How to Align Your Organization for Championship Play

How to Align Your Organization for Championship Play

Summary: Alignment between strategy, culture and infrastructure is critical. Indeed, it is the central definition of organizational effectiveness. This tip provides an easy- to-understand model and real-life example, showing how you can bring these three components together to achieve exceptional results.

With 1:15 remaining on the clock, the New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning avoided a sack and completed a pass. Wide receiver David Tyree’s leaping catch put the Giants at New England`s 24 yard-line. Four plays later, Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress caught the winning touchdown.

In one of the most stunning upsets in Super Bowl history, the Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 17–14, winning the XLII Super Bowl.

What if your organization was like that championship team?

Greg Rake, a senior vice-president at Pier 1 Imports, was a Big Ten Conference scholar-athlete at Ohio State. Recently, Greg used the analogy of a championship football team to describe organizational alignment.

“Every play is designed to score a touchdown,” he explained. “Every player knows the play book and exactly what he is responsible for. Every player has coaches, equipment and the tools to do the job. The values of teamwork needed to become a championship team have been ingrained.”

Then Rake added, “Each player receives immediate feedback at practice, on the field and after every game. This helps them immediately correct mistakes and continually improve their results…and that’s what it takes to have a championship team.”

Imagine the strength of moving this framework from professional sports into the business arena?

What if you were able to align your organization’s goals, strategies, tools, values and, at the same time, facilitate continuous improvement with feedback? What if you could make your organization a dominant competitor in your marketplace?

Like a championship team, one of the biggest challenges companies face today is having the agility to react quickly and in a focused and integrated way to emerging market trends.

Consider this: Today’s pace of business is so fast, alignment can no longer be choreographed in a five- to ten-year plan. It may require a two-year plan…or less, depending on your market. In fact, if you haven’t re-aligned infrastructure, operational values and strategies in the last two years, you’re most likely out of alignment.

More than a year ago, Bill McCaddon, CEO of a building supply company came to me, shaken by warning signals of a declining housing market. They realized this was not going to merely be a “hiccup” but a sustained challenge…and one they needed to win. They also knew it was critical to continue their outstanding customer service while maintaining their cost consciousness as well as their profitable growth attitude.

To achieve the alignment they needed, we used the following model:

model for changing market

As the corporation started to re-align, they realized they needed to change their vision — from being a “top notch vendor” to being a true “strategic partner” with their customers. Ultimately, this would differentiate them from the competition and create a stronger base of loyalty from current and prospective customers.

Next: They made sure their strategic path — the what — and their culture path — the how — were tightly aligned.

For example, their strategic objectives included elevating their level of service. Conducting detailed research in order to match their vision of becoming a strategic partner, they laid the groundwork to increase their understanding of customer needs. Their values and practices were also re-aligned to foster a mindset of partnership and a practice of sharing ideas, information and plans with their customers.

This, in itself, was a dramatic shift. Previously, the company was driven by its numbers and perceived itself as an order taker.  Now, it was a strategic partner playing a critical role as a problem solver and consultant as it helped its customers achieve their goals.

From there, we focused on the performance levers … the day-to-day actions, behaviors, policies and systems that are the definitive determinants of results.

During that process, they improved the balance of their compensation and reward systems to take into account both revenue targets and customer satisfaction. In achieving this step, they were able to align their infrastructure with their strategies and values.

These decision makers knew if they were going to be strategic partners with their customers, they had to gain a global knowledge of who these customers were. To achieve this understanding, tactical activities included profiling each customer’s history, goals and challenges so that the company’s sales efforts could be aligned more closely to customer needs.

Similarly, the company’s cultural behaviors were repositioned to better emphasize innovative cost savings with strong expectations of higher levels of employee accountability to achieve outstanding customer service.

By the end of their realignment process, the building supply company updated its vision, strategies, culture and infrastructure to better facilitate the changing market environment. In doing so, it not only became a strategic partner with its customers but also created a balance of being both numbers- and customer-driven through strategic and cultural actions. This, in turn, brought better alignment between their business operations and their policies and systems.

The result? As their competitors began experiencing 35 – 40 percent declining growth in a tough housing and commercial building environment, this supply company has achieved positive new business growth of 14% during the same time period – an outstanding achievement by anyone’s measure!

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