3 Things Leaders Get Right to Ensure Alignment

3 Things Leaders Get Right to Ensure Alignment

When I left the Royal Marines, one of the biggest differences I noticed between the military and civilian world was how poorly leaders in the civilian world was at getting their teams aligned.


It was evident people tended to challenge their leader but didn’t proceed in alignment once a final decision had been made.  They held on to the fact that a decision was made that they didn’t agree with and then passed that on other employees or their team members.

Truth is when people leave the room, they need to be able to go back to their team and share the decision or idea with them as if they came up with it themselves. If those team members get the sense that their team lead is not happy with the decision, it will breed misalignment.

When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.                  

Colin Powell

Colin Powell puts it well. The difference between challenge and alignment is all about timing. Once the decision has been made, loyalty means ‘selling the plan’ to your team as if you came up with it yourself.

The whole process of making decisions and reaching alignment can be made much easier if you have three things in place.

Purpose – Mission – Vision

1. Purpose

A purpose explains why the business/team exists. This is the underlying motive for why we are here. We use it to make sure that we attract people who are inspired and want to be a part of the higher cause that we are committing ourselves to. I wrote about this last week explaining how NATO ‘lock in’ a purpose to everything they do.

2. Mission

The mission is simply ‘what do you do and for whom’. It can be stated as ‘we do X for Y’. We provide (the following service or product) for (these people). This creates clarity around your target market or customers – whoever benefits from your service. If you don’t have this, how can you spot the difference between an opportunity and a distraction?

Everyone wants to get into tech, and I understand that because the industry is taking off and lots of people are making a lot of money in this area. But an app, for example, can cost around $150k so for many companies represents a significant investment.

Does it benefit the people that you serve? How do you know unless you have a clearly articulated mission? If you want your people to share good ideas that advance your organization, a mission is helpful in clarifying the boundaries for them.

3. Vision

The last element is the vision. This is simply a statement which dictates where you are going. It should be simple, clear and to the point. If it tries to be ‘too much’ it ends up meaning nothing.

What does your vision look like? Where is your organization going? If you want to know how well your vision is understood, ask your people.

If you ask five people and get five answers that are the same, your vision is simple enough to inform people’s decision-making. If you get five different answers, then it isn’t and by definition you will be suffering from an alignment problem.

When I started working at Urenco – the vision for the business was complex because it had too much detail. By the time I left, it had been simplified and was much clearer. I can remember it now ‘ Zero-One-Zero’.

Zero-Harm – ‘Everyone leaves the site in good health’

100% customer delivery – ‘Every order on spec, on time, in full’

Zero Unplanned Outages – ‘No unexpected plant breakdowns’

When you think about it, this captured the important messages – the three things that mattered. Safety – Customer Focus – Maintenance. If we stuck to those three priorities then we’d be successful as an organization.

If you have a purpose, a mission and a vision – you make it easier for the organization to align in one direction. You remove the opportunities for waste by creating boundaries and helping people focus on what is important.

Leaders create environments where people can be successful. These are the foundations for that success and they are why we decided to make them the foundations of the High Performance Leadership Program.