Blog: Leading & Living Courageously

4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

Most leaders believe that it takes between six and 12 months, or longer, to develop a strategy. They mistakenly think that the criteria for a meaningful strategy are the amount of research and market analysis that goes into it, and the time spent vetting it with experts.

But our observation is that how well communicated a strategy is, is far more important than how logical or well researched it is. The effectiveness of any strategy is directly proportional to the level of ownership, commitment and accountability among the executive team. A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it, possess.

Here are the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment.

Step one: Do a commitment audit and tell the truth about the current levels of ownership, commitment and accountability within the organization. Ask people to be blunt about the degree to which they understand – and believe in – your current strategic plan.

Step two: Craft a bold and compelling future. Help your leadership team roll the clock forward two to three years from now. What is a clear, concise and well-articulated 15- to 20-word statement that describes what you are committed to building as an organization?

Step three: Define your specific success criteria. What are the three, four or five key measurable outcomes that will let you know you have reached that future state?

Step four: Get everyone on board with these. This means cascading the process through the ranks of management, sharing the content of the strategy with all levels of staff and listening to and addressing issues of competence, sincerity and courage.

Remember, the issue is not, “What is the right solution?” but, “What will people buy into, take ownership for, believe in and commit to?” When staff buy into a strategy, it’s because they trust their leaders are telling the truth about the need for it, they believe that their leaders have the courage and resolve to address the real issues, and they have faith their leaders are competent to do what needs to be done in order to implement the strategy.

On top of this, when staff feel cared for, concerned about and respected, they will naturally support and contribute to the strategy being realized.

How much buy-in do you have for your current company strategy? We would love to hear your comments.

26 Responses to 4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

  1. Sunny Nelson says:

    I really like that you mentioned measurement here. There are best practices for executing strategy that include cascading of business plans or scorecards, robust improvement methodologies, structured business reviews, and related approaches that change culture and ensure accountability. So undervalued.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      There are many best practices which can be studied and incorporated into strategic planning processes. Our primary claim, however, is that total ownership and alignment will compensate for mediocre processes, but the reverse is not necessarily the case. We’ve seen too many elegant, tightly-managed processes corrupted by distrust, politics and other related dysfunctional dynamics. People who don’t trust each other can still show up to meetings on time – they simply won’t achieve anything of consequence as their attention is focused on protecting their own turf or one-upping a colleague. Obviously this is leadership at its worst, but it’s not that uncommon.

  2. Francis says:

    Here’s a thought. Sometimes the message is best coming from an objective third party who has used a system like they may be considering and who can confidently and enthusiastically cite example after example of how it was used to change organizational results dramatically in similar organizations. At the same time, the senior leaders must be shown, at least at a high level, the best practice methodology that will be used and how it differs from what they are currently doing.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Third party testimonials are useful – however the senior leaders must take full ownership and accountability for whatever process is employed, and for the strategic choices that emanate from that process. Otherwise you end up with a situation where the external party gets blamed when things go awry – which they always do when you leave the board room and encounter real-world situations.

  3. Roberta Jo Lieberman says:

    Don’t just think of these excellent tips as self-improving. Educate and train your team on how to develop a buy-in strategy, and how to effectively create buy-in inside and outside of your organization.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Well said – this principles are valid at all levels of and organization, and with customers and suppliers as well.

  4. Shootmaster_44 says:

    “A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it possess.” – that’s agreat quote. Great post.

  5. Stephen says:

    Very insightful. Who created the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment?

    • Josh Leibner says:

      We’ve developed and refined these steps over the course of working with dozens of leadership teams over the last 25 years. Too often we find the strategy setting process far too complicated and over-focused on content – “let’s get the analysis perfect and we’ll be all set.” Unfortunately – as we state above – this overlooks the primary ingredient in success, which is “Is anyone fully on the hook for making this happen, and are we all totally committed to it’s success?” Simple, but not necessarily easy.

  6. Alexandra Christman says:

    These steps require top management to embrace these methodologies, and to communicate their principles as a permanent transformation throughout the organization. Not an easy task…

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Totally agree – but well worth the effort as we all have seen. Requires courage, tenacity, discipline and passion.

  7. David Williams says:

    Since I’ve seen plenty of leaders who don’t step up to drive strategy execution. Good post and valuable content for some of my previous coleagues.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Unfortunately this is more common than one would think. It’s remarkable how pervasive dysfunctional behavior is within organizations.

  8. Patrick says:

    Leadership buy-in is really the essential piece. Without it, nothing within a culture will truly change and it will continue to be “Business As Usual”.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      It all emanates from the leadership team – unfortunately we’ve seen senior management teams that had more investment in their own personal bonuses, or turf, or reputation than in the success of the organization. Everyone feels that, and emulates it. Tragic.

  9. Scott Vaughan says:

    Don’t forget to look to your consumers. Ask yourself how you want your company to be perceived by your customers. Then, ask yourself what you are actually doing. If there is a disconnect somewhere, fix the problems and always think of how your operations appear from the customer’s viewpoint.

    Read more: Steps to Defining a CRM Strategy |

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Great advice – if you think you have the greatest product, service, angle or widget – but no one is buying it, then something is missing. Start by listening hard to what current and potential customers what, and then figure out how to provide it. Sometimes – like with the iPad – you have to listen not to what they’re saying, but what their behavior is indicating. If you can provide something they’re not explicitly asking for, and then make it essential, you’re sailing.

  10. The Soft Hammer says:

    Buy-in is just a buzzword for getting your team members on the same page. Pure and simple. Think of it this way when putting a plan together.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Agree – whatever language you use for total alignment and engagement is fine, so long as people end up knowing where you’re headed, why, and what they need to do to get there.

  11. Momo says:

    I think you touched exactly where a company’s management strategy might be a little weak — in the planning area. There are those areas in your business you have to let go of, retreat from, and take resources away from to implement your new strategy. Balance is the key.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Balance, focus, and passion – one cannot be passionate about 28 priorities – it simply doesn’t make sense. You’re absolutely right.

  12. DewDrop says:

    Loving step number 3. As an analyst, if a KPI is going to be of any value, there must be a target and a way to accurately quantify it.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Too many organizations have 28 priorities, or 16 guiding principles, or 35 KPI’s – way too many, way too confusing. These end up paralyzing rather than galvanizing people.

  13. Bill Marlow says:

    I agree. My single most important highlight is always the need for a sound and compelling strategy that differentiates an organization.

    • Josh Leibner says:

      Thanks for the comment – unfortunately many organizations have bumper sticker, platitudinal vision statements that fail to drive coherent, breakthrough actions. Leaders need to ensure people know where they are headed, why, and how they are going to win.

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