Management consultants often repeat a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” In these days of a worldwide viral outbreak and the resulting chaotic and ambiguous business environment, this quote rings especially true. The pandemic has certainly wreaked havoc on organizations and individuals, and has created a huge amount of uncertainty. Obviously business leaders must look for ways to get back to work safely, while creating a sense of normalcy, and do it as quickly as possible!
Over the last six months many businesses, especially professional firms, have been innovative in using technology to transfer work from the office to home. Yet there are benefits in being able to go to the workplace and to interact with colleagues and customers. With no definite end date for the pandemic in sight, planning and figuring out how to maintain economic viability while staying safe, is absolutely critical.
The Strategic Alignment Meeting
One organizational tool that can help accomplish this is called a Strategic Alignment Meeting.
What is Strategic Alignment? Businessdictionary.com defines it this way:
The process of bringing the actions of a department (or project) and its team members into line with the organization’s (or team’s) planned objectives.
Essentially, the idea is to identify critical priorities and to align goals, roles and procedures to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same outcomes. At the end of the meeting you would like everyone clear about the project or team objectives, to understand their role, and how they have to work with others to accomplish this. It also may be good to include various stakeholders – other interested parties including those individuals necessary to support the project’s or team’s success.
The objectives for an alignment meeting are:
- Gain a clear and shared picture of the organization’s strategic direction and what success means. Address such questions as: What are our critical priorities; who are our key customers; and how can we measure success?
- Agree on roles, goals and procedures and how to work together most effectively
- Gain a clear accountability for each individual
- Develop a process for effectively sharing information amongst all team members as well as interested outside parties
- Communicate to everyone why success is important, how it effects the organization and others, and most importantly, how it effects and helps results
We have been using this process in a wide variety of organizations over the last 15 years. Not only does it foster better relationships and communications, but the process has helped various organizations achieve their goals. The Strategic Alignment Meeting works in for-profit organizations, in non-profits, as well as in government. That is, it works wherever people have to work together to achieve critical outcomes.
Recently we used this process with a major global petrochemical company. They were building a $1.3 billion processing plant. The Strategic Alignment Meeting involved the Project Director and his whole team – some 30 people. Interestingly, and for a number of reasons, the project had been on again and off again, and various team members had come and gone. When the company did a project audit to see if this project was commercially viable, they found, not surprisingly, that the one area that scored poorly was Team Functionality. Team Functionality was composed of some 20 criteria including:
- Clear Project Objectives
- Stakeholder Support & Alignment
- Team Alignment
- Effective Decision-Making
- Team Communications
- Interpersonal Relationships
- Team Effectiveness
During the meeting, the team identified specific issues, concerns and opportunities. Then they developed an action plan to deal with the critical priorities. This included explicit accountabilities for each action item. Additionally, specific actions were ONLY assigned to those in the room – not to outsiders who did not attend, and therefore had no ownership for any action. A follow-up audit (done by an outside firm) was conducted a few months after the Strategic Alignment Meeting and yielded astounding results. The majority of the factors changed from “Problematic” or “Cautionary” to “Good,” which was the highest rating on the scale. The Project Director also commented that “this was the highest team score that any team in the company has ever received.” Two years later, this company is planning to build another plant, since this one had been executed so successfully.
In all, when working on important and complex issues involving a diverse set of people, it is essential to make sure that everyone understands the outcomes expected, why these are important, the role that each individual plays, and how they will interact as a team to accomplish those objectives. Some critical lessons learned have been:
- Be clear about the outcomes you want to create. What challenges are you trying to overcome? What opportunities would you like to exploit?
- Meeting participants should ONLY include key stakeholders: those who can impact results and who have a vested interest in them
- Does your strategy take into account your customer’s (internal and/ or external) needs? Did you solicit their input?
- What resources will be needed to accomplish these results? Materials, Money, Manpower, Time? Can you provide these?
- And finally, Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up! Without adequate follow-up things will fall through the cracks!
If you follow these guidelines, the Strategic Alignment Meeting can be a very powerful tool for fostering good teamwork and in creating high performance outcomes.
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