This article appears in the August 2013 newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (supplychaincanada.org).
You will see in an earlier newsletter article a survey to capture some firsthand insights on how organizations tend to align actions and intent. The three broad areas that we explored were:
- To what degree do people in the organization pursue the same objective(s)
- To what extent do people share the same measures/metrics to gauge their performance
- How does collaboration work in the organization
Below, we share some of the insights and will continue to release findings on this website. Our underlying thinking is that performance-driven collaboration has a great chance of happening naturally when the parties (1) share a view of what they want to achieve and (2) agree upon the indicators of whether or not they are making progress.
It is pretty simple, but as Warren Buffett claims of investing, “it is simple, not easy.” In other news, the recipe for losing weight is simple: consume fewer calories, exercise more, or do both. As many can attest, execution is not easy, and can beg a number of deeper questions:
- If I don’t have time to exercise, what do I need to change to free up that time? (Looking at connections in the wider system.)
- Am I healthy/happy enough, even though I am a bit over weight? (Questioning weight as the best measure.)
- Why do I want to be healthy anyway? (Staring into the abyss of life.)
Note: Our consulting approach can help you navigate Questions 1 and 2. For Question 3, we are happy to hear you out, but soul searching is often an individual endeavour.
Here are some of the highlights of our Summer Alignment Survey:
We asked people to report the degree to which they thought the overall direction was clear to them and others. The clarity rises as you get further up the org chart.
But, you knew that. It is simple.
The not so easy part is how can you acknowledge some ambiguity in the overall direction, but make it clear enough that people can maintain congruent priorities.
Have a look at two different reasonable explanations here .
The survey gathered information on how decision-making fits in with collaboration, and the interplay between the level of engagement with the organization and providing clear direction.
Another simple insight emerged: When the perceived leadership style veered toward the top-down approach, people reported having conflicting inter-departmental priorities and succumbing to pressures to protect information.
Again, the challenge here for leadership is to be able to provide compelling rationale for decisions, even in the face of reasoned disagreement. This necessitates clarity on the kind of performance the organization is pursuing and how that performance is being measured.
3 – Here’s one that pertains specifically to supply chain
We asked a question in regard to the extent to which colleagues were on the same page. One third of respondents were evenly split between “I don’t know” and “priorities conflict.” The uncanny symmetry repeats with the remaining two-thirds equally split between “my immediate team concurs” and “we all concur”.
From anecdotal experience, having conversations about performance always involves revealing the connections that individuals believe are most important in achieving success. These beliefs are as much art as science, such as:
- We need profitability to drive innovation.
- A focus on employee safety firms up our value to clients, unions and funders.
- Efficiency means the right product in the right place at the right time.
- Close relationships ensure long-term success.
- Cash flow is king.
What you believe starts the story and sets up whether you are in conflict, in cahoots or out-of-touch with colleagues and collaborators. It can be worthwhile to check in on how aligned personal views are with organizational direction.
- For the one-third that is sure that everyone is aligned: Good for you!
- For the one-third that is sure at least their group is aligned: Clarifying the fit with other groups and the wider effort will help align actions and reduce friction.
- For the one-third that is in conflict or unsure: Confirming the conflict can expose a strategic decision that can shape a shared view of performance.
It is as simple as asking, but it is not easy to get good answers from the inside.