Seven Leadership Strategies for Rapid Alignment

By: Mike Koper, RWD

The American workforce is predicted to experience a “radical decline in the number of people available for leadership roles over the coming decade,” according to research from Beverly Kaye of Beverly Kaye & Associates and Sharon Jordan-Evans of The Jordan Evans Company. Compounding this problem, leadership roles differ from managerial and supervisor roles—these roles are not synonymous. Not every manager has ideal leadership traits. In general, leaders need to possess attributes of flexibility, agility and mastery of motivating the workforce through active engagement. Furthermore, younger generations joining the workforce are very tech savvy, resourceful and view technology as the preferred method of training. Given these growing skills gaps in organizations coupled with demographic changes, new learning models are needed.

More attention must be given to a broad scope of initiatives that support performance improvements at all levels, including the usage of technology-based learning, workplace learning, development feedback, and coaching and mentoring. In a recent study, it was reported that more than 56 percent of management personnel were uncertain of what was expected of them. To that point, many frontline managers replied to the survey by stating “I need to know the exact expectations of what my job are and I’d like to have more specific feedback on how I am performing.” This all returns to the fact that leaders must communicate in such a way that the obvious is out front and stated clearly. Leader’s communication must progressively articulate the challenge of the mission while accentuating the conditions. In short, leaders must ensure clarity of expectations. Here are the simple rules of engagement:

  1. Decide in unambiguous terms what performance is desired or what the organization wants from the set of performers. Statement examples include “When this project is completed the final output should be…” Or “If we’ve done our job right, our customer should receive…” Include plans of execution, standards, and benchmarks of performance of both behaviors and accomplishments that are meaningful to the performer.
  2. Convert your performance requirements and standards to expectation statements.
  3. Verify expectation statements with sample performance stories for clarity and lack of ambiguity or confusion, and revise as appropriate.
  4. Identify who will communicate expectations and how will this occur along with a stated frequency.
  5. Monitor expectations for appropriateness and feasibility, and revise them as necessary.
  6. Verify attainment of expectations frequently.
  7. Treat performers as volunteers, just as you treat customers as volunteers, because they choose to volunteer the best part of themselves – their hearts and minds – to your business.

Now, here are the rules for setting expectations upon themselves:

  1. Create succinct statements of expectations. Less is more. The human brain has a limited working memory capacity. Small meaningful chunks are easier to process and retain than lengthy, detailed statements. Express expectations in the terms and language that performers understand. The more comprehensible the expectation the higher the apprehension, the greater the probability that they will meet.
  2. Avoid vague or ambiguous vocabulary. Be specific and precise. By “Customer Engagement,” carry it through that you mean not just the first meeting or signing of the contract but continuing until the project is completed.
  3. To clarify an expectation, provide samples or models of desired behaviors and accomplishments.
  4. If there are dangers of misinterpretation, provide examples and non-examples (ones that seem like what you want, but not quite) to help performers discriminate between acceptable and unacceptable performance. In similar fashion, I previously worked on a vision automation project for a major automotive company. The vision system passed or failed parts while looking for certain characteristics that made the part acceptable. The technology inside the vision system was actually taking a picture of each part and comparing it to a digital layout of a known good part; if the pixels of the photographed part did not exactly match the “known good part,” the part failed. In that instance the expectation of quality was crystal clear and the number of bad parts steadily decreased, and adjustments to the process were made to meet the high quality objectives.
  5. Select the most appropriate person and means for communicating expectations. In today’s technically advanced network, impromptu message pop-ups can quickly deliver a message. In most cases, the immediate supervisor is the best source either for communication or clarification of work-related expectations, although a high-performing peer is often useful too.
  6. Continuously monitor expectations for relevance and feasibility. Ensure that they do not conflict with other work priorities.
  7. Investigate how expectations are communicated in your organization. Getting it right can yield huge dividends.

Implementing a Rich Learning Blend?

Traditionally, the term “e-learning” has been used narrowly to refer to online training (change in skills) or online education (change in knowledge). A more specific definition refers to e-learning as Internet-enabled learning targeted to achieve business goals. This includes different forms or solutions, such as online training, collaboration, electronic performance, knowledge management (Fig.1), instructor-led, customer coaching and online learning management. All of these forms or solutions leverage the Internet for learning purposes. The overall goal of learning should be to enhance human performance, and each of these Internet-enabled learning solutions should have an ultimate impact on business performance. Figure 1 captures the relationship between training, education and learning, as well as the different learning solutions that make up e-learning. Leaders are required to develop or fine-tune the vision and strategy for learning.

