Why Alignment is Crucial for those who Lead Change

Puzzle pieces, leading change

“We decided on a clear strategy, but up to now we still didn’t succeed to put this strategy into action.”

“How many times do I have to convince my people that this change is necessary for us? They clearly told me they understood, but when I turn my back they continue like nothing has happened!”

“Everybody here will tell you that we now know where we are going because we defined together this shared vision, but when you ask each individual team member what the impact of this vision is on the company, they come up with totally different stories.”

“We could have achieved much more in the past period if everybody would have pulled their weight. We are falling behind significantly because a number of people lack a sense of urgency and ownership. They do what they are asked to do but are not really committed.”

Are some of these situations familiar to you? They are all life examples of situations that I experienced over the years in working with organizations that were dealing with change.  All situations where people thought they were aligned, but actually were not. And this lack of alignment caused serious obstacles for reaching the desired outcomes.

We all know it, change is a constant factor for organizations. And it is almost unnecessary to say that crucial for achieving change is the ability to make people (managers and employees / leaders and followers) act together successfully in making the desired change happen.

But why is it then that in the organizations above effort, energy and time was put in engaging each other, empowering people and giving them motivating responsibilities and that despite this people did not show the expected behavior, drive, teamwork and results?

The list of reasons can be quite long because every organization, its people and change process have their own specifics, but what I found over the past twenty years is that the following recurring root causes play an important role:

  • Having the tendency to jump to action. We tend to be impatient and to jump to action without understanding the problem well enough. We start immediately with looking for solutions and ways to execute, while in fact the problem is often found in a lack of alignment between the people involved.
  • Believing that investing in human relations is for later when there is more time. In many situations the pressure on the organization to change is big and we feel the need to move forward without losing time. It drives people towards the ‘hard’ side of change (structures, procedures, systems, etc.) where we think we can reach tangible results. The more difficult ‘soft’ people stuff is left for later. But it is exactly this ‘soft’ side where the most ‘hard’ sustaining results can be achieved.
  • Underestimating what it takes to reach alignment between people. Real alignment is based on mutual respect, trust and openness. When it is there, big things can happen. When it is not there, unpleasant surprises like in the described examples can happen. In the described situations there was communication and listening but it led to compliance, not to real commitment. Somehow the people said they understood and that they were OK with it, but inside they still missed the feeling of ownership. Somehow they shared ideas but were not comfortable enough to really open up about their concerns.

True alignment between people creates commitment (instead of compliance), ownership (instead of participation) and ‘self generated energy’ (instead of hitch-hiking on the energy of others) to reach common goals.

Stay tuned to Leadershipwatch! I look forward to sharing more of my experience and thoughts with you.
Please feel free to share your questions or comments on this and other posts!
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