How to Engineer Employee Alignment

What’s the top challenge of CEOs? Employee alignment, according to many I speak with all over the country. Making sure each employee understands the company’s strategic objectives and is continually working towards them is critical. However, many CEOs believe they can run their organizations via verbal communications, with an e-mail thrown in every once in awhile for good measure. The truth is that even companies with as few as 50 people struggle to get on the same page, making it imperative that CEOs take a systems approach to employee alignment.

Consider the inefficiency of trying to verbally communicate the corporate objectives in a 50-person company. It’s possible for CEOs to personally meet with each employee, but it would be time-consuming. Even a companywide meeting once a quarter or once a year, while more efficient and certainly worthwhile, is not enough. To make it stick, CEOs also have to ensure that each employee understands how his or her daily work supports those objectives.

This takes extensive work on the part of the executive team and managers to help employees create goals that match up to the department and company goals. Many times this is also done verbally. Any written goals often end up on static documents that everyone revisits maybe once a quarter or even once a year. If employees and managers discuss progress towards their goals, it’s often infrequently during meetings. It’s common for no one to think about the goals again until the next weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting or even the yearly performance review.

Next, think about employees and departments who need to work together to help the company achieve its goals. The numbers escalate dramatically if most of those 50 employees need to communicate their key objectives and projects directly to each other. If every person had to meet with every other employee in a 50-person company, it would require 1,225 meetings!

Then think about how often things change and need to be communicated to the relevant parties. While everyone may not need to directly interact, the idea that an organization of any significant size can be run by simple verbal direction and communication is a fiction. This type of problem calls for a system of record that reflects the objectives of each team member and can be updated frequently.

I have found that a system using quarterly cascading goals as a foundation can align employees and formalize each person’s contribution to the whole. Simply breaking down the intent of the CEO to each employee – and putting that information in a formal system of record that everyone can see – is a valuable exercise that ensures employee alignment from the top to the bottom of the organization.

But the system needs to go further (and this is what I have done with Khorus) by continually reemphasizing the goals with employees and providing a way to communicate updates. Each week, employees should be asked to disclose how likely they are to meet each goal during the quarter and what their perceptions are of the quality towards that work so far. This is important, because employees may feel that a goal can be completed during the quarter – such as a software build – but they may also believe the quality will not be up to par. One Khorus CEO customer calls this the “canary in a coal mine” effect.

Instead of eliciting backwards-looking progress reports, these questions ensure that the CEO and managers receive predictive data about where goals stand and which ones may be in danger of not being completed on time and/or at a high quality. With this companywide forecasting, the CEO and his team can take action in time to make a difference – not at the end of the quarter or year when it’s too late.

In addition, keeping weekly tabs on likelihood and quality helps reinforce the goals with employees. Because they are regularly asked for their feedback and opinions, employees stay engaged with their work and feel empowered to take creative initiative. This lends purpose and motivation to each working day. Also, when all company, department, and individual goals are aligned and visible in the platform, it becomes easy to spot dependencies and redundancies between groups. This visibility boosts trust and collaboration.

Aligning every employee and his or her role with the corporate direction is a critical role for the CEO and the only way to deliver consistent performance. CEOs cannot simply rule by decree. Those who take a more systematic approach will be in a better position to more actively manage the company and achieve their objectives.

This article is based on one I published on The CEO Magazine web site last year.


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