Leadership

An 8-Step Guide for Leadership Alignment

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Have you considered how you can improve leadership alignment in your organization?

I’m going to briefly make a case for why this is important, then I’ll describe a helpful activity I completed with ACHIEVE’s leadership team. I’ll end with a summary of the steps you can use to do the same and build alignment on your team. 

Why is leadership alignment important?

Leadership alignment is about your collective approach to managing people. It’s critical that your organization’s leaders are all on the same page when it comes to how they lead others. It creates a consistent experience of the organization’s culture and reduces unfairness.

Consider what happens when supervisors have mixed approaches to performance reviews, different expectations about completing tasks, or give employees varying levels of flexibility.

I once worked with the middle management team of a large manufacturer where different approaches to performance reviews had big consequences. Employees would vie to work under the managers who consistently gave more favourable performance reviews. Better performance reviews led to bigger annual bonuses for their team members. Obviously, this was experienced as deeply unfair by employees in other departments and created resentment.

Leadership alignment is about your collective approach to managing people.

Leadership alignment isn’t built by accident.

In small organizations where there may only be a few leaders, alignment is often created through informal conversations. In short, it’s easier for a few managers to be on the same page about key issues. This is how ACHIEVE operated for many years.

However, as organizations become more complex, or when people are working remotely with less natural in-person overlap, leaders need to become more intentional about creating leadership alignment and the practical application of their ideas.

Over the past few years, our organization has changed and grown. We’ve moved from being a small organization to one that’s midsized. With the addition of new roles and more remote work, we’ve added complexity to our structure and appointed more people to supervisory roles.

I saw the need for intentional conversation with my colleagues when I heard differences in the ways others were responding to personnel issues. It wasn’t that “wrong” things were happening – rather, I could tell that different things were happening. So, I started to worry about the impact of those differences on our staff.

The first step for creating alignment is to bring people together for an intentional discussion about leadership.

Start creating alignment by bringing your management team together.

The first step in creating alignment is to bring people together for an intentional discussion about leadership. Once I and other leaders recognized that leadership alignment wasn’t going to happen as an accidental by-product of informal conversations, we decided to bring the whole management team together.

Here’s what we did and how we did it.

We called a meeting for the purpose of creating alignment. The goal was to create clarity about our leadership philosophy and our practical approach to supporting the people we serve.

We set aside two hours for the meeting, and we included a lunch. In our view, food greases the wheels of good conversation.

The meeting began with this question: “Think about a time a supervisor impacted you in a positive (or maybe not-so-positive) way. What did they do?” This simple question provoked lots of sharing, and most of us focused on the positive examples of leadership we’ve experienced.

Capture the conversation.

We took note of the fundamental ideas we came up with on a whiteboard for everyone to see. When all seven of us had shared, we circled and highlighted the themes we saw. Then we erased the extra words or phrases that didn’t add meaning so we could focus on what was most important to us.

We determined that when we are succeeding as supervisors, it will be because we are aligned with these six major themes:

  • We are engaged with and passionate about our work.
  • We are present, and we stick around when things are difficult.
  • We balance flexibility with structure, clear expectations, and direction.
  • We demonstrate care for people and build relationships with our team members.
  • We create safety through listening and make space to learn from successes AND failures.
  • We teach/mentor.

After generating this list, all of us managers paired up for the purpose of talking about how we can make sure we are embodying these principles in our work.

And finally, we agreed that we would meet again in six weeks to report our progress and continue to build leadership alignment.

Not only did the conversation help us build alignment, but we also got to know each other in new ways which increased our sense of connection.

Leadership alignment requires intention and work. It won’t happen by accident.

Eight Steps for Creating Leadership Alignment

If you, like me, are recognizing that your organization would benefit from creating alignment among your managers, you can replicate what we have done using these eight steps:

  1. Recognize that alignment is created intentionally.
  2. Plan a time to gather for that purpose only (and order some food if you can!).
  3. Start the meeting by stating your purpose – to build alignment so that you can create consistency in the way people experience their managers.
  4. Begin with a question like: “Think about a time a supervisor impacted you in a positive (or maybe not-so-positive) way. What did they do?”
  5. Write down the responses where everyone can see them (e.g., on a whiteboard).
  6. When everyone has shared, ask people to talk about the themes they notice.
  7. As a group, distill the most important points and create a list that everyone agrees to embody.
  8. Plan for a follow-up discussion and reflection about your successes and failures in implementing your aligned way of practicing management.

Leadership alignment requires intention and work. It won’t happen by accident, especially if there are more than a few people. It’s a journey we’re on at ACHIEVE, and we’re excited about the trip because we believe everyone deserves to like where they work – and consistent management practices are an important part of that. I hope your organization will join us on the journey.


For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page. 

Check out ACHIEVE’s book, Don’t Blame the Lettuce – Insights to Help You Grow as a Leader and Nurture Your Workplace Culture for more leadership insights.

Author

Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

Eric is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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