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What is Employee Alignment and Why Does it Matter?

Alignment is one of those business buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot. But what does it actually mean for employees to be aligned, and why does it matter so much to company performance?

In short, employee alignment is when workers understand, support and actively contribute to achieving the company's overall vision and goals. It's getting everyone rowing in the same direction.

When employees are aligned, a few cool things happen:

  • They make decisions that ladder up to strategy. No wasted effort.
  • They feel energized and engaged in their work.
  • Collaboration flows smoothly.
  • There's less friction, politics and confusion.
  • People feel inspired by leaders and peers.
  • Innovation and creativity flourish.

But lack of alignment is like a cancer inside an organization. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion around priorities and poor decision making.
  • Lack of cooperation between teams or departments.
  • Initiative overload and duplicated efforts.
  • Complaining, blaming and office politics.
  • Low engagement and performance.

Alignment ultimately impacts the bottom line. One study by Gallup showed that companies with engaged, aligned employees had 21% higher profitability.

So how do you achieve employee alignment? It starts with leadership...

Leadership Alignment Drives Employee Alignment

Employees take their cues from executives and management. To align your people, you need aligned leaders.

Leadership alignment happens when executives are on the same page around vision, values, strategy and goals. Nothing confuses the troops faster than leaders who give mixed messages or don't model shared priorities.

You know leaders are aligned when:

  • They consistently communicate and reinforce company vision and strategic goals.
  • They embody company values in their words and actions.
  • They prioritize and invest in strategy together. No data fights.
  • They have candid, constructive conversations around tough topics.

Misaligned leaders signaled by:

  • Lack of cohesion and cooperating among the C-Suite.
  • Executive pet projects detracting from strategy.
  • Poor communication and transparency from leadership team.
  • Public disagreements on direction or results.
  • Leaders who don't walk the talk on values.

Basically, if your executives aren't on the same page, don't expect employees to be. Like atoms splitting, everything falls apart. So invest the time needed to align leadership around vision, values, strategic priorities and goals. It pays off exponentially.

Cascade Alignment with Communication

Once leaders are tight, the next step is cascading alignment to all employees through clear, consistent communication.

Everyone needs a clear line of sight between their job and the big picture goals it ladders up to. They want to know "How does what I do everyday contribute to the grand plan?"

Smart companies communicate in ways that connect every job to strategy:

  • Paint the big picture. Where are we going? Why? How will we win? What will the future look like if we're successful? Inspire people with vision.
  • Clarify priorities. Break enterprise goals down into 3-5 strategic priorities for focus. Explain why they matter most now.
  • Simplify metrics. Identify 1-2 key performance indicators that measure strategic priority progress. Don't metric overload.
  • Overcommunicate. Repetition breeds retention. Use all channels - email, video, events, posters, everything - to reinforce message.
  • Make it visual. People understand and remember visuals better than text. Make goal frameworks, roadmaps, metrics, etc. visual.
  • Localize messaging. Connect global goals to team, function and region. How do they contribute specifically?
  • Make it two-way. Employees have feedback too. Create dialogue to ensure understanding.

Lack of communication around vision, strategy, and goals is the number one cause of misalignment. Don't make this mistake.

Enable Employees with Resources

The next alignment driver is making sure employees have what they need to deliver on strategy. Your people can't contribute to goals if their hands are tied. They need:

  • Clear expectations. Ensure everyone understands what's expected of them and why it matters.
  • Adequate budget. Can't achieve much without financial resources allocated properly.
  • Right structure and tools. Systems, processes and technologies must enable the work.
  • Training and development. People need skills and capabilities to perform their best.
  • Psychological safety. Employees should feel secure taking smart risks, speaking up, innovating.
  • Empowered decision rights. Those closest to the work should have latitude to make localized decisions.

You'll hear misalignment when employees complain:

  • "We don't have budget for X even though it's a top priority."
  • "Our tools/systems are outdated and hold us back."
  • "We need more training around X."
  • "I don't feel comfortable challenging leadership."

Take away the roadblocks and people will drive success.

Incentivize Alignment with Compensation

The compensation system must also encourage - not discourage - alignment.

Employees follow the incentives. If you reward behavior that's off-strategy, that's exactly what you'll get.

Well-designed compensation plans:

  • Link a significant chunk of pay to enterprise and team results. We're all in this together.
  • Balance short and long-term goals. Stay strategic for the future.
  • Reflect company values and desired behaviors in rewards. Compensate for innovation, collaboration, etc.
  • Focus on results over activity. Outputs rather than inputs.
  • Offer non-cash and social rewards/recognition. Praise progress.

Watch out for misaligned compensation plans with:

  • Overemphasis on individual performance over teamwork.
  • All short-term, activity metrics that don't track strategic progress.
  • Perks/bonuses tied to non-strategic vanity metrics.
  • Sales incentives that encourage bad customer service.
  • Measurement gaps where people are rewarded for things not measured.

