Why Strong Cultures Can Only be Built by Organisational Alignment

Building a successful workplace culture is not just about the company perks, the discounted Friday beers, the PlayStation in the corner or the cool location. A successful culture is a result of listening, watching, feedback and actively paying attention to the fundamentals at the core of business: ensuring a team pulls in the same direction, has a voice, a shared ownership and completes shared objectives that is seamless – what we are really referring to is organisational alignment.

Organisational alignment is when work, structure, metrics, people, rewards, and culture are all optimally aligned to deliver against an organisation’s strategy. The literal definition of alignment is ‘the arrangement or positioning of parts in relation to one another.’ This can be expanded in a business sense to imply a shared focus, coordination and action for teams and organisational processes. 

To achieve organisational alignment, it is essential for companies to nurture a shared set of cultural norms and behaviours, to ensure they are observed and synthesised by employees at every level of the company. This doesn’t mean employees must all hold the same beliefs, motivators or desires, but there should be well-defined principles and goals that keep everyone moving in the same direction. 

It means paying attention to the importance of the idea that an entire team, from new employees through to senior executives, are ambitious and disciplined in their approach to achieving a common vision and goal for the company. That they have a ‘we’ not ‘me’ mindset. 

It is an admittedly broad concept; and it can be near impossible to reach true organisational alignment nirvana. Ultimately though, those companies who are successful when it comes to culture are onto something special. It is worth the time and effort to strive for it.

Why is it important?

An organisation’s success depends on strong organisational alignment. There are many issues that can arise if not achieved to a high enough level:

  • Team members or departments pulling in the wrong direction
  • Internal breakdown of communication
  • Lack of trust between colleagues and teams
  • Disengaged employees
  • A breakdown in results
  • Unethical behaviour
  • Misunderstandings of key metrics and goals
  • Wellbeing and health costs

Unfortunately, poor organisational alignment is surprisingly common. According to a revealing PwC survey, only 28% of respondents said they feel fully connected to their company’s purpose, with just 39% saying they could clearly see the value they create. 

There are several benefits of an aligned organisation:

  • Organisational agility
  • Team unity
  • Clear purpose 
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Improved productivity
  • Trust and respect for each other
  • Strong sense of organisational togetherness
  • Fewer misunderstandings
  • An open flow of ideas 
  • Successful implementation of new strategies
  • Faster decision-making

These all result in better functioning, more successful businesses. Organisational alignment is key.

Disengaged employees, for whatever reasons, do not make good employees, even more so when surrounded by others who might be in a similar state of mind. 

How to Measure/Achieve Alignment?

Different companies can have unique cultures, and there are numerous variables that can be used to determine the different components of a company’s culture and to identify the behaviours that are expected from the people in the organisation. 

  • 1) Create shared goals and metrics: To achieve employee-goal alignment, employers need to make setting goals a collaborative process. Rather than imposing objectives on employees, develop them collaboratively. The SMART technique (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) is commonly used for setting goals that align with the overall company vision.
  • 2) Hire the right people: Although it can be a challenge to find the perfect fit, the best and most obvious way to ensure organisational alignment is to hire people who already share your company’s values. Candidates should be evaluated on their alignment with the culture. A single model that can assess both organisational culture and individual leadership styles is critical for this activity.
  • 3) Align culture with strategy: Many leaders agonise over the importance of vision, far fewer put as much emphasis into what it takes to pull this vision off. Verne Harnish, an American consultant who has spent 30 years educating entrepreneurial teams, believes the difference between organisational vision and organisational alignment as drivers toward success is an impressive 99%. In other words, vision without strong alignment won’t work.
  • 4) Foster a collaborative culture: It is essential for a company to work collaboratively to accomplish goals while maintaining a sense of transparency and accountability across departments and teams. While organisational alignment is a broad concept, ensuring unrestricted collaboration, fluid exchange of ideas and healthy dialogue and feedback across your business will help your employees successfully pursue common goals. 
  • 5) Shared values: This process begins with values that are clearly articulated, well understood and more importantly demonstrated. When employees understand, share and experience your values, this leads to shared behaviours across a range of different situations. Research reveals 35% of American employees would pass on the perfect job if they felt the company culture wasn’t a good fit. A further 46% of candidates believe culture is very important in the application process. A business without core values and a clear culture probably isn’t a sustainable business.
  • 6) Introduce processes that support the culture: When a company’s structures, systems, and processes are aligned and support the aspirational culture and strategy, embedding new culture styles and behaviours will become far easier.
  • 7) Leaders have to ‘walk the talk’: Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that can persist for decades. Over time an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through both conscious and unconscious actions (sometimes with unintended consequences).
  • 8) The Importance of communication: Leaders of a company should consistently communicate these values and goals clearly, inviting feedback on them and articulating them in a transparent fashion. Thereafter, through dialogue, they must assess whether employees – full-time, part-time or contracted short-term – are engaged with their mission.

Achieving organisational alignment isn’t an overnight process. It takes bravery, honesty and hard work. It is best to make small steps: start by finding clarity on what success looks like for each team, how it will be measured and the processes by which you’ll communicate progress.

Next Article

Why do we still think Digital Transformation is about Technology? When it’s really about people!

How Can I Help You?

I work with ambitious leaders to help them grow faster and shape their future. Are you ready to unlock your potential and grow faster?

Subscribe to The Curiosity Catalyst for the latest strategies, trends and expert insights to help you unlock your potential and grow faster.

© 2024 Kevin McDonnell. All Rights Reserved. All third party trademarks (including logos and icons) remain the property of their respective owners.

Join 13,200+ people who are unlocking their potential and growing faster.

Every Friday morning you’ll receive the latest leadership strategies, trends and expert insights to help you unlock your potential and grow faster.

© 2024 Kevin McDonnell. All Rights Reserved. All third-party trademarks (including logos and icons) remain the property of their respective owners.

- Not Just a Newsletter

Join my community of 13,200 + business leaders learning how to build great businesses