Organisational Alignment – the universal foundation of enterprise success

November 5, 2015

GeeseIf I offered you one free ticket to a presentation given by an acknowledged world authority on each of the following topics, which presentation would you opt to attend? Remember, you can only go to one of them. The choices are:

I think it’s a fair bet that you didn’t choose Organisational Alignment – not really sexy, is it? No doubt you’ve said to yourself at some stage or other – “I wish my employees were more engaged” or “we need to manage change much better than we do” or “our teams program seems to be running out of steam” but I doubt if you have ever said – “We need much greater organisational alignment”

Yet without organisational alignment every other success factor suffers and the organisation’s ability to bring the enterprise strategy to fruition will fail.

Most observers regard Organisational Alignment as something that relates only to the employees of an organisation. They use a three part definition as follows.

■          Everyone understands where the organisation is now (current reality)

■          Everyone understands the destination (goal) and the journey (strategies to get there)

■          Everyone understands their role in getting there

Enterprise Alignment precedes Organisational Alignment

However before the staff of an organisation can be aligned, the organisation itself needs to be aligned as well. Management has to determine the current reality; management has to agree an overall goal; management has to develop the strategies to achieve it and, lastly management must allocate responsibilities to everyone in the organisation so each may play their role in its implementation. And at the core of this whole exercise is a matching process – let’s call it Enterprise Alignment. It’s the matching of the current and future trends and characteristics of the organisation’s external environment in which it operates with its current and future resources and expertise.

In short Enterprise Alignment is a prerequisite to Organisational Alignment.

Let me illustrate this with two examples. The first involves skeins of migrating geese so beloved by management consultants as exemplars of teamwork. It’s a powerful, emotive analogy but the basis of their performance and subsequent teamwork is Organisational Alignment. The geese can only demonstrate the essence of teamwork because the members of the skein agree where they are now, share a common objective, know the direction in which they need to fly and understand the roles each need to play when the skein is in flight. Even more fundamentally, the need to migrate from A to B at particular times of the year is hard wired into geese. Yet such is their sensitivity to short term climatic change, they will alter both the timing of their migrations and their route according to climatic conditions. This is their version of Enterprise Alignment.

The second example also concerns flight – namely the Boeing 787-9’s recently ordered by Qantas as a key strategy in the rejuvenation of their International division. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce set three criteria as prerequisites for ordering Boeing’s Dreamliner – Qantas International had to be returned to a position of sustainable profitability; the Company had to be capable of paying down its $1 billion of debt and the Qantas long-haul pilots union had to accept changes to the terms and conditions of their employment. The reason for the selection of the -9 variant of the B787 is simple. Its long range – Qantas are investigating non-stop flights from Australia to London – provides Qantas with a resource that matches the trends in international air travel.

Now the fact that Qantas made a Profit Before Tax of $975 million in the 2014/15 Financial Year is clear evidence that Joyce has achieved Enterprise Alignment. The task that has already successfully begun is to develop greater Organisational Alignment to provide the internal environment in which change can be achieved without the sort of industrial conflict that led to the grounding of Qantas in October 2011.

An agreement between Qantas and the long-haul pilots union has now been struck which is a perfect illustration of Organisational Alignment at its most productive.

Everyone understands where the organisation is now

This is what Qantas pilot and president of the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA) – Nathan Safe had to say about the negotiations over the new agreement. “These changes (to the then current agreement) have been based around building a viable business case for the type of ultra long-range flying capable of being performed by the 787. We have been pleased with the quality and tone of the negotiations …….. and we note the unprecedented level of transparency and sharing of commercially relevant information”. Note the word “unprecedented”. Sharing commercially relevant information was not a hallmark of the previous CEO, Geoff Dixon.

Everyone understands the destination and the journey

Much of the agreement between Qantas and the AIPA remains under wraps because to make it public would have given too much away to Qantas’ competitors. However, with Alan Joyce’s background in scheduling and network planning, one can rest assured that the destination and the journey have been clearly defined and shared with the pilots.

Everyone understands their role in getting there

Building the commercial case for buying and operating the B787 was not solely dependent on securing the cooperation and support of AIPA members. Everyone from baggage handlers and cabin crew to aircraft maintenance engineers have bought into the plan by signing new agreements on the terms and conditions of their employment. Having suffered all the pain of recent years, everyone in Qantas International understands the significance of the B787-9 purchase in placing Qantas on the offensive once again and no one wants to jeopardise its success and the beneficial impact that that would have on job security and career opportunities.

In my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” I refrained from claiming that any aspect of implementation was ‘the most critical’.

I’ve changed my mind.

Without alignment of the enterprise with its external environment and of the employees within the enterprise, no organisation of any shape, size or form can fulfil its potential. So before you rush off to sign up to some program on employee engagement, effective communication, change management or leadership, you need to ask yourself a simple question. Is our organisation aligned? And if it ain’t, no amount of training in the aforementioned skills will make an iota of difference. It’s doomed to failure.


Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.      

Implementation – what universities don’t teach – and won’t? – and can’t? – and should!

