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.      


Planning – The Key To Execution

April 13, 2012

Planning – The Key To Execution I know that I keep banging on about Organisational Alignment but it’s fundamental to the execution of any business strategy.  If management cannot articulate where the organisation is now, its destination and the journey, how can everyone in the company play their role in getting there?

I was talking to a past client recently who runs a business network and he was saying that his members are planned out and any mention of strategic planning provokes reactions such as “not again – been there, done that!” or at best stifled yawns.  I’m sure that their reaction is due to the following …

  • They see strategic planning as looking at the future through rose coloured spectacles with little relevance to what they are focusing on tomorrow and next week
  • They have got over the novelty of creating mission and vision statements that didn’t seem to achieve much
  • They view planning and execution as two separate exercises
  • They’ve spent far too long debating what they want to do and far too little time  debating how they are going to do it
  • They have this view that strategic planning is something they do in the good times – in the tough times, the focus returns to the short term
  • The environment in which they operate is changing so rapidly that any strategic plan is bound to lose its currency as the assumptions on which it was based no longer hold true
  • They did their strategic plan “three years ago” and its not time for a review yet

Let’s take these points one by one.

Yes – one of the major mistakes made by strategic planners is that they do not graft the future onto the present.  The first priority of any strategic plan is to nut out how you can do better what you currently do.  Otherwise, you might not have a future.

Don’t worry about mission and vision statements – there are many more important things to consider.

The key to effective execution lies in the quality of the planning.  The seeds of success or failure in execution are sown the moment the planners sit down to plan.

Time spent assessing the implications of “this is what we are going to do” on every function within the organisation is frequently woefully inadequate.  As a consequence the barriers to execution continue to mount until the plan is quietly abandoned.

What is more important – having a plan for growth and good times or one for survival and tough times?  Does having a plan for survival make it any less of a plan?

If the assumptions on which your plan is based no longer hold true, then change the plan – don’t spit the dummy and abandon strategic planning.

If you had new tyres fitted to your car which the suppliers guaranteed for 60,000kms and you had two punctures after 20,000kms, would you drive around on flat tyres for another 40,000kms?

Organisational alignment is the first of the five requirements for effective execution.  Each one is dependent on the factors that precede it.  So what’s the first one – organisational alignment – dependent on?  The quality of strategic planning, of course.

So the logic runs like this.  You only get rewarded for what you do – your ability to execute.  The most fundamental requirement for successful execution is organisational alignment and that in turn is dependent on the quality of the planning.  Thus having a relevant up-dated and widely communicated strategic plan at all times is the basis of success.

Managing Change – A Case Study

January 19, 2012

Managing Change - A Case StudyIf it depresses me as an outsider to read of – and in some  instances experience – the impact of the current Qantas disputes, then I cannot  imagine how it must impact on the lives and families of those directly affected  by it.

I don’t wish to take sides – as I am quite certain that each  party has valid arguments to support their case – but I do want to take issue  with the Qantas management for their apparent reluctance to communicate with  their employees over the years that have preceded the present turmoil.

Over my career, I have had relatively little direct exposure  to industrial relations.  However, there  was one episode in the 1980’s that displayed many similarities with the present  Qantas dispute – namely a changing competitive and business environment, the  introduction of new technology, the out-sourcing of a critical service and a  union that felt that its power, influence and membership were under threat.

Read the full Case Study on the Plans To Reality Resource Centre

Employee Engagement Should Be The Result – Not The Focus

November 18, 2011

Employee Engagement Should Be The Result - Not The FocusIf I offered you one free ticket to a presentation given by acknowledged world authorities 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:

  • Teams and Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Management of change
  • Organisational alignment
  • Communication
  • Employee Engagement

I think it’s a fair bet to guess 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”

But if you really think about it, none of these topics are independent and free standing – they are all dependent variables – none more so than the last on the list Employee Engagement. How can you expect employees to have an “emotional attachment to their employer that inspires greater discretionary effort” if they are unsure of the organisation’s goals, lack an understanding of where the organisation is now and really don’t understand what their role is in achieving them?

