Transparency and vulnerability are key and hard to have.
One of the most important things we do as leaders is to help align teams around attaining a strategic goal or goals. Lots of leaders struggle with this, mostly because they are opaque about what is in their head, hoping the team figures it out. The best approach is to get explicit about where you want to go and give the team a chance to buy in and really own the goals.
Here is a basic three-step construct of how to do that.
1. Get Clarity
The first step in building alignment is to get clarity about the goal you’re trying to chase. Maybe it’s increasing profit by X percent or opening up a new market, or even launching a new product by a certain date. The important thing is to get the entire team bought into pursuing that goal. Otherwise, you won’t get the alignment you’re looking for. As Jack Stack, the open-book management guru, puts, it: “People support what they help create.”
In other words, great leaders will bring the goal — even if it isn’t completely fleshed out — to their team and then ask them for their input and feedback. Tell them to beat it up — and come up with a goal that gets them excited. Authenticity is critical here because your team will immediately sense if you are sincere about getting input and letting them intelligently modify the targets.
As an entrepreneur, this might seem incredibly painful and slow. Why can’t you just tell everyone what to do, right? Well, if you skip this step, people will just nod their heads at your order and then act passively to avoid doing it. They aren’t committed to the goal, so they will resist achieving it.
If you take the time upfront to define the goal with them, in a way in which they buy into it, you will create great alignment in getting the team headed in the same direction because now it’s their plan. They are now far less likely to criticize the goal because they’ve had the chance to voice their concerns.
Another concern an entrepreneur might have is that the team might change the direction of the goal. But here again, you need to check yourself and trust that the team you have in place will make the best decisions possible given all the data that will conform pretty closely to what you wanted in the first place.
2. Define the How
Once you have clarity on where you’re going, you need to get the team aligned on how they will get there. This is again a great opportunity to present your team with something like 50 percent of an action plan and then let them modify and revise it until they can stand behind it. It can be amazing to see how a team, using their local knowledge and experience, can help make an operational plan far better. We all think we know what’s going on in our organizations and the markets as leaders — we don’t. Your goal as the leader should be to encourage a lot of back-and-forth in the discussion of the plan as a way to get broad buy-in and engagement in executing it.
3. Measure the Results
The final step in building alignment is to get the team to agree on how they will measure the progress they’ve made in arriving at the goal. Yet again, this is an opportunity for you to turn this into a conversation by asking a question instead of providing the answer. You might do this by asking something like: “How are we going to measure ourselves to know that we are going in the right direction?” By turning it into a question, and getting the team to provide the answer, you’ve eliminated any debate or confusion about how the team will measure their results.
Pro Tip: After you’ve agreed on how you will measure the results, ask for a volunteer from the team to do the measuring instead of you. That way, you can react to the results just like the rest of the team rather than being the scorekeeper, judge, and jury after each report comes out.
So, if you’re struggling to build alignment inside your team in pursuing a goal, slow things down and work from the bottom up instead of the top down. By doing that, and getting the team to clarify their goals, choose their methodology, and measure their results, you’re creating incredible synergy and alignment that will propel your entire organization forward — together.