Strategic alignment is a great term. It evokes the idea of everything working in harmony, with the gears meshing perfectly in a frictionless symphony of efficiency and productivity. It is an ideal state we strive to achieve.
Reality is often far from that. We can spend countless hours in strategic planning sessions, process review meetings, and team building events, and yet still have a mess, even if we have done all the right things: establish a vision, map out a strategy, and hire all the right people.
A recent article from the Harvard Business Review, A Simple Way to Test Your Company’s Strategic Alignment, by Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varcoe, asks two simple, but loaded questions to assess whether your organization’s strategic vision and structure are aligned. In other words, do all the pieces of the puzzle fit together?
Trevor and Varcoe give us a great reference point for what strategic alignment is: “all elements of a business — including the market strategy and the way the company itself is organized — are arranged in such a way as to best support the fulfillment of its long-term purpose.”
The first question, how well does our strategy support the fulfillment of our purpose?, is a great starting point. But let’s take it a step further: How well does our strategy support our strategic vision? Strategic vision is composed of the Core Ideology (Core Purpose and Core Values) and the Envisioned Future (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and a Vivid Description of the Future). And instead of using the ambiguous scoring of 1-100, try the more practical 1-5, where 5 is perfectly aligned and 1 is not at all (or “what do you mean ‘strategic vision’?”). A strategy should flow naturally from having a solid Core Ideology and Envisioned Future defined. When a strategy is a convoluted mess, it is more likely to reflect pet projects, entrenched ideologies, and randomly selected numbers, than a coherent plan.
The second question, how well does our organization support the achievement of our strategy?, strikes at the heart of the strategy-to-execution gap. Again, a 1-5 scoring is sufficient. Many articles and books have been written on the importance of execution (Execution by Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy is a personal favourite), but it remains a stumbling point for many organizations. A strategy should be rooted in a firm understanding of an organization’s capabilities and resources, which will serve to close that strategy-to-execution gap. Without that understanding, your strategy may be set up to fail before it starts.
Organizations that score highly on both questions have strong alignment and are set-up for success. Organizations that score weakly on one or both questions should take a closer look at why before it is too late. Alignment from strategic vision through strategy to execution helps an organization maintain focus and make the most of its resources. In the face of so much change, uncertainty in the economy, and the need to do more with less, strategic alignment has never been more essential to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
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