Three Keys to Staying Aligned During Transformation and Growth
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Episode 26 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 26: Three Keys to Staying Aligned During Transformation and Growth.
This episode is brought to you by business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth − on the web at www.businessadvance.com. Now, here is Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. With me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Good morning, Pam. It’s great to be with you again as always. I’d like to remind our first time listeners that the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. Pam, what’s up for today?
Pam Harper: 3 keys to staying aligned as our organizations and companies transform and grow. This is one of the most challenging issues we see with any type of organization − making sure that the strategy, the people, the processes and the systems continuously support each other over the long term to get the outcomes that the company needs.
Scott Harper: People talk about alignment all the time, and how important it is to be aligned. That’s not really news. But it’s one thing to say it, and it’s another thing to do it, especially as companies are going through big changes of and transformation and growth − M&A, changes in management, even just as we’re growing adding infrastructure. How do we keep lined up during all that? It’s a challenge.
Pam Harper: We came up with 3 keys. The first key is to be aware of signs of the less obvious misalignment. Because, it’s not all or nothing.
Scott Harper: That’s true. As I alluded, it’s easy to know when “I think one thing and you think another.” But sometimes we don’t know that we’re thinking different things. For instance, you and I have been talking about a report that was published by DOMO and CEO.com, “A 360-Degree View of the CEO.” They surveyed about 1500 people across a cross-section of companies. They included groups of CEOs, executives, and then general employees − they broke them out in three cohorts.
How the three different groups answered some of the questions about how they viewed CEOs − sometimes they corresponded. There was alignment, especially on some big, important things. Sometimes, there wasn’t. For instance, for a question about what do CEOs view as a top priority…
Pam Harper: Right. The priorities was one of the big sections.
Scott Harper: Priorities was a big thing. One of the things where there was accordance was when looking at CEO priorities. The executive, the CEOs and the employees all identified motivating and inspiring employees as a top priority [for CEOs]. Across the board-
Pam Harper: They were in alignment right there.
Scott Harper: They were in alignment. That’s good. But, here’s something that they weren’t as aligned with. The CEO viewed seeking ideas and input from employees and executives as another top objective, towards the top of the list. Executives and employees did not see that this as high a priority. The big question is when we see things that aren’t aligned, how’s that come out in behavior?
Pam Harper: It comes out in a variety of ways. The thing that’s so interesting to me is that the CEO is thinking, “Ok, this is my priority”. The others − the executives and the general employees − were seeing something else, and they were thinking something else, so they were perceiving it differently. That happens not just in this, but in other kinds of issues. To me, that’s the real value of that study − is [showing] how often we think one thing which is, “sure everybody sees it that way,” but it looks different in reality.
Scott Harper: You’ve seen this in your own practice, right?
Pam Harper: Absolutely. I remember going into one company where the CEO could not understand why the morale was so poor. The company was doing very, very well − exceptionally well, as a matter of fact.
Scott Harper: Financially…
Pam Harper: They were having the best year ever. But the thing he kept saying was, “I don’t understand why the morale is so low.” I said, “Well, what have you done towards this?” He said, “Well, I did a 360-degree feedback.” He got the 360-degree feedback, but it wasn’t really giving him what he felt was really needed. There was something that was missing. That’s when I came in. We said, “Let’s get the information a different way.”
We ended up − actually, I ended up going across the country and working with different groups. We decided to do it that way for consistency. Essentially, work with people, get their views − like focus groups, which was something that was a little different. What came out? Can you guess?
Scott Harper: They weren’t seeing eye to eye?
Pam Harper: Yeah. There were a lot of things that were going on. But the biggest thing was that they were seeing, just like in the DOMO report − the employees and the executives were seeing things happening but they weren’t necessarily understanding what was behind it.
Scott Harper: Why?
Pam Harper: Because they were missing information about the context of what was happening.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: In fact, the company was transforming, and there needed to be a lot of things that were happening. It wasn’t clear [to the employees why these things were] happening. With the lack of information, people start making up their own interpretations of why. The only thing that they could come to a conclusion of was the company must be going out of business.
