You have tried everything you can think of to get the most you can out of your team. But projects keep stalling out, and your numbers are falling short of your goals. You keep trying to move your bottom line, increase profitability and drive productivity. You have tried incentives like bonuses and raises and yet it seems people still aren’t living up to their full potential. Or maybe, you look around the office and you see apathy. Many, if not most, show up for their designated shift and then when the clock hits 5 they are quickly on their way. Maybe you are experiencing turnover and feel like the slightest raise offer from a competitor could lure away a good portion of your talent. If any of this sounds familiar, there is good news. These problems can all be combated by improvement to one characteristic of your company: employee alignment.
Before discussing employee alignment and its effects on an organization, it is important to understand the workforce that the average company today faces. Across the US, companies are seeing a problem with employee engagement that is already at frightening heights and continuing to grow. Here is a brief snapshot:
Take a moment and let those numbers really sink in. Almost 3 out of 4 team members don’t feel engaged with what they are doing in the average organization. More than half your employees would consider leaving if they got a slight raise to move somewhere else. If that number makes you feel slightly uncomfortable, you’re not alone.
A disengaged workforce is more than just an existential question. It poses a legitimate risk. Across the US, disengaged employees make up the 34% of workers who want to move on from their current company within the next 2 years. They cost their organizations between $450 and $550 billion each year  This doesn’t even include the productivity loss and underperformance of the disengaged employees who stay in their current roles. This is demonstrated clearly by the potential upsides achieved by companies who manage to create alignment and engagement within their teams: according to data collected by Betterworks, these teams manage to increase revenue by more than 3% in 84% of cases, and these organizations were 2.2 times more likely to outperform competitors than their disengaged counterparts . Creating an engaged and aligned team is a clear path to mitigate real risk, and drive business success. But what is employee alignment and how can a company drive it?
If you look around at many organizations, you will see a trend to make work more fun. From company happy hours to increased collaboration, stand-up meetings, and outside-the-office gatherings many companies are trying to retain employees by creating a culture that is fun and engaging. Whether this is a true path to a healthy culture is a different discussion (you can check out our discussion of organizational health and why it matters here), but the reality is that engagement isn’t the factor that drives key performance indicators (KPIs) that your business cares about. Research shows that KPI’s are much more closely correlated with employee alignment . So, what is it?
Employee alignment leverages employee engagement by providing it with purpose and direction. Research conducted at San Jose State University concluded that work engagement is the motivational state of workers that presents as vigor, dedications, and absorption of knowledge. Employee alignment was defined as employees’ attitudes and beliefs about an organization, their leaders, and the mission vision and goals of the company . It turns out, the reason employee engagement doesn’t drive results long-term is that alignment is necessary to add purpose for an engaged employee. They need to be able to connect their daily actions with the larger goals and mission of the organization. Alignment provides vital context for a job role, explaining why it exists and how it fits within the organization and its objectives in the world. Most of the questions business owners are asking themselves are based on alignment not engagement: why is this working or not working, why is this project or initiative struggling or stalling, why are teams not getting things done on time? Alignment within an organization creates less ambiguity, more transparency, and more productivity because it does a better job of connecting different teams around a common mission rather than simply creating an environment that makes it fun to work.
Let’s assume at this point you are on board with employee alignment as both a way to mitigate substantial risk and a strategy to drive business success. The next question practically asks itself: how do I create employee alignment in my organization?
Employee alignment will be unique for each organization. Each company exists with a unique combination of a mission, goals, and current business objectives. Additionally, each team is composed of unique individuals: there is no team exactly like yours. That being said, let’s break down some of the basics of alignment that hold true across the board.
While this may seem more than a little obvious, it will be highly difficult to align your team without something to align around. After all, alignment is all about getting the individual roles and contributions within your organization to align with the overall mission and objectives of your organization. Is your mission and objectives clear and effectively communicated within your company. Get a quick litmus test with this exercise:
Write down your own answers and then send out a short survey to your team with the following questions:
High levels of alignment show up when most of the company has similar answers that are in line with those of leadership. If the answers are all over the place and incoherent with what you put on paper, there may be some work to do in this area. You may need to take time with the leadership team to get on the same page about who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Second to a clear mission and organization goals is establishing clear objectives and key results (OKRs). Objectives should clearly state what you want individual contributors to accomplish. Remember, these should be both aspirational and clearly tied to larger organizational priorities. Think of key results as the steppingstones to the objectives. They should be measurable, prioritized and come with a deadline. Key results should lay a clear path for your team members to reach the objectives that have been set. Progress toward a meaningful goal has been shown to be the number one motivator for employees. One bonus tip here is to take advantage of technology to keep your eye on performance and engagement. There are great tools out there to track projects and goals (LINK eventually our own) that will ensure your OKRs are at the forefront and that nothing slips through the cracks.
Assuming you have clarity around your mission and strategic goals, there needs to be effective communication practices in place to ensure that your employees are on the same page. Research conducted by Harvard Business Review indicates that 95% of employees feel that they do not completely understand both the company’s goals and what is expected of them to accomplish those goals . Organizations need strategic practices in place to create both transparency and clarity around organizational goals. Here are a few that we find vital.
Start asking critical questions about your internal communication strategy. What channels are we using to communicate our goals and mission to employees? There are many ways to communicate internally. Whether it is meetings and workshops to newsletters or video announcements, the goal is to reach your employees via the channels that will be most effective.
The logical successor to your assessment of internal communications is to begin utilizing the channels that best reach your team. One tip here is that we live in a mobile world. There are a lot of employee communication platforms out there; choose one that allows your team to see it on the move. Use your channels to communicate:
The longer and more complex your communication, the more potential for losing attention spans, misunderstanding, and other distortions of the message. There are many ways to communicate in a concise and simple way. Maybe you take advantage of the fact that 90% of the information we process is visual and use videos or infographics to reach your team with vital updates. Get creative!
Communication shouldn’t be a one-way street. The more you can get your team involved in the communication process the better. From collecting feedback to encouraging your team to comment and react to the content you are sharing with them, take every opportunity you can to give your team a voice and engage them in the internal communication within your organization.
There are countless other factors to alignment that will be unique to your organization. From your onboarding process to the way you train leaders, to the expectations of the unique individuals that make up your team. Approach alignment with intentionality and consider partnering with someone that can guide you through the intricacies of your specific alignment strategy.
Alignment is your key to turning your team into the best version of itself. That being said, we recognize that it is somewhat of a daunting task. But you have already taken the first step: beginning to think about your team and how aligned they are. You may have clear goals and need to start working on internal communications strategy, or you may need to begin to develop and deploy leaders in your organization that can drive engagement within your different teams. Either way, consider just taking the next step. Changing your culture isn’t a quick fix, it’s a journey. Take it one step at a time.
We would love to learn more about you and your organization and where you are in the process of aligning your team and driving performance. To get the conversation started just click here!