Over the years there is one aspect of organisations that I have come to view as having the greatest positive or negative impact on company performance – executive team alignment. A little while ago, someone I was talking with described their organisation as like a big family. Not as in one big happy family; the implication was that people behave in some of the worst ways that sometimes only families do. The workplace was neither productive nor a pleasant place to be.
So to continue with the analogy, there are some basic elements which most well-functioning families* seem to have in common:
- A sense of purpose and priorities;
- A clear and shared set of values;
- Good will towards each other;
- Clear and direct communication; and
- A good mix of focus on the present and the future.
In a family, it is the effectiveness of the family leaders (the adult or adults) in establishing these foundations and then role modelling them which has a major impact on day to day family life.
For example, if a parent asks their children to speak respectfully to others but doesn’t do so themself, the child will often behave as the parent does rather than as they ask.
If the parents have different priorities and values and are inconsistent in the boundaries they provide their children, this is confusing and destabilising and can result in bad behaviour.
And who of us hasn’t witnessed a child play one parent off against the other when they sense a slight chink in their unity, and therefore behave badly to get a favourable result?
Now of course, employees are not children but the foundational principles for effective organisations are similar to those of families, especially given the power, authority and resources which executives have in comparison to most employees.
In too many organisations, executives are not aligned and not working together as a cohesive team and it has ramifications for other managers, employees and the executives themselves. A lack of senior leadership team alignment often results in:
- Reactivity from all levels of the organisation, at the expense of longer-term planning and action;
- Politics and bad behaviour (e.g. people undermining each other, not supporting an important initiative etc.);
- Wasted resources as people shift focus from one priority to another or do work that is misaligned with other parts of the business;
- A silo focus rather than allocating resources and efforts where they are best for the company;
- Increased time and resources to get things done as consultation and decision-making become a complex and time consuming prospect; and
- Higher employee turnover and lower productivity with people reluctant to give their extra discretionary effort for leaders in whom they lack trust and faith.
Like being in a good relationship, working in an organisation which has a strong and aligned senior leadership teams feels right and so much easier. Without all the drama and distractions, people can focus on turning up to work and doing what they do best – achieving.
So if there is one thing that most organisations could focus on more and expect some changes that will have a big ripple effect – start with executive team alignment. Now that’s the kind of family company to which I want to belong!
* While I am no expert on families, I was an avid Brady Bunch viewer as a kid and have watched several episodes of Dr Phil over the years.