Scott Harper: There’s the truth, and there’s what we perceive or believe − and the belief always informs action.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Also, people crave information. If they don’t get it from you, they are going to get it from whoever else they can get it from.
Scott Harper: Even if they make it up…
Pam Harper: Always. We all do that, not just in companies but in real life. In every life, I should say − in companies is real life too.
Scott Harper: What I hear you saying, Pam, is that misalignment − while sometimes it can be obvious, “I think one thing, you think another,” it’s not always obvious. It can come out in ways that can really hit the bottom line and top line in a bad way.
Pam Harper: It can, and it can also hit in a good way, I guess, if taking it and turning it around to where people are aligned. I want to also make the point in this example that this company was not totally out of alignment. How else could they have had their best year ever? There were a lot of things that were going well. Just as in the DOMO report, there were definitely places where there was strong alignment. It’s important to recognize, again, as I started out saying, that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Once the CEO and the Executive team, working together, recognized where the particular misalignment was − in this case, with regard to the communication − they were able to start taking steps to increase the communication so that they could then become more aligned − once again aligned − and accelerate of the transformation, which is what they did.
Scott Harper: Okay, that makes sense.
Pam Harper: Just to sum up this section: all misalignment is not clear cut and obvious. What’s important is to accept that as much as we all want to stay aligned, misalignment happens for really good reasons like, everybody is running so quickly in a lot of directions. The key is to become aware of it as early as possible so that you can take the early action and bring everything back and sync.
Scott Harper: Makes sense to me.
Pam Harper: We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll discuss the second key to alignment, which is unraveling the mysteries behind the misalignments. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. And if you like what you’re hearing, tell other people about it. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, select episode 26, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. Use #growthigniters. This will help us extend our reach to all of the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today about staying aligned, especially in the face of company growth and transformation. In the first segment, we discussed the first key, which is becoming aware of the less obvious signs of misalignment.
Scott Harper: So we’ve become aware that maybe there is some misalignment going on; what’s the second key for getting back into alignment during transformation and growth?
Pam Harper: Looking for the real cause. There’s presenting issues which are easy to see − or even not so easy to see but that the presenting issues that are causing a gap − and then there are the underlying causes. There are usually multiple causes. Just another example is another client where, when I came in to the picture, the presenting symptom was that there were warring factions, warring groups.
They were each trying to do each other’s jobs, which was very strange. They were clashing about things that they were doing. People couldn’t let go. These were separate functional areas. The company, again, another very successful company; they were transforming and growing. They couldn’t figure it out.
What ended up, just cutting to the chase, is when we traced back to the root of those issues. It turned out that there were two executives who had significantly overlapping accountabilities..
Scott Harper: They knew about it?
Pam Harper: They actually didn’t know about, it because what had happened was the company was changing so quickly that one of them started taking on accountabilities, not realizing that his colleague had already taken on those accountabilities. But that happens. In real life − which is where we all live − in real life, there’s what actually happens. When we’re all running and we’re trying to get something done, you do whatever it takes to get it done. You’re not saying, “well, it’s not in my description”. Especially at the top, you want to get things done.
Scott Harper: So can be very well-intentioned.
Pam Harper: Almost always is; that tends to be the case. In this particular case, the accountabilities had to be sorted out, which then eventually eliminated the conflict and brought the areas back into alignment.
Scott Harper: I remember another example that you told me about, back when you worked in corporate life. The president of the company came to a general meeting and said, “Hey people, I want us to be more efficient and effective. I want you to go back to wherever you’re working and eliminate unnecessary work”.
Pam Harper: You remember that…
Scott Harper: I remember that thing, yes. I remember what happened too.
Pam Harper: Yes. Well, I was jumping up and down going, “Eureka! You’ve finally figured it out. Make my life easier.” Everybody did. We all ran back to our offices. We were skipping, practically. I said, “What can I get rid of?” I said, “I’ll get rid of this. That’ll simplify my life considerably.” Everybody else was doing the same thing. Sounds great. Here’s what happened afterwards.
Somebody came back to me and said, “Why did you get rid of that form? Because, actually, it complicated my life.”
