Principle-Centered Leadership

by Stephen R. Covey

People throughout your organization must
share a clear understanding of their mission and values.

Organizational Alignment

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 work together.

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 needs.

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 exhilarating.

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 People.
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) 553-8889.