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Alignment Optimization

Updated on November 23, 2012

The home page for the management science of Alignment Optimization

This lens covers the research behind Alignment Optimization (AO), what it is, who uses it, where, when, and how.

This lens is designed to educate current and emerging business leaders on a capability essential to their success, but which in the past they've had to learn 'at the school of hard knocks'.

We teach this content at business schools, to improve the ability of the next generations of leaders to create and sustain alignment with maximum speed, efficiency, and success.

In researching the subject, we discovered aspects of optimizing alignment which humans cannot do well, or at all. For these situations, we provide cloud-based software (Alignment Optimization Technology) that is used by internal and external consultants.

We hope you enjoy this lens, and its related lenses, and that they lead to greater personal and organizational success.

We will maintain this lens and its content in order to bring you the most recent information on Alignment Optimization.

Groups Are Never Fully Aligned
Groups Are Never Fully Aligned

Defining Alignment

Getting aligned about the word alignment :)

We use alignment to mean the level of like-mindedness among any group of people, whether in one, two or many organizations. In business, alignment is most often used in the context of organizational alignment - having the managers and employees of an organization all act in a manner that supports the corporate strategy. We consider this definition very important, but just one example of over 80 common situations where a Degree of Alignment exists within and between groups.

Degree of Alignment? Most people talk about alignment as a binary - Are We or Aren't We aligned? In fact, using mathematics derived from the work of Professor Thomas Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize for Economics recipient, we've found out over the last five years that on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is complete divergence of opinion and 100 is complete alignment, every group measured has had an Alignment Index between 44 and 83.

With an average of 72, but never less than 44 or greater than 83, this means groups within one, between two or across many organizations, have an amount of alignment and an amount of misalignment.

By quantifying alignment, we can now optimize it.

One Example of a Collaboration
One Example of a Collaboration

Where High Alignment is Essential

In what situations does this subject apply?

One way of looking at an organization is to say that only two types of activity are occurring at any time: Processes and Collaborations. Business Processes are what make an organization what it is today, how it's experienced by its customers and stakeholders, they define its capability at a point in time. To design and improve processes we use techniques such as Lean, Six Sigma and others. Everything else people are involved in is some form of Collaboration - a group of people, or companies, that have come together around a shared topic for which they need to identify a set of desired outcomes for the topic and plan of action to get there.

A Collaboration is the general term for what is usually known as:

- Strategy development and revision

- Policy development and revision

- Program and project chartering

- Business relationships, such as customer relationships, outsourcing contracts, partnerships, joint ventures and others

- Due diligence and post-merger integration

- and more...

If you think about the number of collaborations that take place throughout a single organization within just a 12-month period, you see how their aggregate impact becomes a direct driver of how far the organization advances that year.

Every group of people involved in a collaboration possess a Degree of Alignment. Understanding where alignment exists, and where it doesn't, allows the group to take a straight line to coordinated action around a common purpose.

Why Optimization?

Why not maximizing, or increasing, or...?

Leaders of collaborations face three competing objectives:

1. Designing desired outcomes, and a way to get there, that are the best prescription for the topic at hand, and,

2. Doing so in a way that engages those who will be required to make it happen, and,

3. As most participants are busy running business processes, the process needs to be efficient and fast.

Optimize means to find the best balance between finite resources (people's time, their knowledge, speed to action) and multiple objectives (solution quality, and participant's ownership of the actions). For each group, for each topic, the 'best' combination is unique to them.

Measuring Alignment

Ensure people express all opinions necessary to create the highest quality plans

It is OK for a group to be non-likeminded, in fact, it can be very productive. As managers, we're taught to assemble groups of different backgrounds and experience so we can create something valuable from the 'diversity and melting pot'. Or, sometimes we inherit a group with no control over its make up.

The point is that non-likemindedness can be unavoidable, and even valuable, by design. But when some say 'go left' and others say 'go right' we need to get aligned over what direction we will take. Like-mindedness is about thought, alignment is about action.

