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More Strategic Alignment
The need for more strategic alignment is probably the answer if you’re experiencing hit or miss business growth.
Today’s guest, Art Johnson, author of The Art of Alignment: A Data-Driven Approach to Lead Aligned Organizations, has the helpful tips you need to achieve the reliable growth and prosperity you deserve.
What You’ll Discover About More Strategic Alignment (highlights & transcript):
* How to hire the right employees for more strategic alignment [03:17]
* How employee-buy-in and commitment produces more strategic alignment [06:38]
* The leadership traits needed to achieve more strategic alignment [10:06]
* The role of employee empowerment in achieving more strategic alignment [13:20]
* The 9 pillars of alignment from “The Art of Alignment” [15:44]
* And much MORE.
Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00.21] Would you like more reliable business growth? Are you tired of some of the hit and miss you’ve been experiencing? If you can relate, then you may need more strategic alignment in your business; and lucky for you, today’s guest is the author of The Art of Alignment, and he’s here with some great tips to help you achieve that reliable growth and the prosperity you deserve.
Announcer: [00:00:22.44] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. Helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.
Hanna: [00:00:33.42] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Mr. Art Johnson. He helps business leaders identify and rectify organizational misalignment. He’s also the CEO of Infinity Systems Inc., a management consulting firm.
And as I mentioned at the top of the show, he is the author of the book “The Art of Alignment: A Data-Driven Approach to Lead Aligned Organizations.” Now, Art doesn’t just write about more strategic alignment; he also practices what he preaches. He’s helped Medtronics, for example, the world’s largest medical technology company, implement a strategic plan that improved alignment and enabled them to grow top line revenue by 13% year over year in a flat market. Now, that’s pretty impressive.
[00:01:24.60] So, let’s find out what he can do for you. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Art.
Art Johnson: [00:01:29.97] Hanna, thanks so much for having me.
HOW BUSINESS CULTURES GET OUT OF ALIGNMENT
Hanna: [00:01:32.16] Now, before we get started on your insights for how to get more strategic alignment, I am curious about your thoughts for how business strategies get out of alignment. After all, you know, business leaders and employees don’t intentionally deviate from a business mission or a vision. What do you think?
Art: [00:01:53.16] So, you know what? What you – what you end up finding is that many employees have an idea of what it is they want to do, or they have a certain, let’s say, feeling about a specific strategy or plan and it may not be consistent with directionally where the organization is trying to go. So, part of the role of leaders is to understand where the employee base is, get the right people on the bus, get the people that are most effective at cascading the message, and selling the vision and mission to the broader organization in the right positions of influence.
[00:02:36.39] But then, even before all of that work, this idea of creating a mission and vision that’s not only clear but communicated effectively, but then also, a way by which you can measure the buy in and adherence to that becomes critical. So, when we bring all these aspects together, we can get there; but the biggest challenge that you just kind of mentioned, Hanna, is this concept of – or is it – is that mission and vision consistent with the personal purpose of each of the players that are part of that organization or a broader team?
HIRING THE RIGHT EMPLOYEES FOR MORE STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT
Hanna: [00:03:17.53] Oh, boy. Art, there is just so much in what you’ve just said. [Laughter] Where do I begin? Well, let me start with this personal purpose of the employees. Don’t you screen for that when you’re hiring?
Art: [00:03:33.94] You know, you try to, right? So, part of the exercise is kind of getting at that; and I will tell you that my experience, as you alluded to it, Medtronic was a little bit unique. So, being a person of color, African-American male growing up in the United States, had numerous experiences: from integrating grade schools, up to being the first and only African-American, at that leadership level, within a behemoth like Medtronic.
[00:04:03.55] I quickly learned that I needed to make an impact right away. And so, in doing that or in knowing that, I wanted to make sure that: one, my organization was aligned around mission and vision, but also aligned around our strategic plan in terms of getting there. And then, by virtue of doing this work and learning more about the industry as I kind of got into it, what I found was that there were these significant disparities in healthcare.
[00:04:31.42] In other words, an African-American that wanted or that needed a certain therapy was five times less likely to get it. Whether they had the insurance to pay for it or not, they were five times less likely – like less likely to get it. So, that immediately struck a chord with me; and there were two things that came from that, Hanna: One, was this recognition of opportunity to go serve this population that did not have – that was not getting the appropriate therapy. But then, there is also this opportunity to really grow revenue within. And so, the two kind of came together,
[00:05:09.64] and this purpose for my work became something that drove me. And so, I became maniacally focused about this, and it also led to the successes that we had. So, the degree to which we can find real purpose in the work that we do, and leaders, real strong leaders are really good at doing that. I kind of landed there on my own; but others that are able to really pull that out of the employee base, it drives this adherence to the mission and vision. It really focuses employees, in terms of their contributions to the organization, and really drives the alignment that we’ve been talking about.
