I took a much needed mini-vacation this past weekend which somewhat refreshed my mind and body. While I was relaxing, I felt especially receptive to learning and reflecting on information I read.
A post I read which resonated with me was a post called alignment requires clarity by Jonathan Kettleborough. I wrote a verbose comment, but still felt I needed to elaborate a bit more, and organize it better.
I thought about how I wanted to organize my thoughts a bit better and came up with a story. Not a real story, but one that I visualize in my head for how the direction of an organization is determined.
The Fabled Steering Committee
Every organization has them in one form or another, how else would a company determine the direction? How would priorities be layer out?
A question about the steering committee that continues to eat at me:
Is the steering committee effective at disseminating the strategy for the company?
Jonathan’s article sparked some thoughts around this. I don’t see the direct work of the steering committee. I’m never completely sure about the direction they determined the organization should go in.
Here’s how I see the steering committee:
A group of suited up executives head into their closed conference room on the top floor. They work on a different level, separated from everyone else in the organization.
Nobody knows what goes on in there, they emerge after several hours with a list of commandments to disseminate. There is now a strategy.
The ship has now been steered in the right direction. It’s now time to get the engine room on board to propel the organization forward.
The strategy is often disseminated in a top down method. Those that report to the steering committee members get the first hand message. The message then goes down the lines until it reaches the bottom.
Here’s what I see happen with the strategy:
Rather than the strategy disseminating down through the hierarchy, direct reports make a plan to fulfill the strategy as they see it. A generalized message is shared with everyone else. A message that doesn’t mean much by itself, nor does it have context or meaning to the strategy. In other words, the strategy is kept a secret by vague phrases and a storm of corporate buzzwords.
The message is lost at the VP or senior management level, never to be seen by the common employee. Commoners are told what needs to be done to make “it” happen, never mind what the “it” is.
I poorly stated in my comment on Jonathan’s post that it’s hard to know exactly what problems to tackle and the direction to point yourself in if the strategy is not available.
Unraveling The Hierarchy
My story came from an organization that is traditional and hierarchical. Organizations should have, or be moving away from that model. It’s problematic trying to disseminate a message through a hierarchy. The real message always gets lost and often more towards the beginning than the end, so it’s unrecognizable at the end.
Jonathan talked about this in his post, “Chinese Whispers” which in my part of the world we call “Telephone.” We alter a message slightly as it goes down the line until it’s unrecognizable.
I don’t see this as always a problem with those further down the organizational food chain, say in the Learning & Development department. I see it as an organizational problem created by those at the top, the further you go up, the worse it gets. Participation in communicating with regular employees reduces the further up the hierarchy you go. Senior leadership is seen less and less in an enterprise social network as you go higher, but it should be the opposite
Working out loud should occur to a greater degree by senior management and those in the C-Suite. Not only would that better disseminate the strategy, it would set an excellent example of how employees should show their work.
This practice would rapidly unravel the hierarchy of an organization and put everybody on an even footing. Everyone would be able to move the business forward in a synchronized, agreed upon, effective method.
One company working as a web, taking down barriers that stand in its way, meeting all goals set forth by leadership.
Learning & Development Needs Alignment
Every department needs better alignment to business goals, not just Learning & Development. As with every department, senior leadership must first bring forward better clarity.
It’s not a problem with Learning & Development only. It’s an organizational problem for those organizations that subscribe to a hierarchical view.
Those at the top are not doing their part in putting themselves on even ground with everyone else. The message is not shared at the start, but rather distributed through a hierarchy of channels that dilutes the original message.
How Do You Align?
This is an important question to ask yourself for everything you work on. How does it align to the business goals? Sometimes this is a hard question to answer, but it’s important to do your best.
It’s most important to align to the business goals first (what good is pushing useless information on a user if it’s not even important?) It’s also important to align to the user as well. In fact they are one in the same. If you’re aligning to a user with useless information, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
I urge you to read Jonathan’s post, it’s useful and can put you on a path for better aligning Learning & Development with the business.
Business has an important role to disseminate the strategy in a better way to everyone. This will give all employees a better opportunity to align their jobs to the business goal.
Employees and leadership have the tools to disseminate information successfully. It’s up to them to use them, from the top of the chain all the way to the bottom, unfiltered and clear.