Unfortunately, a group's Degree of Alignment has been a subjective assessment, based on a lack of data, leading to many false positives. Measuring alignment among groups in the Fortune 50, non-profits, governments, associations, and other organizations over the last five years has shown that, on average:

1. Groups have 40 unique opinions describing their 'current state' and are only like-minded on 7 of them. (Yes, 7 only). i.e. They're not even coming from the same place when they start a collaboration.

2. Groups have 66 unique opinions describing their 'future state' and are only like-minded on 15 of them. (So when the leader declares in 3 to 7 summary phrases what the collaboration will achieve, the participants are using ~60 ways to judge the success).

3. Groups cite 61 unique reasons why the topic will not execute or sustain. Such 'hesitations' usually only surface during execution, and as groups only align on 7 of the 61, there's misalignment over whether something is indeed a problem.

The good news is that while these metrics show what's present in the minds of participants in a collaboration, there are only Three Reasons for Misalignment. So resolving misalignment and converging on what the group will and won't do, why, and how to make it work, becomes quite straightforward.

Maximizing Alignment

Removing misalignment and maximizing the value and viability of the aspirations.

Alignment Optimization puts 'hard' data behind the 'soft' subject of alignment. (And as we all know, the soft stuff is usually the most valuable stuff in collaborations).

Wherever a group's Degree of Alignment resides between 44 and 83, groups enjoy learning where they are aligned as much as knowing where they are not.

Several points of alignment within a group can be their driving force, the like-mindendness that binds them together. Seeing the alignment usually triggers a response along the lines of "I expected we were aligned here', then, 'Hhmm, I didn't expect we'd be misaligned there'. Seeing the points of misalignment usually generates a similar reaction - 'I didn't think we were aligned here, but I didn't expect we'd be misaligned there also'.

As there are Three Reasons for misalignment, understanding which of the three is present allows application of the right antidote, which at a minimum removes a constraint, but often leads to new learning, innovation, and a more valuable collaboration.

Let's Gather Some Field Research - A quick poll on your experiences with misalignment

Of the three reasons we've identified, which do you observe most?

What do you experience as the primary reason for misalignment in organizations?

See results
The Shortest Path from Here to There
The Shortest Path from Here to There

Coordinated Action

Quality action with minimal communication

Named after Prof. Schelling, a 'Schelling point' is that focal point that gives a group of like-minded individuals their common purpose, towards which they can coordinate their actions with minimal communications. The antithesis of 'herding cats'.

Participants in a collaboration that enjoys high alignment can take action knowing that others will support it, not fearful of being questioned, or having to 'beat someone else to it'. Participants don't just endorse the high level objectives and the platitudes that would be hard to argue against, but agree with the specifics, and understand their role.

When Measure Alignment is done properly, with a complete dataset of opinion driving the actions, the path is optimal and the need for course correction and rework diminished. There is less rationalization why objectives weren't accomplished, less blame being assigned, less rework, and a better demeanor among the participants.

Like most, we yearn for action, but prefer quality action to 'rational but flawed' action.

Avoid the Most Common Alignment Curves
Avoid the Most Common Alignment Curves

Maintaining Alignment

Accommodating the natural the ebbs and flows of group alignment

Some collaborations move from idea to action to benefit within weeks, while others take years to break even. Short or long, several factors cause a group's Degree of Alignment to change over time:

- Views of a topic change by 'doing it'

- New role-players with different views and opinions to those before

- Different perspectives on the degree to which objectives are being attained

- Original assumptions become invalid, due to changes inside and outside the organization

- New barriers to success are surfaced

Governance and PMO operations need to identify such changes, not just track project plan performance.

Taking the Steps to Success
Taking the Steps to Success

How Do I Use this Information?

Suggested actions and next steps

Within this primary lens we will provide links to content indicating how to use Alignment Optimization to transform the success and experience of your collaborations.

If there is some action or advice you are expecting but not able to find, please email me.



Books directly related to this subject

Link List - Lens associated with this subject

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    • KellyFranks LM profile image

      KellyFranks LM 5 years ago

      Very interesting information ... will definitely be looking into your other lenses! Thanks!