So it’s possible to arrange these factors in a hierarchy of dependency with each factor dependent on the ones that came before. Here’s the order:

  • Organisational alignment
  • Management of Change
  • Leadership
  • Teams & Teamwork
  • Employee Engagement
  • Communication

On this basis, one might think that Organisational Alignment, being first on the list, is an independent variable. Not so! The quality of Organisational alignment is dependent on the quality of the strategic planning and unless you get the planning “right”, your ability to manage change, develop leadership across all management levels, exploit the benefits of teams and teamwork and engage your employees will be severely restricted.

The definition of Organisational Alignment that I use is:

  • Everyone understands where the organisation is now (the current reality)
  • Everyone understands the destination (overall goal) and the journey (broad strategies for achieving it)
  • Everyone understands their role in getting there

For the complete story on making it happen, see my book – Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen. It’s available on

Employee Engagement – Or Is It?

November 4, 2011

Employee Engagement - or is it?The definition that I use for Employee Engagement is that “it’s the employee’s emotional connection to an organisation that inspires greater discretionary effort”.  The significance of this definition is twofold. The first is that we are not talking about employees that just do their jobs, however efficiently.  We are talking about employees that go beyond the call of duty.  Secondly they do this out of loyalty to and appreciation of the quality of work life that their organisation provides.  So let me start by giving you an example of classic Employee Engagement.

Recently, I’ve become very conscious of the amazing come-back of Air New Zealand.  In 2002, Air New Zealand was on its knees after the Ansett debacle and few gave much hope for its survival as an independent airline.  In 2010, it was voted Airline of the Year.  It has one of the highest load factors of any airline in the world at 83.3% and in a market that is heavily dependent on tourism – and one would have thought low fares –  Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777 – 300ER’s have more premium seats than any other aircraft including A380’s.  Despite the natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan, the company’s net profit declined by 1%.

This remarkable turnaround has been led by their CEO Rob Fife.  Air New Zealand enjoys very high levels of Employee Engagement because it has clear goals and strategies to achieve them, excellent communication between all levels of management and staff and provides a fulfilling and fun place to work. Rob Fife relates this incident of Employee Engagement at work.

“I had an email from a mother of two young children.  She wrote:  “We were running late for a flight. The plane was fully boarded and our names had been called.  I was struggling with an eight month old and a three year old (plus luggage).  I ran down towards the check-in at the gate and was met by a gentle, smiling man who told me to relax and pass the baby and the bag to him.  He then led me down the aerobridge, chatting and asking about my day.  He didn’t stop at the door (I thought he was ground staff) – he took me and my girls onto the plane.  I said are you on this flight too?  And he told me he was actually the pilot.  His name is Brendan.  He had seen us running and me struggling with the girls and got out of his seat in the cockpit and walked out to meet me.  I was so touched.  He demonstrated what makes Air New Zealand so special. Go well and thank you again.  Kiri’

This is the real McCoy of Employee Engagement but my work with customer and employee surveys suggest that the display of discretionary effort may be due, not to the employee’s emotional connection to the organisation but to the customer or to self.  Let’s take emotional connection to the customer first.  Where people have a long term and close business relationship with a customer who clearly appreciates when they go the extra mile on their behalf, it is this relationship that inspires greater discretionary effort.

Other employees are driven in their desire to give 110% because they are ambitious or competitive or because it’s part of their genetic make-up.  One might question whether it matters, given that the benefit to the employer remains regardless of the motive.  I don’t buy that argument.

If the employer does not provide a work environment that encourages discretionary effort, it will ultimately lose its best and brightest employees to other
employers that do.

Do You Set The Example?

May 12, 2011

Is there anyone reading this blog who answers to no one but who runs an enterprise with more than 20 employees?  If you meet these two rare but simple criteria, you might like to refrain from reading the rest of this blog as I’m talking about you – and not always in glowing terms.

Implement | Plan Strategic | Implementing | Implementation plan | Implementation management | Strategy Implementation | Implementations | Implementation guide | Implementation processFor the majority of us, though, we are not at the top of the pecking order, but we do have others who respond to us and for whose performance and well-being we are held accountable.

Now here’s a strange thing.

We complain about the way we are treated by our superiors, but equally our subordinates complain about us!  And nine times out of ten, both ourselves and our subordinates are complaining about the same things!

What are they?

