How do you know your car might need a front end alignment?
It tends to pull in a different direction than you are steering. It feels less than sure-footed at high speeds or under high loads. You’re seeing some unusual signs of wear on the tires. The car seems to wander a bit. Or you just got new tires and want them to perform at their best.
Remember we’re talking about cars here, right?
It’s a common refrain I hear from CEOs – I wonder if my team is aligned.
Sometimes, it’s very practical — they see work going off in different directions, inconsistent with what they thought was an agreed strategy. Or it seems there are too many competing agendas, or disconnects in shared activities. Maybe too many tie-breaker decisions are coming to their desk.
Some — perhaps the harder ones — have an emotional strain. It seems to take forever to get people signed on to the priorities. Or conflicts flare up at the slightest provocation. Or, the opposite of all that energy, it just seems like not everyone is pulling hard, especially for each other.
When a car’s wheels are aligned, you can keep a pretty light hand on the wheel; when not, you have to muscle it to keep the car going in the right direction.
The remedy too often heralded as the cure-all is the leadership offsite — a few focused hours on strategy then off to the field for those trust walks or scavenger hunts. Here are your keys back, all set.
What we can ignore is the basic human psychology that people behave the way they do for a reason, and you have to get to those reasons before any change will ever take root. You can true up the wheel alignment on the raciest of sports cars but careen all over the place if you don’t know the dynamics of steering or the road is blistered with potholes and washboard surfaces.
Before reaching for the quick fix, here are some alignment factors to consider first:
- How steady is my steering? There is a time for thinking out loud and changing your mind, but how much of the erratic activity can be traced back to your lack of clarity or consistency?
- Am I pushing this crate beyond its design spec? Do I have good people trying to keep up with the pace of the business, but it’s time to honestly assess what resources are needed?
- Is my organizational design clear? Is the org chart an obstacle for people doing their best work together?
- Do I deal with inevitable conflicts quickly before they escalate? (Delay a wheel alignment long enough and it will wear a groove in that tire will make any alignment pretty tough!)
- Is the purpose and focus of the business clear and reflected in decisions? (A head-on collision with a sacred cow is a messy scene.)
- Am I fair in dealing with people or am I seen as playing favorites? You may logically spend more time with certain direct reports given their roles, but when those distinctions become evident publicly, you are inviting discord.
- Are we truly together in our commitment to some basic values and principles around our leadership culture? You can have different styles and ways of thinking and doing, but fundamentally different beliefs and values — especially around people and ethics, for example — can send you into a ditch.