In over twenty years working with and facilitating leaders and teams engaged in visioning and strategic planning, I have found that there are three key impediments to the alignment to brand intention. They appear at the highest levels of leadership and can be found throughout a company. In one form or another, they impede alignment and performance.
Agreement on brand intention
The first obstacle occurs when a company’s leaders, because of their experiences, do not agree about the brand intention that will best serve the customer. It’s not that there are too many chefs in the kitchen. It’s that each chef wants to cook his or her favorite dish.
While this can often be the case for a new group trying to evaluate and make a decision about what path to customer satisfaction to pursue, it can also affect an experienced group. Often, even with a group of seasoned and experienced leaders, I can be surprised at the level of disconnect and misalignment when it comes to clearly defining what they believe is in the best interest of the customer and the company.
Leaders want to do what they believe is competent and right. That doesn’t mean they will always be in alignment.
Typically, the opposite is true. Because each member of a leadership team has his or her own set of experiences, they have different interpretations of what works and what doesn’t. After all, if history is a good indication of what will happen and a predictor of future success, it is natural for people to pursue opportunities based on what was successful before. As a result, it’s not unusual for each member of the team to try to convince the others that his or her desired direction is the best one.
The second obstacle to alignment is personal preference. As individuals, we all have a natural preference toward one of the three customer motivations and, therefore, will likely favor one brand intention over another. Underlying this is the desire to treat others in the way that we want, and expect, to be treated.
For example, one partner in the business has a preference for receiving attention. As a result, he advocates for the brand intention of customization, which aligns to preference. He believes the best way to build the business is to build relationships with customers and offer customized products that the customer is willing to pay more for. Based on his preference, he believes that the best course is to pursue a steady pace of growth while targeting higher margins.
Another member of the team prefers competency and advocates a strategic direction toward low price. Rather than taking a personal approach to the customer, she believes the shopper can be better attracted through discounted pricing. So, she advocates for building the business by gaining market share. She believes it is better to lead customers than be led by them. Because it is more in alignment with her preference for competency and control, she tries to persuade the other team members to pursue the brand intention of low price. She advocates a vision for the company that is anchored in and aligned to quickly building sales volume, taking market share, and operating as efficiently and effectively as possible to maintain lower margins of profitability and win by competing through price.
The purpose of this example is not to advocate for one or the other. It is to provide insight into how easily our preferences are communicated and how easily we allow our preferences, and ultimately our emotions, to guide our thinking and influence our decision-making.
Scenarios like this one are fairly common.
Depending on a team’s or leader’s chosen methodology, a group may engage in a competitive analysis, an assessment of market trends and variables, an opportunity and threat analysis, or a number of other processes that allow for the collection and analysis of information to incorporate and guide the strategic planning and decision-making process.
Finding the right approach is important. Making certain that everyone involved is aligned to the process is as well.
A team can easily find itself in a conversation or debate headed toward an outcome that reflects less of what may be in the shared best interest of the business and more of a contest over whose personal preference comes out on top.
The third obstacle is insecure egos. Every so often members of a team, or the leader, will advocate a direction or make a decision that does not align with what is in the best interest of the business. They want things their way or they may set out to prove that they are the smartest person in the room, regardless of the consequences to the business. They will sometimes set out to prove they can win the argument. It may be the result of a long-standing struggle or conflict with another member or an ongoing debate among multiple members. It can also be the result of partners disagreeing or a long-standing conflict between them.
In such instances, other team members can easily disengage, become disinterested, or decide they don’t want to participate in the argument and eventually acquiesce. Often, this results in members pursuing their own personal preferences by heading in the direction that delivers the best individual gain and shows little or no concern for alignment.
When leaders or members of a team act out of insecurity, they often abandon the pursuit of alignment and what is in the best interest of the customer. This can create challenges that are difficult to overcome and may cause misalignments that take a long time to recover from and result in time-consuming issues, unnecessary conflict, and dissatisfied customers.
Ultimately, a company’s success depends on the ability of its leaders to come into alignment and engage the remaining members in the process.
As a company grows and expands, its ability to align will be a key influence on its success.
To do this effectively, leadership must create a clear vision and strategies that create alignment at the organization and group level. These must then be clearly conveyed and further manifested in the roles, expectations, and goals of every member of the business. Studies show that all too often employees are disengaged and do not feel connected enough to the organization and its vision, strategies, and goals. These are symptoms of misalignment.
Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org