, or restate your mission. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it!
Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].