Avoid the Risks of a Misaligned Organization

3 Questions Every Leader Must Ask

There’s no better time to be in business.

Just a generation ago, if a startup eventually grew to be valued at $100 million, it would have most likely required several MBAs, at least twenty years of hard work, grit and perseverance, a minimum of a few dozen employees, the right timing, and a generous amount of luck.

However, in 2016, graduate business schools are having a hard time filling their classrooms, teenagers are writing code in lieu of college essays, and venture capitalists are pouring money into startups — some of which are valued at $100 million only months after closing their funding rounds.

Talk of the bubble aside, the reality is that the trend of audiences and investors searching for the next big thing will continue. And of course, this will only grow the digital economy and advance innovations in how we communicate. But with these constant changes continuing to disrupt the way people access and share information in an already interconnected, always-on world, it has become increasingly difficult for leaders, regardless of industry, to keep up, adapt and grow with confidence. These changes not only affect the way we think about the world, but how we react and plan for it.

As a result, organizations are now facing a new reality: There’s no more uncertain time to be in business.

Consider a major retail company whose stock price was singlehandedly driven down by a disgruntled customer’s online comments.

Or a storied, consistently top-ranked NCAA football program, known for its excellence both on and off the field, that, seemingly overnight, had its reputation tarnished and future in doubt.

Or the respected oil company that experienced a pattern of work-related injuries to its employees and is now on the verge of bankruptcy.

These outcomes may seem unrelated, but they are strikingly similar. Each situation could have been avoided. These companies failed to adhere to some of the most basic principles of success. They didn’t stay true to who they were, they lacked focus on their strategic goals, and they prioritized sales over safety and growth. In other words, they were out of alignment. They lacked organizational clarity.

So how could these companies have avoided these mistakes? By asking three questions.

The logic behind this is simple, and it certainly isn’t brain surgery. But it is a science. One that we’ve developed over the last 15 years — through our comprehensive research and interactive workshops — that underscores the importance of not just answering the questions, but focusing on how the questions are asked and answered and who is asking and answering them.

At Deutser, we take a holistic view of these three questions. We ensure that every client team includes a cultural anthropologist, organizational psychologist, digital strategist, business consultant, and graphic designer. Each of their unique backgrounds contributes to strategically framing these questions and evaluating the answers, providing more depth and insight to the data. The data prove valuable when those who answer the questions are from every level — not just the executives who are emotionally connected to the brand and less likely to objectively analyze the organization.

WHO ARE WE?

Answering this question relates to an organization’s identity. This is comprised of three elements: characteristics, purpose and values. A characteristic is what is central, enduring and distinct about the organization. It is what is perceived by employees, regardless of changes in the environment. It is what gives the company life. Purpose is why an organization exists; the glue that binds people together in common cause, answering the question: Why do we do what we do? Values are the team’s motivators — the beliefs that your employees hold in common and result in a shared sense of direction and motivation.

WHAT DO WE DO?

This is the strategic plan of the organization. It involves having a formalized road map of what the company is trying to achieve at its highest level. Within this journey are clearly articulated strategic imperatives that act as guideposts. Leaders must take a balanced approach by focusing on four key perspectives: learning and growth, systems and processes, customer/stakeholder, and finance.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

By establishing a clearly-defined enterprise behavioral competency model, an organization can create a tangible link between its identity and strategy. Behavioral competencies describe the persistent behaviors associated with effective performance. By standardizing key behaviors, you are able to align and improve your talent management capabilities, ultimately creating alignment of your workforce to your strategy and improving your capacity for reliable business execution.

OUTCOMES WITH IMPACT

Below is an example of how one of our energy clients answered these three questions. It may look clean and simple, but it involved many hours and dozens of people spending significant time and energy discussing, soul-searching and collaborating. What resulted was an aligned organization, emboldened and more prepared to face uncertainty head-on.

STRIVE FOR CLARITY

By no means are these three questions a guarantee for improved performance. But in the haste to hire the right people, build the best product and generate the most revenue, many leaders are too overworked and overwhelmed to stop and take an inside-out view of their company to determine (and often discover) how misaligned they are. Getting rid of a few bad apples in an organization is often not the solution — since they may have been created from a much more systemic problem within the company. And rebranding as a means to a fresh start is not always the best option. We all know that there are many great-looking companies whose outward perceptions belie their dysfunctional culture. And in the age of Yelp, Glassdoor and Snapchat, it won’t be long until the world exposes that contrast.

Regardless of how much your revenues have increased, how high your stock has risen, or how qualified your workforce is, a profitable organization is not always an aligned organization. And just because your organization is aligned doesn’t necessarily mean you will be profitable. But if you commit to working through the process of finding clarity, you’ll have a much better shot at protecting and building a unique brand with a solid foundation that can thrive for generations.

You may not have the valuation of the next big social media startups, but you’ll have a decent shot at outlasting them.

To learn more about our approach to driving performance for organizations, please visit Deutser.com.