Scott Harper: “I needed that…”
Pam Harper: “I needed that in order to be more efficient…”
And I said to somebody else, “Why did you stop telling me when you were doing this particular change?” Because it complicated my life. What we realized is that you can’t just do it in a vacuum. You have to do it in alignment. Staying aligned is [so important.]
Scott Harper: You will have the rule of unintended consequences unless there is alignment.
Pam Harper: That’s true.
Scott Harper: So, what it presented as was all the sudden, people were having difficulty − there was conflict, there were missed deadlines. That’s what you were seeing.
Pam Harper: Alignment has to be done in sync with others. That’s certainly one of the keys.
Scott Harper: That’s true. But you saw these symptoms, [and the cause is not always obvious.] How do you know that you’ve gotten down to the real cause of the misalignment, when you see it happening?
Pam Harper: If you see an issue come back − what is it like? a bad penny or something like that − within a relatively short time, or it just keeps building, or you start seeing other related symptoms showing up in close proximity as they’d done with the first company that I was telling you about with the warring executives. That’s when you begin to suspect that you haven’t really hit the real issue. That was a lot of what I was talking about in my book, “Preventing Strategic Gridlock“. I was calling that “gridlock building”, which you could also say is misalignment building.
Scott Harper: Is there anything else though that tells you that, “Aha! Now I know what’s really going on, and I can start addressing it”?
Pam Harper: You also have to ask what may be behind all of the misalignment. What’s reinforcing it? For example, culture can often be, aspects of culture can come up [as unexpected reinforcers]. In the company that I was just talking about before, they had a “get it done” mentality − really great; this is what we want. We want people who take charge and get things done. The issue is that if you do that out of alignment, then−
Scott Harper: If you don’t coordinate…
Pam Harper: You can run into some problems.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. It’s really important then, to look below the surface and to keep asking what’s going on? What could be going on? What could be going on?
Pam Harper: That’s right, because, for example also, you can have different solutions that you might try. You might say, “Why all these people need training.” Or maybe somebody is responsible for this that isn’t. Again, the more that you dig deeper, the more likely it is that you’re going to get to the root of the problem. That’s the important point to keep in mind here. There’s always more to the story, especially when misalignment is persistent. It’s critical to look beyond the surface and figure out how you’re going to address it.
We’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with the third key to increasing alignment. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. If our conversation today strikes a chord with you, we invite you to follow up. Request a free 20-minutes introductory consultation with us. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com and click the “open a conversation with us” logo at the bottom of the page and enter “introductory consultation” in the question field. We’ll follow up and explore how we might be able to help you and your company accelerate to your growth objectives.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking about the importance and the challenges of staying aligned, especially during the times where your company is growing and really transforming.
Scott Harper: Pam, we’ve talked about the first two keys to increasing alignment and continuing to accelerate towards success: becoming aware of when you may be, or your organization may be getting out of alignment and things start to happen that you don’t necessarily want to have happen, or things you want to have happen don’t. We also talked about the second key, which is digging into the root causes − really going below the surface in finding out maybe why the misalignment is happening, not just addressing the symptoms.
Now, here’s the biggest question. How does a company stay in alignment, or if it’s out to get back there?
Pam Harper: That’s the multi-billion dollar question isn’t it?
Scott Harper: It can be, yes.
Pam Harper: I like to say you need to focus on the outcomes. What is the business performance that should be happening? For instance, it could be gaining commitment on a strategy and the actions that are going to come from that strategy, or particular goals and deadlines that need to be met. It can be very strategic, or it also could be very executionally oriented.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. When you say “pay attention to what are the outcomes that you need are happening,” that means that people have to understand from the top down as much as possible, what those outcomes actually are. There has to be accordance.
Pam Harper: Sometimes clarifying the outcome is not a straightforward thing. Other times, it’s very clear. Such as, when I was working with one company and they said, we need to gain commitment on strategy as to how we’re going to continue to grow. It all depends, but the clarity of the outcome is where you need to start.
Scott Harper: Right. Another place you have to have clarity is how do you measure it? How do you know that what is happening should be happening? How do you know if there’s alignment? One of the sayings I had on my wall in my office for many years before I joined your company was something I heard from someone else. I don’t remember who it was that said it now, but it was, “If you lived in a perfect world, how would you know it?”
