Organizational Alignment: As Systems, Framework

  • Post last modified:6 January 2022
  • Reading time:15 mins read

What is Organizational Alignment?

Organizational alignment requires compatibility between the strategic and cultural”paths,” and consistency within them. Values should be compatible with goals: a group that values flexibility should think twice about goals focused on developing very tight control systems.

Day-to-day behaviour should be consistent with stated values: a group that values responsiveness should not answer customer requests with sorry, that’s not my job.

Organizations have traditionally emphasized the strategic path. Most invest considerable effort in defining strategic goals and objectives. Fewer address the cultural path with clearly defined statements of values, and fewer still make a consistent effort to ensure that values and strategy are compatible and that work behaviour represents their values.

Yet the way we do things influences results fully as much as what we do. Organizational values, like organizational goals, are business necessities. Maintaining an aligned organization requires clarity about values as well as strategies and goals.

For example, achieving and maintaining market share requires setting relevant goals and testing actions and decisions against those goals. It also requires communicating relevant organizational values and ensuring that typical behaviour in the organization reflects those values.

In recent years, increasing competition and rapid change have generated more interest in the “values side” of the organization the side most strongly associated with culture. When customers perceive less and less difference among companies in products and services, they begin to place more and more importance on how those companies work with them.


Organizations as Systems

Organizations are dynamic systems and, like all other systems, they function best when their components are designed to work together smoothly and efficiently. Any change we introduce to an organization, then, must be aligned to fit the existing system or must modify the system to accept the change.

The model below is a simplified systems framework for understanding the relationship between organizational components. The model describes two interdependent paths for moving from a broad statement of organizational mission and vision to specific organizational results:

  1. Strategic
  2. Cultural

Strategic

The left-hand path emphasizes what needs to be done: the strategic goals the organization will work toward; the objectives that groups and individuals must accomplish to carry out those strategies; the activities that must be performed to meet goals and objectives.

Cultural

The right-hand path emphasizes how things should be done: the values that will guide people in carrying out the mission and vision; the practices which reflect those values; the specific, day-to-day behaviours which will represent the values and practices to others as people go about their work.

Note that these values reflect how an organization intends to conduct its business not peoples personal values about home, family, religion, or personal relationships.


Organizational Alignment Framework

Most organizations have vision and or mission statements. Many also have values that underpin these. However, few organizations:

  1. Base their values on customer feedback.
  2. Involve their employees in the development of values.
  3. Link these values to their brand.
  4. Encourage their employees to align their behaviors to the values.
  5. Reward their employees for ‘living the brand’

As a consequence organizational values such as ‘honesty’, ‘teamwork, ‘partnering’, ‘creativity’ although espoused by businesses, become no more than empty words: meaningless to both the customer and the employee. If this is the case, how can a company build culture change around customers? Some organizations have succeeded in creating strong brands with powerful brand promises.

Through listening to customer needs and via consultation with employees they have been able to identify brand values that form the backbone of how they do business with the customer and how employees are managed in short they create a customer focus culture that realizes the customer vision.

  1. Top Team Clarity
  2. Listen to Customers Both Internal and External
  3. Building Trust
  4. Maximize the Value of Customer Feedback
  5. Frequency of Feedback
  6. Acting on Survey Findings
  7. Embedding Customer-orientated Behaviors

Top Team Clarity

The ‘inside out and believing that the customer is king concept starts at the top of the organization. Employees look to the top team to model the desired behaviours in all areas and increating a customer focus culture no less.

The authors have worked with many Boards that have encouraged employees to ‘live the brand’. Yet their own behaviour has been far from consistent with the desired brand values. Little wonder that the values are not adopted on a wide spread basis and converting customer strategy to customer culture remains a pipe dream.

Organisations such as Barclays and AT&T have developed leadership behaviours and employee competencies that directly reflect brand values. These in turn are linked to customer needs and are surely the only way to ensure that culture change around customers is successful.

Members of top teams need to regularly assess to what extent their behaviours in relation to customer culture are aligned to the brand and the commitment to the customer vision. They need to also encourage this process across the organization if a truly customer-oriented culture is to emerge.

Listen to Customers Both Internal and External

Many companies today particularly in the service sector carry out some form of customer satisfaction measurement. When it comes to budget setting, the vast majority of organisations approve the budget for asking their customers for feedback on how they perceive the organization’s performance.

However, very few companies develop budgets around what should be done as a result of the survey findings. It is this “lack of resources” that prevents the vast majority of companies from successfully implementing countermeasures based on customer feedback and is the major reason for the lack of service improvements and building culture change around customers.

