Imagine watching a soccer game where players run haphazardly around the field, unsure of which position they’re playing or even which goal is theirs. Sounds like chaos, right? Unfortunately, sometimes that’s what happens when organizations lack alignment.
In business, alignment refers to organizing the various departments, teams, or components of a business to work together to achieve goals. To refer back to that soccer game, alignment happens when the soccer team members clearly understand the vision – to win the game – and they know and understand exactly what each position needs to do to achieve that goal. Then they execute on that vision, working together and relying on each other to win the game.
Businesses, like those commonly started by female entrepreneurs, can sometimes struggle with alignment because they rely on outsourcing so many aspects of the work to independent contractors. The vision might be clear to the CEO, but it gets lost in translation to the various contractors. Another land mine companies want to avoid that causes misalignment is teams working in silos, separated from each other, marching toward a vision set by their managers, which doesn’t necessarily align with the vision set by other managers over different departments.
We have identified three steps to align your teams as a female business owner to achieve your business vision by overcoming any misalignment issues that are holding you back.
Step 1: Discover and Communicate the #1 Thing
The first step to achieving business alignment is discovering and communicating your “#1 Thing.” This is the most important, absolutely number one priority that must be accomplished each quarter to move your business strategy forward. It’s the lead domino – the one initiative or one priority that when pursued will set off the chain reaction, like a domino, and make everything else easier to accomplish.
Once you’ve determined the #1 Thing for the quarter, it’s critical that everyone in the organization knows what it is and how what they do as an individual contributes to achieving it. When asked, all employees should be able to explain what they need to achieve, build, or create to execute toward achieving the desired outcome.
Tip: The #1 Thing really should be just ONE thing. When business leaders try to focus on too many things each quarter, the impact gets diluted and alignment suffers.
Step 2: Identify Your Critical Number
Jack Stack wrote about the “Critical Number” in his book, The Great Game of Business. This concept builds on two business truths: “What gets measured gets managed” and “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”
Stack explains, “The Critical Number is the one metric, either operational or financial, that represents a weakness or vulnerability that, if not addressed and corrected, will negatively impact the overall performance and long-term security of the business.” In other words, the Critical Number helps you identify what success will look like in your business.
Based on the #1 Thing that you identified in Step 1, choose a critical number that will support it. In other words, what is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI or leading indicator) or lagging indicator, that will indicate success or failure in achieving the #1 Thing this quarter?
Strong Critical Numbers are typically:
- Easily measured
- A weakness or vulnerability that must be addressed
- Used as a performance yardstick and a rallying point
Your Critical Number is what “winning” or “success” looks like, numerically, for your business in any given quarter. It’s a common, clearly defined, and measurable goal that works together with the #1 Thing to achieve alignment.
Step 3: Create a Quarterly Theme
Aligning your teams around your vision for the quarter is not easy. Creating a Quarterly Theme around that vision helps create camaraderie and teamwork toward achieving your business vision. You might be skeptical or think this sounds gimmicky, but stick with us for a minute.
Aligning all your employees, including those on the front lines, is critical to achieving alignment. Nothing works when the vision and plan get stuck in the boardroom and never make their way down to the front of the shop where employees interact with customers or into the various departments where the work gets done on a daily basis.
Having a quarterly theme helps translates that #1 Thing into smaller, achievable, and tangible actions for employees to take across all levels of the organization. Plus, when you add tiered rewards for hitting different levels of the Critical Number, you’ll be amazed at how momentum builds throughout the organization.
Creating a quarterly theme works, but as the leader of your business, you have to keep it at the forefront of everything the business does. It has to become part of your business culture. If you set the right tone from the boardroom and breathe continual life into your quarterly theme, your teams will see the progress and understand how what they’re doing is contributing toward business success.
When you follow these three steps to build alignment around your business vision, you’ll find newfound direction and purpose within your teams. They’ll understand exactly where the business is going strategically, what purpose they are fulfilling on your team, and how they can have a direct impact on the company’s success.