Pam Harper: I love that.
Scott Harper: It sounds a little Zen or cryptic, but I took it for, if I live in a perfect world, what things would be happening? What could I see? What could I measure? What could I use to determine, “yeah, things are going the way they should be going”.
Pam Harper: If you apply that to the first point that I just made with outcomes, if the outcome were being achieved, what would be happening?
Scott Harper: You would have certain outputs.
Pam Harper: People would be actually hitting their goals 90% of the time instead of 50% of the time, [for example.]
Scott Harper: You’d be hitting timelines. You’d be achieving whatever it is that has to happen. But in order to do that, you have to have means of measuring, means of establishing a metric. The metrics have to be in place.
Pam Harper: It doesn’t have to be onerous or overly complex. You just have to be clear about it. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part for some very, very successful companies.
Scott Harper: That’s true, especially when they are going through the changes and the transformation.
Pam Harper: Because right now it should look like this, but we’re in constant transformation. But then, even then, you have milestones and things on that nature.
Scott Harper: But if they change, you have to make sure that people know.
Pam Harper: You have to say, you’re in a transformational situation. You have to be looking at this fairly often, because the outcomes and the measures of success are going to change much more often. It used to be, in the day, a 3-year plan and then a 1-year plan. What is it now? I think it’s the 3-month plan.
Scott Harper: Something like that.
Pam Harper: Staying even more constant than that, in some cases. We have to be on top of it.
Another thing that is very important for staying aligned is deciding what makes sense to address yourself and when do you bring in the outside reinforcements It’s something of course − it’s a cost and benefit equation. You have to be looking at it that way. One thing is looking at… are the issues persisting?
Scott Harper: Of course. If you see something, and you make a change and things started going the way you want them to go, then you’ve done it.
Pam Harper: That’s right. But if the issues are persisting, then you got a certain amount of pain, and in my book I called it, “gridlock is building,” but it’s not going away. Most executives − CEOs − are going to be doing that.
The second way, I think, and the way that a lot of people who are opportunity-focused are looking at it is, “I want to accelerate. I want to get there faster. We’re going along and it’s not okay. If we continue on at the pace that we’re transforming, we’re going to miss an opportunity. There’s a window of opportunity that we can take advantage of right now and it’s worth millions of dollars, potentially billions of dollars.” I remember a few clients where that was more the case than that there was a pain. Or, you could say it’s the pain of desire to get there faster.
Scott Harper: “We know that we want to make this transformation to make this thing happen, and we want to make it happen as fast and as effectively as we possibly can.”
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper:” Let’s make sure that we have someone else giving us a hand.”
Pam Harper: That’s right. It’s time to bring in the outside reinforcements, then.
The third [thing to consider in deciding whether to bring in outside help], which is extremely important, is the level of expertise. If you’re going to bring in an outside reinforcement, it’s important to make sure that they have an understanding of what it takes for organizations to transform and some of the issues that get in the way, especially the less obvious ones that they have experienced, being able to identify-
Scott Harper: Dig below the surface.
Pam Harper: Right, because it would be very easy, as I said earlier on in this episode, to look at something and say, “Oh those people need training”, or “Those people are the wrong people for the job”, which wasn’t the case.
Scott Harper: You’ve got to have people that you have a feeling are like organizational detectives.
Pam Harper: In a way.
Scott Harper: They can get down to the root of things.
Pam Harper: And understand the particular situation of growth.
Scott Harper: It goes right along with the accelerating issue.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: If you bring in a high level of expertise, you have a higher level of confidence that you can move this as quickly as you need to move.
Pam, any final thoughts on today?
Pam Harper: With so many changes in the business environment and within companies, it’s inevitable that some misalignment is going to occur. But when you recognize that misalignment as early as possible and take the steps to go beyond the surface to address the underlying causes and, most importantly, are very clear about the outcomes and measures for success and how you get there, you end up with less pain, greater gain, and you can accelerate your company’s transformation and growth going forward.
Scott Harper: That’s great, Pam. Thanks so much. Thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 26.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper−
Scott Harper: − and Scott Harper −
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team:
Scott Harper: Are we aligned? How do we know? What’s our evidence for that conclusion?