Technology Based Learning System

Human Performance is Bankable Capital

With each new training initiative top performing executives must ask themselves, “how do I create Value Through Learning?” The answers lie in the alignment of the goals with the expectations set forth from top-level executive strategic planning. Each executive must surface learning’s value drivers responsible for increasing revenue, enhancing operating margins, asset efficiency and overall business expectations. Jac Fitz-enz, the “father of human capital and analysis,” argues that the key of sustaining profitability is the productivity of human capital, and that the driving force for this is knowledgeable people.1

Knowledgeable human capital adds value into the corporation’s efficiency as technology savvy employees more quickly gain new skills, autonomy increases at all levels of management. Stephen Covey stated “Top leaders of the 21st century realize that the implied contract between supplier and customer also is in force between leader and the led. Intelligent leaders seek to deeply and accurately understand the ‘wins’ for their employees. Instead of reviewing performance, they sit down with their employees and make ‘win-win agreements’.” The leader defines what the “win” is for the organization taking into account the businesses’ overall goals. The employees are allowed to define what a “win” is for him or her.2 Under this framework employees are imposed with managing and assessing themselves while leaders keep the resources flowing and the pathway clear.

Strategic Alignment

Strategic Planning is nothing new. Whether or not the process is systematic or ad hoc, the overarching desire is to create organizational alignment of work effort, work performance and identify the appropriate measures to gauge how well they are performing against their plans. Similarly, just as an archer must measure the impact of his or her arrow, leaders must continually gauge progress against a metric to assure the work effort has impact and is precise. So, what are some ways you and other senior leaders can improve your strategic planning initiatives? How can you make sure that you and your peers are working collectively for the greater good of the organization?

Eliminate out-of alignment initiatives: Many projects and initiatives that are not strategically required may consume critical resources without supporting the greater good. Consider eliminating these projects or initiatives or place them on hold.
Conduct regular alignment checks: Allowing critical resources to be misaligned for six or nine months could lead to significant drops in organizational performance. Design quarterly (or at minimum, semi-annually) alignment checks that help validate the vertical and horizontal alignment strategic priorities and resource allocation throughout the organization.
Close alignment gaps: Be sure to reallocate resources when alignment gaps are discovered. This may mean eliminating your pet project or initiative, deciphering corrective action strategies, or helping the members on your team let go of some of their projects or initiatives.
Taking the lead in this manner will require you to assess how aligned you are to the customer’s organization vision, strategic goals and priorities. It also means fulfilling your leadership role by supplying the tools and resources to assess how strategically aligned they are with the organization’s focus. Regardless of whether your organization is systematic or ad hoc in its strategic planning, it is critical that you as a leader regularly confirm that your work and priorities are strategically aligned with the organization. A rowing team must work in alignment in order to win, or at least cross the finish line. An orchestra must cooperate in alignment to make beautiful music. Similarly, senior-level organizational leaders must ensure that the workforce also works in total alignment for the greater good so that their organizations can win (achieve their strategic goals) and make beautiful music (act as a high-performing organizational culture).

About the author:
Mike Koper is the Senior Projects Specialist for RWD’s Manufacturing group and has been a leader in the company for 11 years. As a certified Project Manager, he works to interface with client’s plants while establishing new and maintaining current training programs. He brings over 20 years to the manufacturing industry and has authored over 15 articles in trade magazines.

1 Jac Fitz-enz, The ROI of Human Capital, American Management Association, New York, NY, 2000, page 93

2 Stephen Covey, PhD., Beyond the Performance Review, Chief Learning Officer, August 2005, page 22.


2 Responses to “Seven Leadership Strategies for Rapid Alignment”

  1. 1 Bryan August 24, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Not enough people want to lead, it seems too much like work.

  2. 2 mike August 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Leading can be hardwork, just like many other things in life, however the results can be very rewarding. Not only is good alignment and creating expectations needed to lead, but so often the attributes of courage, motivating others, negotiating and self-confidence are also required.

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