Hanna: [00:05:51.07] I can hear the passion and the importance of this in your voice. It’s very compelling because what I – what you’re describing and what I hear is that it’s allowing employees to make a difference in something that’s meaningful for them.
Art: [00:06:08.95] That’s exactly right, Hanna. You know, it’s that opportunity to really lean in and contribute in a way that’s consistent with your personal ideals, the things that you espouse as an individual. And if they align with the mission and vision of the organization, boy, I tell you what, you start seeing employees dropping those oars in the water at the same time, and you see significant growth and success.
HOW EMPLOYEE BUY-IN AND COMMITMENT PRODUCES MORE STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT
Hanna: [00:06:38.56] Yeah. I could see where that would definitely light a fire. But when it comes to measuring the level that employees have bought into the mission or the vision, and how much it aligns with their personal values, for example, how do you do that?
Art: [00:06:57.33] So, that’s a – I appreciate the question; and in my book, The Art of Alignment, this whole idea of measuring something that has historically been kind of that soft sort of skill set…
Hanna: [00:07:11.10] Yeah.
Art: [00:07:11.40] So, how do you go about measuring, you know, things like creativity, right? [Laughter] And so, you’ve got to make sure that you’re asking the right questions because creativity is the leading indicator of innovation.
[00:07:27.84] So, the degree to which we have creative thoughts, and the degree to which we can imbue those thoughts in our organization, we really begin to drive this concept of innovation. And in that, not only do we come up with new products, we come up with new procedures and practices and ways of doing things, we become more efficient as an organization, we drive costs down, we drive opportunities up; but a lot of this is – that’s required in that is to get everybody on board and on the same page.
[00:08:02.19] And that means, your marginalized groups within your organization, are they – have they bought in? Have we leveraged their thoughts, opinions, and made them feel included in our discussions? And the degree to which we, as leaders, are effective at that. In other words, getting all oars to hit the water at the same time, that propels us to go much faster. You know, it’s so funny: I spoke with the crew coach at the University of Minnesota, Wendy Davis.
This maybe took place seven, eight years ago; and I asked her, I said, “Wendy, how important is alignment to what it is you do?” and she said, “Art, it is everything. Let me put it to you like this: if one oar is off by three one-hundredths of a second, for us, it’s the difference between winning and losing.” So, it means everything.
[00:08:57.84] And I think about corporations and organizations at large: the degree to which employees have bought in and are dropping the oars in the water at the same time, and I know that’s metaphorical, but the degree to which they are effective at doing that. In other words, we are on the same page at the same cadence, charging toward the same goal. Boy, do we start to get phenomenal performance and success. And this isn’t just in sport. This isn’t just in corporations.
We see it in things like orchestras performing, things like the Bolero. And I, you know, I talk about these things in my book; but at the end of the day, you know, the degree to which we all have a common goal and it’s clear what that is, and it’s clear what our role and responsibilities are associated with that, and that that leads us to real, real performance.
Hanna: [00:09:47.51] Absolutely. You’re right. It cuts across all types of activities. I was just thinking of an example someone gave me about sailing, you know, a pleasure craft from, say, San Francisco to Hawaii. If you are one degree or a half a degree off, you’re going to miss the island.
Art: [00:10:05.60] Yeah. [Laughter]
LEADERSHIP TRAITS NEEDED TO ACHIVE MORE STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT
Hanna: [00:10:06.40] You know, I mean, forget it. You’re out in the middle of God knows where, navigating around plastic. But anyhow, it does make a difference. It does make a difference. But you know, what you’ve described is just also a colossal leadership challenge because, you know, the larger your workforce, the more diverse your team, the more factors, the more balls are in the air that have to be managed, and considerations taken into account.
So, what are some leadership traits that are needed to accomplish this? Because, you know, everything you’ve outlined makes perfect sense, and it’s something that I can’t imagine anybody wouldn’t want for their organization. But, what’s the leadership challenge, and what kind of leadership traits need to be developed? Because not everybody lands on all fours.
Art: [00:11:04.66] [Laughter] Boy. So, there’s a couple of things that are just screaming, right? One is first the understanding that organizations move at the speed of trust. So, the degree to which the organization trusts its leaders and believe that they are directing them or leaning toward a target that: one, they can achieve; and that they have the best interests of the employees in mind is going to get people to get behind it. So, do they trust leaders is one; and there’s ways that you go about building trust, and we can talk about that.