Take time to get rewards right. The results are too important.

Foster Understanding with Education

In addition to communication, education initiatives help align people by fostering understanding of:

  • Company history and context. Where we've been and why it matters.
  • Vision, values and culture. What we stand for and where we're going long-term.
  • Business model and operations. How the company makes money.
  • Customer needs and perspectives. Walking in their shoes.
  • Industry dynamics. Trends, competitors, outside forces.
  • Financial metrics. What the numbers mean.

Education moments help connect work to something bigger. People feel inspired when they understand the whole, not just their small part.

Ways to educate for alignment:

  • Immersive onboarding programs.
  • Lunch 'n learns. Invite executives and leaders to present.
  • Reading/watching lists and discussion groups.
  • Relevant conference and training budgets.
  • Insider access - let people visit customers, vendors, factories.
  • Job shadowing and cross training. Understand peer roles.

Lack of education causes narrow perspectives. People can't connect dots they don't see.

Engage with Two-Way Dialogue

Another critical alignment activity is two-way dialogue between managers and employees:

  • Gather feedback. Ask how people feel about the vision, strategy, culture. Where are pain points? What's confusing?
  • Address concerns. Provide clarity. Explain rationale. Acknowledge when valid critiques exist.
  • Discuss tradeoffs. Talk through why leaders prioritize some goals over others. Increase understanding.
  • Localize strategy. Help teams determine how they specifically deliver on global goals.
  • Define metrics. Ensure individuals have 1-2 clear metrics driving strategic outcomes.
  • Develop people. Create development plans to grow critical skills and capabilities needed for vision.
  • Check assumptions. Don't assume people understand something. Probe understanding.
  • Reinforce messaging. Use dialogues to reiterate and reinforce key messaging around alignment.

When you don't hear employee voices, misalignment brews. Create safe spaces for authentic feedback.

Cascade Accountability Down and Across

The buck has to stop with someone. Cascading accountability down and across the organization helps alignment. Each leader is accountable for alignment in their group. Like a relay race, they pass the baton of responsibility from executive to manager to employee.

  • Executives own enterprise alignment.
  • Senior managers own function alignment.
  • Frontline managers own team alignment.
  • Individuals own their role's alignment.

Peer-to-peer accountability also matters:

  • Leaders across groups clarify handoffs.
  • Collaborators have joint metrics.
  • Cross-functional projects assign clear owners.
  • Team members are accountable to each other.

You know accountability is lacking when no one accepts ownership. Things fall through the cracks. Fingers get pointed in every direction.

Instilling accountability requires:

  • Defining spheres of authority. Who owns what?
  • Agreeing on metrics of strategic priority progress.
  • Having courageous accountability conversations.
  • Never assigning blame - focus on the future you want.

Alignment is a shared responsibility. But make sure the "I's" are dotted - and the "T's" get crossed.

Continuously Improve with Feedback Loops

The final key to alignment is continuous improvement through feedback loops.

institute listening cycles to monitor how aligned employees feel. Pulse surveys, focus groups and anonymous feedback channels help.

Regularly ask:

  • How engaged do you feel in our vision and strategy?
  • How clear are you on your team's goals and priorities?
  • Do you have the capabilities and resources to deliver on strategy?
  • Where do you see misalignment between activities and results?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve alignment?

Also assess:

  • Are our leaders modeling alignment? Walking the talk?
  • How well are we communicating vision and strategy?
  • Do our education initiatives hit the mark?
  • Are employees rewarded for strategic results?
  • Where might mixed messages or misincentives exist?

Keep listening, analyzing results and fine tuning your alignment approach. Employee alignment is never "done" as a one and done activity. It's a continuous process.

Use AI Meeting Notes to Increase Alignment

Want to supercharge alignment across your organization? Try Supernormal's AI meeting notes. Supernormal utilizes advanced AI to create searchable transcripts, summaries, and action items from your leadership, strategy, and team meetings.

Benefits include:

  • Improved retention. People better remember decisions and priorities when recapped in AI notes. No more fuzzy memories.
  • Increased transparency. Notes available to all relevant stakeholders, not just meeting attendees. Democratizes information.
  • Enhanced execution. AI identified action items help hold people accountable and close the loop on decisions.
  • Faster research. Easily search transcripts to recall past discussions and decisions. Great for onboarding too.
  • More inclusion. Remote team members and people unable to attend stay in the know.
  • Effortless experience. 100% automated notes free up valuable leadership time.

Supernormal meeting notes ensure everyone's on the same page when executing on your strategic priorities and goals. The AI capability aligns perfectly with the behaviors needed to achieve alignment.

Stay vigilant. Alignment can degrade over time as things change. Without occasional tune-ups, you'll drift off course. So keep these best practices top of mind. With leaders, communication, resources, incentives, education, dialogue and accountability in sync, your employees will drive amazing results. They'll feel inspired by a shared sense of purpose and empowered to reach new heights.

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