Aligning People Part 2: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge
Part II: The Role of a Manager
Those of you who caught Part I of this article (I’d recommend taking a moment to check it out if you missed it) will know that workplace disruption is killing alignment. With more generations working than ever before and huge skill gaps between them, aligning employees with organisational goals is no easy task. So, how do leaders overcome the obstacles, galvanise their staff and promote operational success?
Purpose + Expectation = Alignment
My recent article on work and happiness discussed a leader’s role in aligning employees with organisational purpose. Purpose is a critical element of alignment, true, but complete alignment requires excellent communication of both purpose and expectations.
Whatever obstacle you’re battling, clearly communicating expectations has the power to overcome it — providing you understand that expectations are a two-way street. Organisations are entitled to make demands on their employees; just as individuals have needs they expect their employers to meet.
The Importance of Alignment
Misaligned employees are bad for business. Characterised by low job satisfaction and productivity, high turnover rates and absenteeism, a misaligned workforce can mean the difference between profitability and failure.
A 1990s study of the then emerging firms in Silicon Valley defined four models of employee management in the tech industry. Traditional, manager-led companies that hired for current skills operated the Factory Model. The Commitment Model described peer controlled organisations that hired for cultural fit and love of the job. The Engineering Model (most common in Silicon Valley) was also peer controlled and relied on passionate employees but hired based on skills. The most idealistic, Star Model companies hired passionate employees for their potential, rather than current skills¹.
Years down the line, it was the organisations that operated the Star and Commitment Models that were most profitable, successfully completing initial public stock offerings ahead of the others¹. These are the teams that hired for potential and passion, aligning committed employees with organisational goals and encouraging them to develop skills and grow with the company.
1. Setting Expectations
Communicating an organisation’s strategic objectives isn’t enough to facilitate individual alignment². Individuals must understand what actions are needed to realise organisational goals, and managers need to set expectations that align with the bigger picture and provide clear direction.
To my mind, the most important form of expectation are values. These are the shared beliefs that people within your organisation hold. A group united by values will achieve far more than one that’s fractious and disagreeable. Indeed, employers who base hiring decisions on how well candidates align with existing values typically increase employee satisfaction by 50%, reducing the rate of voluntary turnover in the process³.
Performance metrics, including SMART Goals, KPIs and OKRs, all provide direction for employees. As do role descriptions, responsibilities, competencies and behavioural values. Each of these detail actions required at an individual level and are critical to aligning employees with operational success — providing they complement organisational goals and individuals understand their role in the bigger picture.
That’s not to say that expectations are a cure-all. Alignment is a continual process, and you can’t ‘set and forget’ expectations. Leaders must provide feedback on how well employees are meeting their objectives, helping individuals identify areas where they can improve their performance and establishing new expectations as the organisational strategy develops.
The most successful organisations integrate long-term objectives with more flexible, short-term goals. They recognise that their expectations for employees will change, as will the expectations of their staff. One of the best ways to ensure staff stay aligned is through regular one-to-one check-ins. These provide leaders and team members with the opportunity to voice their needs and expectations.
Embedding organisational goals in performance metrics won’t improve alignment. Employees need to understand strategic goals and how their actions complement them⁴. There’s evidence to suggest that knowledge of organisational strategy has a greater impact on alignment than being included in the decision making process⁵.
Expectations are a two-way street. Leaders who take the time to understand and meet the needs of individuals enhance their confidence, job satisfaction and productivity.
A recent study found (not surprisingly) that expectation for progression in graduates was correlated with job satisfaction, and that graduates would move employers to see their expectations for progression met⁷. Regular one-to-one meetings and conversations that provide staff with the opportunity to discuss and evaluate how realistic their expectations are enhance job satisfaction and staff retention.
These days, onboarding has to happen quickly. We simply don’t have the luxury of waiting a year for individuals to grow into a role — some will already be looking for their next employer by that point.
It’s up to us as leaders to integrate new hires quickly into a team; boosting alignment, engagement and job satisfaction in the process. This is why our onboarding product automates not only forms like tax declarations but also ‘true’ onboarding activities, speeding up learning and team social integration to maximise productivity.
4. The Millennial Question
Generation Y consistently scores lower than any other for engagement, satisfaction and commitment (they have some pretty high turnover intentions as well)⁸. Their motivations are at odds with how conventional approaches say new employees should think and act.
In fact, the only place Millennial attitudes align with other generations is education and training⁸.
Anyone who read my article on the topic will know I don’t advocate shaking up the workplace purely for the Millennial crew — changes need to accommodate everyone.
We are aware that the generation gap is affecting alignment. Leaders must recognise that individuals have different needs, and generalisations about age groups are just that, generalisations. They do, however, form a starting point for a conversation with a team member about their needs. And that’s a conversation we should all be working to facilitate.
To Sum Up…
Leaders that encourage a culture of ongoing performance are best placed to optimise alignment. They promote higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction and productivity at the individual level and, because these initiatives are tailored to the personal needs of team members, they successfully combat obstacles including the generation gap, lifestyle and job dissatisfaction.
¹Hannan et al., 1996. Inertia and change in the early years: employment relations in young, high technology firms. Cornell University.
²Boswell et al., 2006. Aligning employees through line of sight. Cornell University.
³Bradshaw, 2012. Putting value alignment to work to drive positive organisational outcomes. DeGarmo Group.
⁴Ayers. 2015. Aligning individual and organisational performance: goal alignment in federal government agency performance appraisals. Public Personnel Management. 44 (2). pp. 169-191. Abstract available from: Sage Publications.
⁵Van Reil et al., 2009. Stimulating strategically aligned behaviour among employees. Journal of Management Studies. 46 (7). pp. 1197-1226.
⁶Mazzei and Ravanazzi. 2011. Manager employee communication during a crisis: the missing link. Corporate Communications.
⁷Williamson and Mundy. 2010. Graduate radiographers’ expectations for role development – the potential impact of misalignment of expectation and valence on staff retention and service provision. Radiography. 16 (1). pp. 40-47.
⁸Solnet et al., 2012. Generation Y employees: an examination of work attitude differences. Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship. 17 (3). pp. 36.