There’s a breathtaking scene in Queen: Days of our Lives, the documentary about the band Queen. It shows thousands of concert-goers clapping together while the band plays one of their greatest hits, “Radio Gaga.” After a few seconds, the documentary cuts to record producer Dave Richards, who makes a telling comment:
“Freddie said, what we do is like the Olympics. It’s people believing in you and everyone behind you and everyone doing the same thing together. That’s Olympics. And, he said, that’s what we do.”
And that, in an organizational context, is what strategic alignment is all about.
Strategic alignment is the ability to bring people together. To ensure all your people, customers and stakeholders are on the same page: working together, doing the right things and moving in the same—and the right—direction.
Strategic alignment is one of the most important foundations of leadership. After all, isn’t bringing people together what leadership is all about? Isn’t it the reason why we have purposes, values, visions, strategies and plans in the first place? And, externally, isn’t it the reason why brands are so important?
Over the years, there’s been plenty of evidence to suggest that strategic alignment is regarded as important by leaders.
In 2015, McKinsey quizzed over 1,000 executives about the their top first-100-day priorities when they ascended to new C-suite roles. The No. 1 result was “creating a shared vision and alignment around strategic direction across the organization.” Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said it was either extremely or very important.
It also seems that strategic alignment is important to communicators. This year’s Gatehouse 2018 State of the Sector survey reported that “enabling employees to understand the strategy, vision and values of the organization” was one of the top two most prevalent internal communication activities. At the same time, “communicating strategy, values, purpose” was voted as the No. 1 priority for the coming year.
But, despite all of this commitment, a number of surveys over the years have suggested that most of the world’s organizations are anything but strategically aligned.
One of the best-known comes from the late Stephen Covey. In preparing his 2004 best-seller, The 8th Habit, Covey worked with Harris Interactive to interview 23,000 people about their relationship with their employer. The findings led to what must be one of the greatest leadership analogies ever made:
“If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.”
All this research is suggesting that companies all over the world aren’t aligned—aren’t together—at all. In fact, it shows that employees not only don’t subscribe to their organization’s strategy and goals, they don’t even know what they are.
Instead, they have silos and empires. And they have people and teams running in every direction doing their own thing.
This is the blind spot, and it raises a few important questions:
- How can an organization achieve its goals when nobody knows what they are?
- How can an organization execute its strategy when nobody gets it?
- How can an organization become more agile and collaborative if its people aren’t using a common decision-making framework?
- How can an organization engage its employees, customers and stakeholders when they don’t know what they’re engaging with?
This is why we decided, with the support of the IABC Foundation, to survey our communication colleagues on the issue of strategic alignment. In essence, we wanted to find out three things:
- Is there really an issue, as the research above suggests? Are the world’s organizations strategically aligned or not?
- If not, where are the road blocks?
- What can communicators do to create more aligned organizations?
In all, 227 communicators from around the world responded to this study. Most were from North America and the Asia-Pacific region, with slightly more than 10 percent from Europe and Africa. Most (about 80 percent) were senior communicators, and they worked for companies of all sizes—from small businesses to those with more than 1 million employees worldwide.
And what these communicators had to say was on the one hand frightening and on the other exciting.
Is strategic alignment important?
The first question we asked was whether strategic alignment was regarded as important—and the answer was emphatic. Backing up the McKinsey and Gatehouse findings mentioned earlier, 97 percent of the respondents believed that strategic alignment was important to the successful achievement of their organization’s goals.
Are our organizations strategically aligned?
This is where things get a bit more uncertain. Only 57 percent of respondents believed that their organizations were strategically aligned.
So, what’s holding us back?
The study suggests that the road to achieving strategic alignment is full of potholes. Communicators report that they are challenged by a number of issues:
- 35 percent of respondents report that they struggle with a lack of senior leadership or middle management buy-in.
- 44 percent report that they lack a clear strategic narrative or, alternatively, they have multiple narratives that don’t line up.
- 44 percent report that their company has an overly tactical, rather than strategic, focus.
- 31 percent report that they don’t have the available resources or expertise to drive strategic alignment.
- And more than half—54 percent—report that they work for a siloed organization where team and corporate strategies are disconnected.
The horror show
This issue of disconnection was highlighted by one of the most stunning results of the study.
Only 41 percent of respondents report that their organization’s individual and team plans clearly align with the corporate strategy.
Think about that statistic for a moment.
This is how bad the misalignment in today’s organizations is. These results effectively suggest that individual and team plans aren’t anchored to anything in six out of 10 of the world’s businesses.
No wonder there are silos everywhere.
So, what’s really holding us back?
So, on the surface, there are a lot of different reasons why organizations are stumbling in their efforts to align themselves. And many of them, like a lack of cohesive plans, are serious.
The study suggests, however, that these issues aren’t the real problem. There is a major problem that underlies all of them. In the end, there is one reason why strategic alignment isn’t happening.
Believe it or not, that reason is a lack of commitment. Despite all the talk about the importance of strategic alignment, there is a lack of commitment to it across many organizations.
The great news
That might sound pretty depressing but, in reality, it creates an enormous opportunity for the world’s communicators. That’s because we are the people who can fix this problem. We are the ones who can inspire and equip our leaders to strategically align their organizations.
In doing so, we can take a leading role in an area that can drive enormous business value.
If you’d like to know more about strategic alignment, the full results of our study and what’s required to create strategic alignment, check out our free IABC webinar, “Strategic Alignment—How Communicators Can Change the Face of Leadership.” We’ll also be using the webinar to launch an associated white paper and a collection of case studies to show how different organizations around the world are aligning themselves.