The X Factor: Alignment

"It`s hard to celebrate individual accolades with the team and with people, with fans. It`s a lot better when you do it as a team, when you win things as a team, when you become champions as a team. Then everyone can feel some of the excitement that you feel."
--Michael Jordan, June 16, 1991

In order to have a successful business and, more importantly, a successful life, it is essential that you establish a powerful vision for yourself and your business`s future. A powerful vision serves as a source of inspiration for you and everyone else in your company, unleashing creativity, productivity and effectiveness. Without an inspiring vision, work quickly becomes exactly that - work - sapping people of their natural vitality and motivation, and leaving them feeling disempowered and resigned. No individual or organization can be effective under such circumstances.

A Vision of Service

In considering your vision, it is essential that the essence of it be service -- service to customers and clients, employees, owners and associates, and each other. Why is this critical? If you travel throughout this country and walk into companies on a random basis and ask employees what is the purpose of the company, the answer will frequently be to make money -- for the owners. Now that wouldn`t be bad if people were inspired by making money... for someone else.

It`s not even our experience that people are inspired by making money for themselves. So what does inspire people? After dealing with literally thousands of people over the last 16 years, we have become convinced that at our very essence is simply a desire to contribute and make a difference. And when you give people that opportunity, they can and will shine. Service to others brings out the best in people.

Furthermore, your customers are people, too.

Who they are interested in is themselves and they want you and your employees to be interested in them. People are very insightful. They always know where you`re coming from. Don`t you know where the waiter is coming from when you go into a restaurant for dinner? You just can`t fool people anymore. So, not only does having an organization oriented around service make your customers happy, it brings out the best in your employees.

After developing your vision, the next step is for your organization to be aligned with your vision in a powerful way. Alignment is a principle in life, just as much as gravity, which is the hidden and most significant factor that determines the success of an organization. What do we mean by this?

If you go into most organizations and look to see what the employees are individually committed to, you`ll discover that most people have their own agenda, are doing their own thing, and going in their own direction.

The principle of alignment says that if you want to know the direction in which the organization is going, and how fast it`s moving in that direction, then you need to add up all of the individual commitments.

You can readily see that with everyone having their own agenda, people will be going in different directions and some people`s commitments will cancel others. In other words, people are working against each other and the organization suffers.

Now imagine what would happen if everyone got committed to the same thing, taking their energy and using it on behalf of a common objective.  Now, instead of people working against each other, everyone will be adding their talents and contributions to everybody else`s. The result can be truly phenomenal.

If you`re curious about the word "alignment," it`s very different than "agreement."

It`s virtually impossible to get people to agree, since everyone has their own opinion to which they are entitled. It`s also virtually impossible, and therefore useless, to try to get people to change their minds and agree.

On the other hand, you can get people to align on a common objective, even if they have their own opinion and if they don`t agree with others. When you do get people to align, the outcome can be extraordinary.

Virtually every company that we speak with is concerned mostly with factors outside their control, such as the economy, the competition, changing corporate client policies, etc.

What companies don`t realize is that these factors are almost irrelevant to their success.

The critical success factor is the degree to which the people in the organization are in alignment. An organization with a group of aligned people is unstoppable. This is almost always the secret to the success of most sports teams. It`s not necessarily the team with the best talent or the best superstar that wins in the end, it`s the team that best evidences the principle of alignment.

The Secret of Great Leaders

How does this tie back to vision? We`ve looked at every possible way to get people in an organization to align. The only thing we`ve ever found that does it successfully is a powerful vision for the future.

This is the secret of every great leader. It is the secret of every great sports coach, every executive that has turned an organization around and every great historical figure. They all have had the ability to articulate a powerful vision for the future and get everybody excited about it so that they were willing to commit themselves to it.

Think about our forefathers when they created the Declaration of Independence, think about Martin Luther King, think about Mahatma Ghandi, even think about Hitler.

Whether for good or for bad, a common factor was always a powerful vision that got everybody pulling in the same direction. And in every case, the people were unstoppable in spite of the external factors. Look at what our forefathers had to face when they declared independence. Look at what Ghandi had to face when he declared his commitment.

So if you want to have an extraordinary and successful organization, stop worrying so much about the competition, the economic climate and all of that other external stuff which really means nothing.

In the face of any circumstances, some organizations will always be successful. And those are the organizations where there is leadership, where there is a powerful vision and purpose for the organization and a group of inspired, dedicated, committed people working on behalf of that vision.

This is no idle idea, it is the heart and soul of every successful organization.