“No man is an island.”
First uttered by the poet John Donne in the 17th century, it’s a phrase that rings just as true in company boardrooms today. No business leader truly acts alone. And one of many lessons we learned from COVID-19 is that the stronger the group around that leader, the easier the company will find navigating change and disruption.
That’s because aligned leaders work together to find ways of operating through periods of uncertainty. They conducted effective and varied scenario planning during the pandemic that no one division or leader could do alone. As one Forbes contributor commented, “All of us is smarter than any of us.”
Looking ahead, leadership alignment faces new and intensifying challenges. While it’s a fundamentally human concept—how a group of people work effectively together, how they disagree productively, and how they build stronger outcomes as a result—the reality of a distributed workforce is that leadership alignment needs a rethink and a tech update.
We’ll explain how to marry the human and the digital for a new approach to leadership alignment.
Table of Contents
- What Is Leadership Alignment?
- Why Leadership Alignment Is Important
- 3 Ways To Align Leadership
- Tools That Can Help With Leadership Alignment
What Is Leadership Alignment?
Leadership alignment defines a group of people who understand a set of shared objectives and agree on what they and their teams need to do to reach them. Chief Executive described what this looks like in practice: “An aligned leadership team debates well, proactively supports each other, is laser-focused on what is most important, and is committed to learning and improving.”
To put it simply, aligned leaders agree on a business strategy and how to execute it. This becomes a competitive differentiator when leaders align around a shared vision to drive faster and more effective innovation.
The precise “how” of leadership alignment will differ by organizational culture, but the results are strikingly similar: Companies with strong leadership alignment report higher growth, performance, and profitability, plus they strengthen the ability of their organization to weather unexpected disruptions. Let’s take a look at why.
Why Leadership Alignment Is Important
The results of numerous studies have proven that successful alignment at the top really does improve cross-organizational outcomes. For instance, The Leadership Quarterly examined the effects that leaders at different levels of an organization have on each other. The results revealed that when employees perceive that leaders at all levels of an organization support a new strategy, it is more likely to be implemented successfully.
The researchers noted the impact of alignment across a group of leaders versus that of an individual leader: “It is not the effectiveness of a leader in isolation that affects organizational performance, but the alignment of leaders across hierarchical levels that is associated with the successful implementation of a strategic change.” McKinsey’s research corroborated these findings, drawing a link between leadership teams that are aligned and organizations that “overperform, or outperform, over long periods of time.”
3 Ways To Align Leadership
While we advocate for a digital-first leadership alignment strategy, that doesn’t mean abandoning core, human-centric principles that we know work. Start by answering that critical question of “why,” communicate effectively to the broader team, and learn from mistakes. Then execute your alignment strategy using best-in-class technologies.
1. Answer The Question Of Why
The first step of leadership alignment is agreeing on what you do as an organization—and why you do it. Take the time to ensure that executives share common definitions and assumptions about the business. That might require a deep dive or mindmap session where the outcome is to agree on your organization’s vision, mission, and values. Once agreed upon, it’s important to check in regularly to ensure the ship stays on course.
2. Communicate Widely, Regularly, And Authentically
Once your leadership team is aligned on the “why,” it’s time to communicate it effectively across the organization. Especially if you’re leading a remote or hybrid remote workforce, regular communication is critical—and authenticity should not be underestimated.
In a study of 37 organizations, McKinsey found that consistent communication ranked highly as a priority for alignment, but less than 40% of teams reported practicing it. The researchers highlighted the missed opportunity here: “When leadership teams have a shared, meaningful, and engaging vision, the company is nearly two times more likely to achieve above-median financial performance.”
3. Focus On Bouncing Back Stronger
No leadership team is always aligned, but a good test of your foundational strength is what happens when things go awry. This could result from miscommunication or disagreements, but it can also be the consequence of not having the systems and culture in place to truly hear and overcome misalignment.
Harvard Business Review presented the problem with a proposed solution that lines up nicely with our own: “Rather than letting disagreement simmer beneath the surface, make it crystal clear where your team agrees, and where it doesn’t. We have found that real-time polling tools can bring great clarity to these discussions.”
Researchers found that using a tool that gives you insight into group dynamics in real time, like ThoughtExchange does, helps to “surface and share misalignment” and create psychological safety—that is, “an understanding within a team that it’s safe to take a risky stance.”
As a leader, surfacing misalignment won’t make it go away. But it should give you the insight to build consensus about what needs to change and improve alignment going forward.
Tools That Can Help With Leadership Alignment
Leadership alignment is a journey rather than a destination. It takes ongoing effort to keep everyone on the same page and agree about what’s coming next. That’s where technology comes in. The right tools can help to streamline or even automate elements of alignment (think: keeping everyone in the loop), giving leaders the time and headspace to focus on the soft skills required to support their teams and drive business outcomes.
The cloud has become one of the great enablers of the distributed workforce. By removing the need for workers to be tethered to on-premises servers, employees are free to work how and where they feel most productive.
Like many organizations, Google Workspace is at the center of ThoughtExchange’s “virtual office.” It brings together the applications that teams use every day, with real-time collaboration that makes work-from-anywhere seamless.
It also solves the problem of file access, a frequent cause of workplace frustration, and an obstacle to alignment. With everything easy to access in the cloud, work is faster and more streamlined.
Rather than being relegated to only a project manager’s tool, a project management system that is intuitive for every business user can strengthen alignment at every level of the organization. Monday keeps everyone informed about strategic initiatives and holds individuals accountable for their deliverables against organizational goals.
Monday’s reporting capabilities also make reporting to leadership a breeze. Using visualizations, teams can build customized data dashboards that showcase everything leaders need to know in one easy-to-understand place that constantly updates.
Alignment isn’t just about ensuring your team is kept in the loop and on track against business objectives. Strategic alignment is fundamental to long-term growth and success. And as Harvard Business Review pointed out earlier, real-time discussion at scale is a pretty useful tool to have in your leadership toolbox.
ThoughtExchange gives leaders a quick, simple way to gauge views from across their organization—anonymously and using patented anti-bias technology. So rather than basing strategy on the ideas of a few at the top, leaders use ThoughtExchange to generate data points from across the organization, then soundboard the resulting strategy to make sure it’s effective.
Leaders can also use ThoughtExchange to analyze and improve how their leadership team approaches alignment. Chief Executive suggests asking questions like “What do you believe are the organization’s top priorities?” and “How well do business units work together?” to improve leadership alignment. With ThoughtExchange, you can get answers to those questions today and use our data-rich analytics to understand every angle of the conversation.
And lastly, for a non-tech bonus tip, we suggest getting a copy of Scaling Conversations: How Leaders Access The Full Potential Of People by ThoughtExchange’s very own CEO, Dave MacLeod. The book features leadership strategies to navigate today’s workforce, with areas of focus that include making decisions that create alignment and positive change.
Leadership alignment is constantly evolving, and the move to distributed teams is just one in a succession of challenges that committed leaders must overcome. The fundamentals of communication and consensus remain the same, but our digital-first world requires a new, digitally-enabled approach.