by Stephen R. Covey
People throughout your organization must
share a clear understanding of their mission and values.
In the future, systems reengineering will not be enough. Excellent customer
service will not be enough. Manufacturing defect-free products to specifications
will not be enough. The future is now.
The enduring, empowering high-performance organization of the future will
require total organizational alignment to foster innovation, nurture continuous
improvement and sustain total quality results. Leaders, managers and employees
at every level will need a holistic, integrated paradigm of what your organization
is all about, the dynamic environment in which it operates and an accurate
understanding of how all the complex elements of your organizational ecosystem
The principle of alignment means working together in harmony, going in
the same direction, supporting each other. Total organizational alignment
means that within the realities of the surrounding environment, all components
of your organization-including your mission, vision, values, strategy, structure,
systems, individual style and skills, and especially the minds and hearts
of your people-support and work together effectively for maximum performance.
It is a process that never ends.
It begins with people throughout your organization sharing a clear understanding
of and commitment to their joint mission (core purpose, primary reason for
existing), vision (long-term future state and objectives) and values (what
your enterprise truly believes in, what is really important). It is your
people living the mission and values, and their commitment to achieving
the vision, that drives high performance and sustains total quality. When
individuals clearly understand the "big picture" purpose and future
of your organization, identify the core values that it professes and supports
in practice, and then embrace those commitments as their own, the foundation
is laid upon which your high-performance culture is built.
Alignment also requires that people understand the nature and effect of
the dynamic world that affects them, particularly customer needs, competitive
pressures and economic influences. They understand the key strategic goals
and strategic action plans of your organization in relation to the changing
environment and your stable mission. They understand how their own role
fits within your strategy and is vital to filling customer and other stakeholder
Your organizational structure is both effective and efficient in supporting
the strategy. It reflects your values and mission. If creative synergy and
interdependence are important, for instance, your structure is open and
integrated; your support of teams and teamwork is real. Your systems-communication,
information, compensation, training and education, hiring, promotion, decision
making and others-serve to oper-ationalize your mission and values; they
facilitate fulfilling the strategy.
Total organizational alignment requires senior executives, middle managers,
line supervisors and employees-everyone-to interact with a style that reflects
the values and mission of your organization. Leadership is influence, and
we influence by modeling, mentoring and teaching-walking our talk. If your
organizational values include such principles as the worth of people and
the need for cooperative synergy, be sure that you practice habits of seeking
win-win mutual benefit, seeking first to understand in communications and
a willingness to consider contrary opinions in the spirit of genuine synergy.
Trust bonds management to labor, employees to each other, customers to
supplier, and strengthens all other stakeholder relationships. With low
trust, developing high performance is exhausting. With high trust, it is
Alignment develops the organizational trustworthiness required for trust.
And if personal trustworthiness and interpersonal trust are to mature, hiring,
promotion, training and other systems must foster character development
as well as competence.
Continuous alignment requires ongoing 360° feedback from all key stakeholders-not
only from customers and employees, but also from suppliers, owners, distributors,
the community and others. For all the right parties, this feedback must
be consistently gathered and distributed, honestly analyzed and evaluated,
and utilized for better decision making at all levels of your business.
Within your organization, applying the principle of alignment never ends.
Your strategy must constantly adapt to the changing realities of the environment
and stakeholder needs.
About the author . . .
Stephen R. Covey is chairman of the Covey Leadership Center and
author of Principle-Centered Leadership and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective
Keith A. Gulledge is vice president and senior consultant with Covey Leadership
Center's Professional Resource Group.
© 1996 Covey Leadership Center. For more information, telephone (800)