November 5, 2015

untitledI’m a bit of a bower bird when it comes to quotations and one that I have always treasured is by 19th Century reformer, essayist, critic, artist – John Ruskin. “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is, in the end of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do”.

The ability to get things done – to make it happen – is the quality that most distinguishes great managers from those that merely bear the title as descriptive of the role they are charged to perform. Great managers are rare – so rare in fact that the best of them end up being feted by their peers, honoured by their governments and writing their memoirs.

Given that the ability to execute is the ultimate worth of a manager, one would think that execution would find a place in any university degree program, particularly those programs that have an emphasis on management or HR. Instead what we find is a modular program structure where each topic or subject is a self-contained unit. This modularity facilitates program reviews as units that are thought to have passed their use-by dates can be unplugged and new units inserted. The great majority of these units relate to the technicalities of the subject studied. I have no problem with this. After all, if I employ an IT specialist or a chemist or if I use the services of an Occupational Therapist, then my first requirement is that those people have a technical grasp of the discipline that they have chosen to study.

BUT … if our salesman or brand manager or accountant is any good at his or her job, inevitably they will either be promoted or, if promotion is denied them, seek employment with another employer to further their career. Quite suddenly, the emphasis of their job and the skill set they need to perform it, changes. The hard technical skills become less important than the soft people skills. The key to their success in managerial positions lies in their ability – to quote Dwight Eisenhower – “to get someone else to do what you want because he wants to do it”. It’s still necessary to do the right thing – but hopefully the technical skills will take care of that – the challenge is to do it right – and make it happen.

Conventional wisdom has it that such managerial and leadership skills are learned on the job from your supervisor or manager. I would argue that the current work environment is not conducive to this happening. My anecdotal experience is that the standards of people management are in decline. So shouldn’t it be taught at university? By “it” I don’t mean a unit on teamwork or one on leadership or another on change management – I mean a unit on execution from whoa to go that incorporates all aspects of making it happen. Yet there seems great reluctance on the part of academics to even consider such a unit.

A couple of years ago, I gave a 20 minute presentation on this subject to the members of a Commerce Advisory Board at the University’s Faculty of Business and Law. At its end, despite the fact that no one argued against my hypothesis or questioned any aspect of the hand-outs that were given, there was not even a reference to my presentation in the subsequent minutes of the meeting! Was this an oversight or was it a deliberate attempt to bury the topic?

I suspect it was the latter because I subsequently wrote an article entitled “The Human Side of Planning” in which I claimed that the seeds of success or failure to implement were sown the moment the planners sat down to plan. The article was submitted to the Editor – himself an academic – of an international journal on management. I quote from the email of rejection.

It’s very interesting, but not suitable for an academic journal. Academic journal papers are based on a different approach and have a different objective. Academic papers focus on making small and highly focused extensions to existing knowledge on one very clearly defined issue – either through testing or proposing relationships which are generated from multidimensional perspectives. Academic papers move along fairly linear lines to develop theory in incremental stages and are very clinical.”

The reviewer went on to say that Your article, however, is more holistic and extensive and is more appropriate for a practitioner audience (who would be interested in this type of perspective)”. When I asked another academic whether he would consider using my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” as a reference for his students, his response was that he couldn’t do this because of the lack of references to other publications. In reality the book has over 50 references but the majority are to people who have been there and done that – or haven’t done that – not to academic research programs. I can only conclude that academics won’t contemplate the inclusion of a unit on execution.

But even if they did, I have doubts as to their ability to develop such a unit. As the reviewer of my article said, the subject matter “is more holistic and extensive” and thus by inference would not be of interest to academics. And I only wrote about a small part of the overall topic! Nevertheless, if the subject matter is not of academic interest, it seems a fair conclusion to make that academics would have great difficulty in developing a unit on this topic. I’m not suggesting that no academics have the ability to appreciate the inter-connectivity of our existence or the ability to weave topics and issues into a cohesive tapestry but the trouble is, they’re all on television making documentary series!

I appreciate that some universities now promote “personal edge” and “capstone” courses but again I would argue that these are still stand alone and rely on the student’s own capacity to see any connections between them. Great execution is a process and, like any process, a) the steps to it are in a specific sequence and b) they can be learned. Still, one might hope that units on team dynamics, interpersonal skills and the adoption of a global mindset might enhance a graduate’s ability at execution. This is not the case. There are too many factors in the current organisational environment that militate against great execution. Change is too frequent; competition between employees is intense; job security is a thing of the past; tenure in the one position has become shorter and shorter – and all these factors develop a “me” rather than “we” mentality. And yet the great achievers, when asked about the reasons for their ability to make things happen, all give credit to the employees they manage. “It was a team effort” is the almost inevitable comment.

It seems to me to be a sad state of affairs that an understanding of what’s involved in developing plans and bringing them successfully to fruition through others is not part of the academic curricula. The reality is that as the work environment becomes ever more hostile to great execution, the need for managers who understand how to make it happen becomes ever more pressing.

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.                       

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