Understand your mission? Check.  Create a vision through strategic thinking?  Check.  Get organizational alignment and superior execution?   Not so fast.

A good portion of a leadership team’s time is spent creating a strategy to solve business problems that delivers on the organization’s mission.  Often these well laid out plans fall flat – the leadership team is unable to execute on them. 

Why?  Things change along the way.  Some realities aren’t known when the strategic plan is laid out.  To achieve organizational alignment, things must shift in execution.  Unfortunately, these shifts can wreak havoc on the initial strategy and destroy any chance of organizational alignment.  We’ve learned through our work that any plan will take detours – so it’s important to understand the appropriate framework for execution upfront.

A framework for execution

For leaders and their teams, we use the alignment vs. agreement model for strategic leadership execution to determine “On which decisions can you be in alignment, and on which must you be in agreement?” 

  • Alignment means everyone can support a decision as if it were their own, even if they might have done something different if they ruled the world. It means they can feel good about standing on the same side, acting as a unified force.
  • Agreement, on the other hand, requires a higher degree of commitment from each person on the team. Agreement means there is unanimity of opinion. When there is agreement, every person truly believes the direction of the decision and resulting actions are both their personal choice, and the choice of the group.

 organizational alignment

This picture outlines that the greater the degree of personal or organizational risk involved in a given decision, the more likely agreement will be required. The major force affecting the threshold between alignment and agreement is the level of trust within the team. While the topic of trust deserves its own conversation, more trust means more risk can be tolerated without requiring agreement from everyone.

Example 1: Acquiring a product or company that will significantly impact focus, resources, customers and financial outcomes across the organization would be high on organization risk. If everyone on the team (and their teams) are impacted significantly as well, then there is also a high degree of personal risk. Strive for agreement.

Example 2: One of the leaders wants to build a team to create a disruptive innovation in one part of the company. A maximum budget is set, and contingency plans for organization-wide performance are in place in case everything invested does not pay off.  Here, alignment is sufficient.

Once the “alignment or agreement” issue is discussed, your team of strategic leaders can sort through which strategic decisions need to be decided in which way.   That will drive you to organizational alignment.