  1. Management do not adequately consider the detailed implications of their strategic plans to assess their realism and practicality
  2. Management do not explain the rationale behind the planned changes
  3. Management do not involve those charged with the strategy implementation at the strategic planning stage
  4. Management do not set clear realistic targets
  5. Communication and feedback is lacking at both the pre and post strategic planning stages
  6. When some aspect of the strategic plan is clearly not working as intended, it’s those charged with the strategy implementation that get the blame

I could go on but these are six of the most common.  Now, if lower management blames middle management, who in turn blame senior management, where does the buck stop?  With the CEO of course! And the most important role of the CEO? Contrary to what most people think, it’s not to get the strategy right – it’s to create the culture in the organisation necessary for effective execution.  And there is only one way to do that and that’s by example – personal example.

If you don’t consult and involve your fellow executives, you must expect them to commit the same omission with their own reports.  If you do not stress the importance of communication and feedback, your senior management won’t either.  If you take the view that only senior management need to be conversant with the Big Picture they will keep middle and lower management in the dark as well.  The CEO sets the tone.

What sort of organisation do you want to lead?  One that is beset with internal politics?  One where beating the internal competition takes precedence over winning against external rivals?  One where management at all levels bitches and complains about the lack of involvement and lack of communication?

Or do you want to lead an organisation that is aligned behind a common goal, one that exhibits a sense of community, one that truly values its employees and for whom people are happy to work?

Surely no one would want to lead the former?  Yet the former is all too common.  The reality is that in any market sector there are a limited number of strategies that the organisation can adopt.  The key to performance is strategy implementation.  I am reminded yet again of the Harvard Business Professor who asked his students – “what do hospitals do?”  His students responded – “they cure the sick”.  “No, nurses and doctors do that”, was the Professor’s counter response.  “The role of the hospital is to create the environment in which the best doctors and nurses want to work”.

What’s the environment like in your organisation?

Whatever Happened To Leadership?

November 26, 2009
I’m close to finishing the chapter on Leadership in my book “Plans to Reality” and the anecdotal evidence that I have gathered indicates to me that the standard of leadership, despite all that has been written and spoken on the subject, has actually declined.

I put it down to four factors.

  1. The first of these is the environment in which we live. The highly competitive environment that most organisations operate in, both externally and internally, is not conducive to the practice of leadership. Leadership, by definition, is a selfless exercise and the corporate world has become less selfless. Too many managers seem preoccupied with their own aggrandisement to devout much time to the interests and welfare of the people who respond to them. Of course, this does not make rational sense because one would think that time and effort devoted to leadership would pay off for the manager. He or she would be even more successful in serving his or her personal interests and ambitions.However, this line of logic fails to acknowledge the other three realities of modern corporate life.
  2. Firstly, most organisations operate for the short term – they want results NOW. They pay scant attention to the human cost in their achievement.
  3. Secondly, people’s tenures in the same managerial positions or the same organisations are so much shorter these days. Most are never around to reap what they sow. Based on evidence of short term results, they are promptly promoted or leave for pastures new. “Congratulations on reducing the headcount in your department by 5% – we would like you to replicate this – only by 10% – in that company that we have just bought”. Never mind that those with the greatest experience took the early retirement package and the most competent manager saw the writing on the wall and left to take up a position with your major rival.
  4. Lastly, people lack time and leadership – good leadership – takes up time. Faced with the choice between finishing that report or explaining to a staff member the reasons for a change in strategy, there are all too few who would opt for the latter. Finish the report on time and there’s the prospect of a few more brownie points being chalked up against your name. In contrast spending time keeping your staff “in on things”, listening to their views, involving them in decision-making – this is an investment in the future with no specific pay-back period. It does not attract the attention of the boss and wins no kudos in the short-term.

Despite the attraction of short term gains, the long term damage to an organisation can be very serious. For one, it rewards “technical” management skills more so than a person’s ability to lead people and instil qualities of leadership in others. It sets a precedent for the type of behaviour that the organisation encourages.

Plans to Reality - Whatever Happened To Leadership?When I hear of yet another example of incompetent leadership, I am always reminded of the story of advertising guru, David Olgilvy. He used to give every newly promoted office manager a Russian matryoshka doll. Inside the smallest one, the manager would find the following message. “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants”.

It takes courage and leadership to hire people who are bigger than we are.

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