This problem is not caused by a lack of desire by companies to improve things for customers, but a lack of alignment between a desire to listen to customers and their organization’s customer-oriented culture. Although many companies do have a strategic vision of being “customer-focused”, or “customer-led” they struggle to implement this through functional strategies such as Marketing and Customer Care strategies leading to a failure to implement a genuine customer culture.

Building Trust

So how do you gain customers’ and employees’ trust and build a customer-oriented culture? You have to start with looking at what are the key elements of any relationship, and these are true for both the customer/supplier and employee/employer relationship:

  • Accessibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Kept informed
  • Knowledgeable people
  • Promptness
  • Promises kept
  • Follow up
  • No surprises
  • Do it right first time

This list essentially provides a checklist for any customer or employee satisfaction measurement, as only when you are performing well against these will your customer/employee start to trust the relationship. The actual words of the questionnaire would be developed around talking to both employees and customers to ensure that the questions are phrased in a way that is meaningful to the customer, and actionable by the company.

Maximize the Value of Customer Feedback

So what are companies doing today? Research by Customer Champions into companies across. The first problem area seems to be the communication of findings to employees; an essential aspect if the company is to achieve its ambition of converting customer strategy to customer culture. After all, it is these employees that will be delivering the countermeasures against issues raised by customers.

It is found that companies often recognize they have problems to resolve with the customer but they score relatively poorly on how well they communicate and develop improvement plans to both their customers and their employees. It appears that once a poor communicator, companies are sadly consistent in this aspect of their business, no matter who the audience is, customer or employee.

This poor communication of customer feedback results in individual employees not understanding how it impacts their roles and responsibilities, which in turn limits their ability to drive any change within the company and their desire to ‘live the brand’ and create a customer-oriented culture.

The inevitable conclusion to this lack of communication leading to lack of activity is that all parties will not perceive any value in providing feedback, and instead will simply look to build relationships with other parties.

In order for this gap to be closed and a customer-oriented culture to prevail, work needs to bedone on translating customer feedback into the context of desired behaviours. This has to be looked at from all parties’ points of view i.e. Company, Customer, and Employee:

  1. What does the company see as the desired behaviors of its customers?
  2. What do both the customer and employer see as desired behaviors of the employees?
  3. Are these aligned?
  4. What are the employees’ desired behaviors of the company?

Clearly identifiable desired behaviours will result in allowing employees to have clear roles and responsibilities – a key driver in employee loyalty.

Frequency of Feedback

Customer feedback, whether external or internal, is a continuous event in a customer-oriented culture. The annual customer or employee satisfaction measurement programmes may be taken as providing some of the headlines, but it is more regular feedback that will not only provide the detail behind the headlines but also provide evidence of the impact of any countermeasures that have been deployed.

Having established the need for frequent feedback in converting customer strategy to customer culture, the next issue is to link employee and customer feedback. This has to start with a strong belief that it is employees who ultimately deliver what the customer needs.

This view was seized upon by Harley Davidson who carried out extensive research into what their customers wanted, and then empowered their employees to deliver it, creating a truly customer oriented culture in the process.

The Managing Director (Europe) for Harley Davidson Motorcycles sees what he describes as “Superior Customer Engagement” being delivered through “Liberating people to do what’s right for the customer – instinctively”.

Acting on Survey Findings

As well as communicating the feedback of customer and employee surveys, senior management needs to ensure that service providers are involved in the resolution of customer issues. This can be encouraged via the use of service improvement teams and action groups. Often training and coaching interventions need to be designed to support desired behaviours and create a culture where the customer is king.

Many organizations have successfully developed leadership programmes, supported by 360 findings, to allow individuals to refine and test customer-value based leadership behaviours. They have also included all employees in brand awareness workshops with the intention of allowing employees to see how their behaviour impacts the customer and deliver a customer-oriented service.

Embedding Customer-orientated Behaviors

In order to sustain a customer focus, organizations need to ensure that customer and employee feedback is regular and that brand values are in-line with customer and employee needs. Many organizations recently found that their customer values and desired employee behaviours that had been developed five years ago needed to be revisited and updated in the light of customer and employee feedback.

The benefit of clear customer-orientated values and behaviours and of regular feedback is that it provides a framework against which employers can:

  1. Recruit new staff
  2. Measure performance
  3. Plan career development
  4. Reward customer-orientated behavior thus helping to create a customer-focused culturethat delivers against the customer vision.

Ultimately the effectiveness of this approach in converting customer strategy to customer culture can be evaluated via such measures as the balanced scorecard, increases in the number of loyal customers, profitability and growth.


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