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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Importance of Strategic Alignment

Discipline III. Align Systems, is all about alignment. The term alignment means "close cooperation." So the discipline of "aligning systems" means getting all the components of the organization working in close cooperation to meet the goals of the company. (page 116, Six Disciplines for Excellence)

The following excerpt is from a newsletter, "Message from the President" Brian S. Lassiter, Minnesota Council for Quality:

"Alignment is one of those hard-to-define notions in organizational science -- one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” things. Webster defines alignment as “the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other.” In an organizational context, the Baldrige Criteria says “alignment refers to consistency of plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, and analysis to support key organization-wide goals.”

Paraphrased, alignment is when various parts of an organization are congruent with each other -- they are consistent, in agreement, in balance. So you could define “strategic alignment” as the state of having your organizational systems aligned with your organizational strategy.

Why is strategic alignment important? Without it, organizational results are sub-optimized. If actions do not support goals…if decisions do not support strategy…if processes do not support strategic direction, then waste is created. Wasted time, wasted money, wasted materials, wasted energy.

Here are some other ways that managers can create strategic alignment within their organization:

* Align your organization’s work systems to strategy. Make sure that your organization’s structure, your communication mechanisms, and your culture all reflect the vision and direction of the company. For example, if one of your strategic objectives is innovation, then eliminate barriers to employee creativity and reward risk taking. Or if your objective is speed of service, then eliminate unnecessary levels of hierarchical approval.

* Align your organization’s training to strategy. Work to identify the skills and competencies your employees need to accomplish your strategy, both now and in the future. Again, if your objective is innovation, then perhaps training on problem solving or brainstorming techniques makes sense. If your goal is service speed, then perhaps training on Lean methods to eliminate waste will help you get there.

* Align your measures with your strategy. Senior leaders should review performance on metrics that help them monitor progress toward strategy, and probably not the tactical data that other employees are using to run the day-to-day operations. (Presumably, they should be linked, which creates alignment.)

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