Strategic Alignment Does Not Mean Agreement

Strategic Alignment Does Not Mean Agreement
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Strategic Alignment vs. Strategic Agreement
Smart leaders and those who facilitate strategy retreats know that strategic alignment does not mean agreement. 

Strategic alignment means that each leader will visibly support the directions and decisions regardless of their personal differences because they think it makes ENOUGH overall sense for the greater good.  This manifests itself as the executive team looking, feeling, and acting as a unified force working toward a shared outcome.

Strategic agreement requires that each person on the executive team deeply believes in the direction and plan personally and professionally. 

What Strategic Alignment Can Do for Your Business
The power of strategic alignment occurs when every part of the organization is working in a unified fashion to implement the “intentions” that define the business strategy in a way that makes sense to the business AND the people.

Our organizational alignment research found that highly aligned companies not only grow revenue 58% faster and are 72% more profitable, but they also outperform unaligned organizations at these rates:

  • Customer Retention 2.23-to-1
  • Customer Satisfaction 3.2-to-1
  • Leadership Effectiveness 8.71-to-1
  • Employee Engagement 16.8-to-1

And it all starts with the executive team.  In fact, strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing leadership teams.

Strategic Alignment Does Not Mean Agreement
But don’t make the common mistake of thinking that strategic alignment means that all stakeholders must agree. Reaching 100% agreement on every high stake strategic issue is not only difficult, but full consensus is not very realistic across different internal and external constituents. 

The executive team does not need to agree with every decision, but each and every leader must get behind and commit to supporting the plan of action 100%. That means NO BACK-CHANNELING once a decision has been made.

It also means NOT saying “Well I disagree, but I’ll do whatever you want.” That is not agreeing or aligning. That is abdicating responsibility. When the stakes are high, we want people to say: “Well I disagree, but I am onboard and fully support this moving forward. Thank you for hearing me out”

A Client Example
The recent executive team was debating a critical go-to-market choice related to operationalizing their new unique value proposition.  But no matter how much time and effort the leadership team spent discussing it, they could not reach a satisfactory decision. Like many teams frustrated with ineffective conversations that go “round and round,” they turned to the CEO for answers.

And like any decisive CEO frustrated with her team’s inability to make strategic decisions, she made the final call on how to proceed. And like most leadership teams caught in this situation, not everyone liked the decision; some key players on her team resented being told an answer that did not fit with their personal or professional agenda.

As you can imagine, the strategic initiative stalled. 

What Should This Leadership Team Have Done Differently?

  1. Create Executive Team Health
    First, leadership teams must realize that strategic alignment and shared leadership requires three things (1) active involvement of those most affected (2) a “go slow to go fast” approach, and (3) a high degree of psychological team safety and trust. 

    If each member of the executive team does not trust both the character and competence of their peers, it is almost impossible to have the vulnerability, transparency, and honesty required to have the level of debate required to make tough decisions.

    If you believe that your leadership is not ready to admit mistakes, ask for help, or end back-channeling to get work done, it is time to intervene.

    Assess current leadership capabilities, conduct leadership team 360s, and create a practical plan to create enough leadership team trust to have constructive debates.
  2. Agree Upon the Market Realities
    Second, leaders must accept that making collective decisions — especially when the stakes are high — is fraught with strategic bias, imperfection, and unstated assumptions.

    Before you identify your strategic priorities, invest the time to research your market, know your customers, and size up your competition.  Then explicitly uncover, discuss, and prioritize the strategy, culture, and talent assumptions that should inform your strategic plans. 

    These “market realities” set the context for aligned conversations.
  3. Use a Proven Strategy Framework
    Strategic facilitation, planning, and decision making is a skill.  Ensure that you follow a proven process that strives for just enough alignment on what matters most for leaders to commit to next steps together along with a plan to monitor progress, gather feedback, and adjust as required.

    You will know you are on the right path, when you can articulate a shared strategy on one page that everyone is willing and able to commit to and rally the troops behind for the next 90 days.

The Bottom Line
Strategies do not need agreement.  Strategies need alignment.  Strategic misalignment at the executive level threatens the health and success of the entire organization. You can have disagreements, but every leader should visibly commit to moving the plan forward.

You are aligned when all key stakeholders agree that the strategy is clear enough, believable enough, and implementable enough to visibly support and commit to making happen.

To learn more about creating strategic alignment, download 7 Proven Ways to Stress Test Your Strategy Now

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