The term alignment is receiving increased attention in the business world. CEOs are looking to align their entire organizations. Managers are attempting to align their teams. Change leaders at all levels are attempting to align people behind new strategies and initiatives.
So what is alignment? Generally, alignment means that a team, a group, or multiple groups share a common goal, agree on what success will look like, and coordinate their efforts. Alignment is an important ingredient for organizational success.
But alignment isn’t enough. Alignment gives us clear shared goals and expectations, but so does working on an assembly line. Aligned employees may know what is expected, but do they really care? Do they come up with innovative suggestions? Are they able to react to a sudden change that throws the whole plan off course?
To succeed, teams and the people on them also need to have energy. Energy allows people to keep working toward their goals despite obstacles, setbacks, and changes. Consider your own team. How much energy do people bring to work? Are they excited about what they are working on? Do they have the opportunity to contribute new, innovative ideas? Are they invited to unleash their natural strengths and talents in service of the organization’s goals? Energy fuels action. It sparks innovation. It makes things happen.
Taken to an extreme, all energy and no alignment isn’t effective either. If you’ve worked with a team of people who are enthusiastic about their own ideas but who lack common focus, direction, and coordination you know it can feel a lot like herding cats.
Being an effective people leader is largely about constantly paying attention to your team’s current state of energy and alignment. It is about developing a style that builds a careful balance. It’s not possible to be perfectly in balance all the time, but it’s an ideal worth striving for. I use the term Energized AlignmentTM to describe the state of being both “psyched up and in sync.”
How leaders ignite energy
Research has shown that energizing leaders attract high performers and have a tangible effect on productivity. Leaders can ignite energy in two ways: by being energizers themselves and by unleashing energy in others.
Harvard Business School professor and noted author Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes that leaders who are energizers stay active, positive, responsive, and on mission. In addition to being an energizer yourself, you can multiply the effect of energy by unleashing it in others. Research from experts in the field of leadership indicates that five powerful triggers for unleashing energy are:
Knowing what matters to and motivates each person on your team.
Providing opportunities for people to do what they do best every day.
Helping people understand how their contribution matters to others.
Supporting your team members so they can make progress at work.
Demonstrating respect and appreciation.
How leaders create alignment
Alignment can be mandated (as on an assembly line), however Marshall Goldsmith, a world-renowned leadership coach, asserts that genuine alignment results from conversation. Two-way dialogue with team members helps clarify priorities and promotes mutual understanding. Two questions to initiate dialogue include:
Where are we going? As the manager, share your views on key priorities for the larger organization. Then ask for your direct report’s views. This dialogue will help ensure alignment between your views and his or her views on what really matters.
Where are you going? Give your views on where your direct report should be headed. Then ask for his or her views on the desired direction. Balancing two potentially oppositional values
Energy and alignment may seem oppositional at times. Balancing the two takes skill and practice, however both are imperative for individual, team, and organizational performance. Whether you are leading a major organizational change initiative or managing one team, achieving energized alignment is worth the effort.
Mack is a Woodland Park based consultant, speaker, and facilitator who specializes in leading and communicating change. She can be reached at Wendy@WendyMack.com.