In a new white paper on strategic planning, I spent a surprisingly large amount of time on the two types of alignment that are necessary for a successful strategic plan—first, the alignment between an organization and its marketplace; and second, the alignment of the organization behind the strategic plan.

In this article I want to focus on the need to align the organization behind the strategic plan.

Strategic integrity

In 2010, Steven Sinofsky (Microsoft) and Marco Iansiti (Harvard Business School) wrote an extraordinary book entitled One Strategy. In an interview with Sean Silverthorne, the authors noted that every organization has two strategies. The first is top-down, “directed” strategy—what the CEO and the senior management team believe the firm should focus on. The second is bottom-up, “emergent” strategy, which is established by the actual decisions and behaviors in the organization.

Directed strategy is what management believes needs to get done, while emergent strategy represents what actually gets done.

The authors conclude strategic integrity is when emergent and directed strategies are one and the same thing: when the strategy executes with the full, aligned backing of the organization for maximum impact.

The Perils of Misalignment

In 2006, The Knowledge Compass, in an article on strategic alignment, outlined the “signs” of an unfocused or unaligned organization. Here’s a sample from that article.

  • Strategic plans are not put into practice. In some cases, operating levels of management work around corporate plans, and provide only superficial attention and support. In other cases, corporate strategy is completely ignored and becomes “bookcase art.”
  • Change is slow or stifled.
  • There is often inadequate coordination of enterprise-wide and interdivision (department) projects. This results in failures, redundant outcomes, and conflicts. It also results in uncalled for work that reduces the effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of the business activities.
  • There are noticeable political dilemmas. Most of the company’s manager’s consider the environment intensely competitive and biased. Managers generally do not trust each other and tend to refer difficulties upward, rather than settling among their peers. There are “memo wars” that waste precious time and resources.
  • Conflicting requirements for resources…are generally not resolved in unfocused organizations, resulting in some resources not being allocated to priority mission-critical work.
  • Many change initiatives are undertaken, but are then allowed to quickly subside before they have been carried far enough to deliver any positive benefits.
  • There is a general lack of business perspective in the organization. All problems seem to have equal importance, with trivial problems seemingly given equal attention to critical ones.

Misaligned organizations are confused and tentative and squander valuable time and resources.

Here’s a link to the complete white paper.

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