[00:11:43.09] The second thing is: are the leaders effective at asking questions? The tendency, Hanna, is for leaders that have been either the smartest person in the room or have landed in a role because, you know, they look the part or whatever it might be. The question is: does that leader ask more questions, or do they find themselves answering more questions? If they’re – if it’s the latter and they’re answering more questions, then they are that oracle of information.
[00:12:13.96] Nothing happens until they’ve seen it. They make all final decisions. Everybody is stymied until this person has weighed in on a particular topic. And not only does that suppress creative thinking within the organization, but it kills empowerment. And so, you’ve now done the organization a disservice by being that oracle of information; whereas, on the flip side, we recommend this concept of asking more questions, which is to begin to foster critical thinking within the organization, to empower the organization to make its own decisions.
And by empowering, you get the opportunity to hold folks accountable. Because at the end of the day, if they’re carrying out what it is that you suggested, who is the one that’s ultimately accountable? It’s you. And by the way, when you go – when they carry out what you told them to do and then you go and recognize them for what they did, who in essence are you really recognizing? Yourself. So, in that, we get into this strange sort of paradox around what is it that we’ve set out to do. If we really want to have effective recognition programs.
THE ROLE OF EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT IN ACHIEVING MORE STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT
We have to be effective at empowerment; and then with that, comes this concept of accountability. So, I’ll give you an example: asking effective questions.
[00:13:36.18] Employee comes to me at Medtronic. I’ll never forget this: “Art, can I do this, that, the other thing?” and I say to this individual: “Well, what are your options?” And they lay out the options. Then, I ask another question: “Which of the options do you like the best?” They choose the one that they like the best, and I say, “Well, what’s keeping you from proceeding?” And then, this lost puppy look comes, right? Which is, you know, I don’t know what’s standing in the way.
Well, let me make it easy for you: if there’s something that’s standing in the way of this decision because you’re closer to it than I’ll ever be, let me know what that is, so I can get that rock out of the road. But at the end of the day, you’ve made a decision, and I support you.
[00:14:21.60] Now, out of that, Hanna, comes a couple of things: one, I foster creative thinking, critical thinking in my organization. If I had to answer that question on the front end, we’d have lost all those ideas and opportunities ‘cause we’d have begun the implementation of what it is that I suggested. But instead, what we got was this plethora of ideas out on the table that have been clearly thought out; and now, we get to execute on what we think is the best one by the person who’s closest to it.
And the benefit of it is I get two things as the leader: I get the energy and excitement around it, coupled with the accountability that comes with it; but I also get a chance to recognize that person for what they did and get that opportunity to rinse and repeat going forward. And that begins to permeate the organization and create a culture like no other.
Hanna: [00:15:20.04] Absolutely. ‘Cause the other people see that, and they’re like, “I want a piece of that.” And now, I know somebody that did that in a division at an organization that I worked for many years ago, and people wanted to transfer into that division because they were given that kind of level of authority and independence and empowerment. So, it really does go a long way.
THE 9 PILLARS OF ALIGNMENT FROM “THE ART OF ALIGNMENT”
[00:15:44.76] I’d like to talk about your book for a second, The Art of Alignment. I noticed that you have a section in there that talks about the nine pillars of alignment. Could you briefly tell us what they are, how they work?
Art: [00:15:58.53] [Laughter] Hey, you know what? I appreciate that. So, first off, we think about this idea of mission and vision. And I’ve spoken at the – at Villanova many years back, and I had a graduate school class that I was talking to, about forty-four students. And I just asked a simple question. I said – or I made a statement. I just said, “I’ll give $100.00 to anybody in this room that can accurately tell their mission”: the mission of their organization, and only two people raised their hand. Only one of them was close. No one was able to accurately reflect the mission of the organization, and these are middle managers and above.
[00:16:37.74] So, it’s not uncommon to not even know what the mission is or to be able to accurately describe it. So, it’s not – that’s not uncommon. The most effective organizations that drive in alignment are ones that where the mission and vision is clear, is fully imbued in the organization; people can reflect and recite it.
[00:16:58.14] Second thing is communication, which is dovetails off of that. How are we – how effective are we at communicating our mission and vision? We see it in the United States all the time. You’ve got these statutes and written words that are reflected in our constitution and laws and songs; it’s like the national anthem that [Laughter] have reinforced the mission and vision. But communication: how do we effectively communicate what it is, with what it – who it is we are, what it is we espouse to be, what the world will look like if we accomplish our mission and vision?
[00:17:29.85] Communication becomes critical not only from a top to bottom standpoint, but also laterally as well, amongst organization or amongst team members and/or other aspects of the organization. Which gets me into this third one, which is teamwork.
