Success Factor #1: Alignment

Sep 09, 2010 5 Comments by

Get on Track Early!

Get on track early - or risk derailing later...

Before tackling any significant change, it’s important that Change Leaders and Change Agents get on the same page about exactly what your change involves.   I call that alignment.  I use a simple set of questions to help my clients draw out the key elements of alignment. As you will see, the questions are easy, but sometimes the answers can be tricky…

Be clear about what is IN and OUT of the scope of your change - or you may risk disappointing your stakeholders!

What it Means to Be Aligned

As a company or a team considers making a change, it’s critical that they agree on the answers to a few straight-forward questions:

  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. Who?
  4. When?
  5. How?
  6. Where?
  7. With What?

Let’s look more closely at these questions and give an example or two of each…

  • What: Get on the same page about what you intend to change and what ‘s beyond the scope of this effort. Example: a manufacturer may choose to outsource its materials acquisition process and the finished product shipping process – but keep everything in between unchanged.
  • Why: Be clear about the shared rationale for the change. What’s in it for the average stakeholder? Is it a good thing for some and a source of pain for others?
  • Who: Identify the internal and external stakeholders most impacted by the change. See last month’s article on this topic: 5 Steps to Building Readiness: Identifying Stakeholders
  • When:  Your proposed roll-out schedule will be important to those impacted.

    Who will play what role in your change? Who will be impacted? Where will people go with questions?

    Make careful note of how your plans will mesh with their business cycles and commitments and be ready to adjust your dates.  Avoid overloading stakeholders during their busiest times and your change will get more time & attention.

  • How: Briefly describe the process stakeholders will need to go through the getready.  Is there training involved? What processes will change? Where do they go for help?
  • Where: Be up front about what locations, business units, groups and individuals are included and which are exempt from your change. In tight times, you don’t want to waste resources or create the need to circle back with those who are missing in action.
  • With What: Document the materials and the roles needed to pull off the work and who will fill each role. While resourcing is typically a part of project management, it can sink your change if it’s not addressed clearly and early.

What Alignment Doesn’t Mean

  • One person gets to unilaterally decide. Review the answers to these 7 questions with your key stakeholders, including executives and a sampling of managers, line workers, customers, unions, etc…  Be ready to explain and/or adjust your answers.
  • You’ll stay aligned. Expect that stuff will happen as the change unfolds that will force you to adjust plans.  Communicate clearly about the re-alignment and move on. Caveat: Be careful not to shift the entire foundation for your change too frequently or you could lose all momentum.
  • Everyone fully agrees. I’ve had plenty of clients who publicly agreed with the elements of alignment in the room and then drifted or allowed their people to undermine it outside the room… You may hear explanations like “I didn’t realize that we had agreed to that…” or “Things have changed since then.” It’s best to reaffirm alignment as a regular part of status reporting and risk/issue management for your change project.

Let it Roll: Establishing and maintaining alignment for your change may be the single most important factor in successfully implementing it.  Alignment will drive execution, resourcing, communication and just about every other aspect of the OCM work.  Get started on the right track and you’ll be rolling along…  Get it wrong and your change may be doomed before it leaves the station.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. What happens if you fail to align up front and try to do it in mid-project?
  2. Have you been involved in a change project where an alignment shift resulted in the whole thing going off track?

Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

5 Responses to “Success Factor #1: Alignment”

  1. No Plan, Epic Fail | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] change. Verify that they agree on the resource investments, expected results and time lines.  See my post on this topic from earlier in September for a synopsis of what constitutes alignment and how to get […]

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks for the analogy Joe! Maybe that’s why I keep ending up int he wrong place when I drive while texting?

  3. Joe says:

    For every single degree you fly off course, you will miss your target landing spot by 92 feet for every mile you fly…

    It sounds easy when there’s only one or two people in the cockpit, but alignment gets much more difficult when you have more people in your squad.

    Even worse is when a fraction of your teammates have irregular contact with upper management, and consistently are unaware as to which direction our project is heading!

  4. Steve says:

    As someone mentioned to me, maintaining alignement is easier if you steer around the potholes!

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