It’s ongoing work that’s so worth it.
A few years ago, we started working with a CEO who had only been in the role for a few years. They wanted to implement a professional development program that would thrust the organization forward, strategically and culturally. It was time to unshackle the organization from its sleepy history.
This metrics-driven CEO liked the comprehensive nature of our Organization Alignment Assessment. The OAA allowed staff and the leadership team to see on an easy-to-understand dashboard the entire staff’s assessment of the infrastructure’s capacity, the culture’s temperature, and the team’s buy-in to the strategic direction. Moreover, it showed how staff felt about the required pace to fulfill that vision.
Historically, the organization’s leaders had focused on enlivening the culture to motivate staff. They thought that injecting fun and positivity was the best means to their business ends. The OAA’s results showed that motivation was not the most pertinent focal point.
Instead, the assessment showed that the morale (and everything that comes with it) of the leadership team was affecting the refinement of procedures, communication standards and even member service. The OAA’s visual demonstration of the data and ease of navigation allowed the leadership team to zero in on revelations that stung but were helpful to know:
- 50% of the leadership team did not feel that the staff was one cohesive team.
- 0% agreed or strongly agreed that they could depend on other departments to cross-functionally collaborate effectively (the lowest score we have in our database).
- 55% of them only somewhat agreed with them being a great team member and contributing to their team’s success.
- 22% felt strongly that they knew where and how to become better informed about organizational changes.
- 0% strongly agreed and 44% disagreed that they had a firm grasp of their target market.
- 44% somewhat or strongly disagreed that empowerment was structured so “we can do what we need to do.”
These were not results anyone wanted, but they were empowering to learn. The team walked away sobered but with an increased resolve to focus on management alignment; they needed to get this right. If not, the organization’s prospects would be bleak.
The team declared a shared commitment to be accountable, initiate the hard conversations and be open to them as they came their way. The team standardized several actions, sequestering themselves for two days a month for an entire year to cultivate their strategic perspective, define the organization’s objectives, and develop a comprehensive, but most importantly team-embraced, strategic plan. Management alignment is not a switch you flip. It takes consistent work.
The leadership team members needed to embody alignment before they started preaching the same to the staff. What leaders consistently demonstrate, others will model. The strategic framework we developed was baked into every conversation and all strategies were framed against the short- and long-term shared priorities. Leaders began to forgo their initially proposed timelines and requested resources to support other areas’ priorities because it furthered the organization’s priorities faster.
After a year of hard and consistent work, the CEO was ready to measure progress and asked to redeploy the OAA. The results were astounding!
The leadership team’s scores were cause for celebration. The team felt validation for the intense work they had done. On average, there was an overall 15% increase with these highlights:
- 36% increase in the team feeling like one cohesive team.
- 51% increase in feeling like they could depend on other departments to cross-functionally collaborate really well together
- 10% increase in feeling like they are a great team member and contribute to their team’s success
- 29% increase in feeling like they know where and how to become better informed about organizational changes
- 33% increase in feeling like they have a firm grasp of the target market
- 40% better score on the organization’s structure of empowerment (no one even slightly disagreed)
When broken down by major pillars measured, the leadership team’s strategy development and deployment score increased by 22%. As a reminder, they initially were focused on culture for the staff. They ended up focused on strategy, and that brought the culture score up 13%.
Next on the CEO’s and leadership team’s list is to translate that strategy and individual accountability to the staff. The way each area of the credit union will get there will be customized for that group, but include lots of cross-functional interaction. The next year’s OAA results will be exciting to watch for!
Leadership Alignment for the Board
To close this out, we want to direct the reader’s attention to another strategic consequence, positive or negative, of alignment. Boards can sense executive team alignment, and it informs their interaction and questions. When a senior team is well-aligned, they have covered as many angles as possible and presented the summation of the trajectory, the obstacles and the potential unintended consequences of a possible strategy. When the head of marketing regularly talks with the capital planner and the technology leader often connects with the chief lender, the board feels a different level of comfort. When the retail lead speaks just about retail, and risk management only speaks about risk, it evokes a degree of discomfort, unconsciously or consciously, with any trajectory the management “team” is proposing.
Please note, alignment is not about moving the numbers in your assessment. It is about enhancing strategic alignment for the sake of more precise execution. It is about elevating the skill sets of your organization’s leadership so no matter the challenge, they’ll tackle it in an aligned fashion. All of this takes rigorous and consistent work. The charge of leaders, all leaders, is to make it happen.
Peter Myers is SVP of CUESolutions provider and Advancing Women sponsor DDJ Myers, an ALM First company. DDJ Myers has been working with credit unions in a professional development capacity since 1989. The company has won awards for our innovative and impactful work across the country with organizations of all shapes and sizes. As part of its CEO succession planning process, executive search work, or strategy development and deployment programs, DDJ Myers deploys its organization alignment assessment, an instrument that provides stakeholders actionable insights about the organization’s strategic alignment and optimal readiness for future actions. The OAA has collected thousands of responses, so the data can now be considered across a variety of factors, including organization level, departments, tenure, race/ethnicity, and gender.