[00:17:47.04] The degree to which we can operate as a team that our handoffs are smooth; that it’s clear what our roles and responsibility are within the organization; that we can see line of sight with, not only those responsibilities are and how they contribute, but also how we are rewarded, and how that work that we do reflects the overall success of the organization.
[00:18:10.17] Fourth one is empowerment. This concept is one that we all talk about. There’s a great book “Zapp!” that speaks to that: “The Lightning of Empowerment.” And what we talk about is, you know, the degree to which everyone is clear on what it is that they’ve been charged to do, but at the same time, they’re given the latitude to make the kind of decisions that are necessary. They’re closer to it. Make the right call, you’re accountable, which is the next phase to what it is that you decide to do.
And when we talk about accountability, it is 360-degree accountability. I’m not just accountable to my boss; I’m accountable to the employees that are reporting into me, I’m accountable to my peers, I’m accountable to shareholders, I’m accountable to the broader community in which we serve, so on and so forth.
[00:18:59.34] Development is another thing that we look at. And Hanna, specifically, what we’re looking at there is: have I been given the tools necessary to be effective in what it is that I’m being asked to do? And also, is the organization looking out for me in a way that’s helping me round my resume, so that if they fire me, I can still land on my feet? And that speaks to this idea that you want me to give you my best work.
But in return, I want to know that you’ve got my back. And organizations go through these downsizings. And many times, your introverts aren’t necessarily willing to speak up to this particular issue, but they vote with their feet. And so, part of this is just – it’s giving them the tools, but also at the same time, helping them round their resume.
[00:19:43.51] Creativity is another one. This is like we talked about just a little bit ago is this: it’s that first step to innovation; and do we have a mechanism as an organization by which we can capture good ideas? And then, is there a mechanism by which we can imbue these ideas in our organization? And then, best practices become also a part of this exercise: are we looking outside our work or outside of our organization to find better ways of doing our work?
This was a challenge at Medtronic, and it was quite frankly, even a challenge when I was at IBM. You know, when you’re at the top of the food chain, the belief is that we’ve got the best and brightest. If we’re looking for a good idea, we’ll just look within; and that’s not necessarily true.
There are smaller, more nimble organizations that have figured things out that large organizations could benefit from; and it’s important that you have a way by which you are leveraging best practices.
[00:20:36.49] And then, last but not least – and you and I talked about this: is this idea of leadership and that is predicated upon trust and having the type of leaders that don’t necessarily need to be the oracle of information. In fact, in some instances, employ the shepherd leadership model, which is, you know, I’ll lead from behind.
In other words, there may be some people in my organization that are more capable than I am. Let’s give them the opportunity to shine, because quite frankly, they might be able to contribute in broader, bigger ways to our organization. But also, as a shepherd leader, my role is to make sure that the sheep are all going in the same direction, and that I don’t necessarily have to have that bullhorn suggesting that we go a particular direction or at a certain speed. So, part of this is leading, but then also knowing when to follow.
So, and that’s not easy for a lot of leaders. So, those are the things that we talk about in the book. Those are the things that I believe in. I’ve seen my – I’ve seen some outstanding leaders really emulate these things, but most importantly, I’ve seen extreme effectiveness in the organizations that we work with that have bought into these concepts and are out and about delivering them.
Hanna: [00:21:46.00] Well, thank you for that. I think a lot of organizations could definitely benefit from more strategic alignment; and sometimes, people are so busy working in their business that they don’t have enough time to step back and focus on their business. So, I love these points that you’ve raised, and this has been great information. Art, thank you so much for sharing. I know I’ve learned a lot.
And if you’re listening and would like to contact Art, learn more about his consulting work to develop more strategic alignment in your organization or his book, “The Art of Alignment: A Data-Driven Approach to Lead Aligned Organizations,” you can find that information in the show notes at businessconfidentialradio.com.
And if you know someone who could benefit from Art’s tips and strategies, be sure to tell them about today’s episode. Share the link to the show and leave a positive review on your podcast app or at lovethepodcast.com.
Because you have been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. And I hope you have a great day and an even better tomorrow.
Guest: Art Johnson
Previously, he implemented a strategic plan to improve alignment at Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company, enabling it to grow top-line revenue by 13 percent year-over-year in a flat market.
His new book is The Art of Alignment: A Data-Driven Approach to Lead Aligned Organizations (Made for Success Publishing, Feb. 16, 2021).
Learn more at orgametrics.net/theartofalignment.
To hear more about how to improve employee buy-in and commitment, listen to Sean Field’s interview How to Get More Employee Buy-in and Commitment For What Management Wants to Do .
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