Alignment versus Balance
Alignment or Balance?
What is alignment and how can this idea be useful? How is alignment different from balance?
Alignment of organizational elements is the key to organizational effectiveness.
In organizational design, strategy has to be aligned to other organizational design elements – structure, people (skills), work processes, management processes, culture & leadership .
The concept of alignment versus balance is the focus of this article. Alignment is different from balance, and it’s useful and important to know if we want to achieve balance or alignment. Example of work life balance – in corporations, do we want to achieve WL balance of WL alignment. Do we want to work towards alignment or balance?
If we work towards balance, it implies trade-offs, giving up something in return for something else. If we give up more office time, we gain more personal or family time because we can’t add more time. What message would companies give their employees if they ask them to practice WLB? They will say WLB is different for each of us, and have to find the right level of balance for each. Everyone has different needs and circumstances. But what does it mean for senior executives who have much more on their plate? How do they balance? Anecdotally, we hear that the personal or family life takes a back seat, or it is important to have a very supportive family.
Here, we can bring in the concept of alignment – align the interest of the company with the family. The needs and interests may not always be the same but the company can try to accommodate to align the interests as much as possible. This can be flexible depending on needs of the executive. For example, the company can subsidize cost of travel so that spouse can travel with executive if so desired, since the executive spends the extra time traveling. What if time with family is what is desired? How can the needs be reconciled? Giving time off for the executive to plan around it is one way to do it.
What if companies ask employees to practice WL alignment? What does that mean? Align employees’ work with their personal lives? Unfortunately, companies may hesitate doing this because they do not want to open themselves up to being challenged if they are doing enough. However, I think this is not a big barrier - as long as employers state that ownership rests with the employee and the employer will support as much as possible. The employer can also proactively come up with policies and programs to make it happen.
Alignment does not bring with it the concept of trade-off. Implementing work life alignment means employees and employers finding ways to better align their interests. This is a win-win approach. What is good for the employee is also good for the company.
Can better balance be achieved without finding alignment? Yes, by trade-offs; less of one for more of another, but this is not what employees want. It’s a win-lose approach. Company win, employee loses. So, I would suggest that in order to address challenges between work and life, frame it also in terms of work life alignment. Work life alignment prompts thinking in a different way - it helps people to think synergistically and to seek a win-win approach. Sometimes, we call it integration, and in some places for example in Singapore, the Employer Alliance calls it work-life integration.