There’s no better time to be in business. Just a generation ago, if a start-up eventually grew to be valued at $100 million, it would have most likely required several MBAs, at least 20 years of hard work, grit, perseverance, a minimum of a few dozen employees, the right timing, and a generous amount of luck.
However, in 2018, graduate business schools are having a hard time filling their classrooms, teenagers are writing code in lieu of college essays, and venture capitalists are pouring money into start-ups — some of which are valued at $100 million only months after closing their funding rounds.
The reality is that the trend of savvy entrepreneurs and spirited investors searching for the next big thing will continue. And of course, this will only grow the digital economy and advance innovations in how we communicate. But with these constant changes disrupting the way people access and share information in an already interconnected, always-on world, it has become increasingly difficult for leaders, regardless of industry, to keep up, adapt, and grow with confidence. When we are in clarity, we both understand and accept that change is a constant state, but the rapid rate of change today compels us to reexamine the way we think about the world, along with how we react and plan for it.
As a result, organizations are now facing a new reality: there is a no more uncertain or challenging time to be in business. And, without clarity, there is no road map to effectively and consistently achieve success.
Consider a major retail company whose stock price was single-handedly driven down by a disgruntled customer’s online comments. Or a storied, consistently top-ranked NCAA football program, known for its excellence both on and off the field, that, seemingly overnight through a series of grossly mishandled campus issues, had its reputation tarnished and future placed in doubt. Or, think about the respected oil company that experienced a pattern of work-related injuries to its employees that thrust it into the brink of bankruptcy.
Each organization faced its own clarity conundrum, and while these situations may seem unrelated, they are strikingly similar. Each situation could have been avoided. These companies failed to adhere to some of the most basic principles of clarity. They didn’t stay true to who they were, they lacked focus on their strategic goals, their attention to tending the environment was weak or absent, and they prioritized sales over safety and growth. They lacked organizational clarity. So how could these companies have avoided these mistakes? It starts with three questions:
The logic behind this is simple, and it certainly isn’t brain surgery. But it is a science. Our work and research underscore the importance of not just answering these three questions, but focusing on how and when these questions are asked and answered, and who is asking and answering them.
These questions are at the core of recognizing misalignments that affect culture, strategy, and even an organization’s existence. Why is uncertainty so closely linked to misalignment? Because misalignment is the weak link in your structure that stresses the whole of your organization and creates a workplace ripe for chaos, disagreement, and dissension.
Misalignment keeps organizations from actualizing their purpose because the flow is off and additional effort and resources are required simply to get things back on track, much less move them forward. Misalignment creates a distraction, especially in the people quadrant, as we get caught up in things that mutate and spread in unpredictable and unwelcomed ways rather than the energy flowing up naturally through the culture and environment.
By no means are these three questions a guarantee for improved performance. But they do help to jumpstart the process and direct you to a potential pathway to being in clarity. But, they require a leader to stop, to ask the questions and to address them. Unfortunately, in the haste to hire the right people, build the best product, and generate the most revenue, many leaders are either too focused on the immediate task at hand or issue of the day or too overworked and preoccupied to stop and take an inside-out view of their company to determine (and often discover) how misaligned they really are.
A recent Harvard Business Review article lists four main reasons for misaligned enterprises: leaders are unaware of the risks associated with misalignment, nobody takes ownership of the alignment process, complexity makes alignment that much harder, and activity gets mistaken for progress. In essence, misalignment is a systemic issue that is often out of sight, hiding behind the surface-level problems which people try to cover with a Band-Aid or remove.
Too often, the effects that arise from misalignment are perceived as the causes themselves, and the real source of misalignment remains untouched. Getting rid of a few bad apples in an organization, while it may be beneficial, is often not the larger, more lasting solution — since they may have been created from a much more systemic problem within the company.
Rebranding as a means to a fresh start is not always the best long-term option. We all know that there are many great-looking companies whose outward perceptions belie their dysfunctional inner workings and culture. And in the age of Yelp, Glassdoor, and Snapchat, it won’t be long before the world exposes that contrast.
Also, regardless of how much your revenues have increased, how high your stock has risen, or how productive your workforce is, a profitable organization is not always an aligned organization. Just because your organization is aligned doesn’t necessarily mean you will be profitable. But if you commit to the process and state of being in clarity, you’ll have a much better shot at recognizing misalignments before they spread and send energy and resources in directions that are off plan.
The ability to recognize misalignments protects your company and aids in building a unique organization with a solid foundation that can thrive for generations. You may not have the valuation of the next big social media start-up, but you’ll have a decent shot at outlasting them.
You may be asking why we’re approaching this as misalignment instead of putting our efforts into alignment. Clarity itself clears the way to a more natural progression to alignment. If we don’t know what we are looking for, we may assume it is simply “us being us” or that there is nothing wrong until we find it is too late to act and adjust. Misalignment occurs throughout the organization, at different times and in many varieties. Some can be easily addressed; others are symptomatic of something more serious that requires a different type of intervention. In either case, the misalignment cannot be left to rot from the inside, it must be addressed.
Excerpted from Leading Clarity: The Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash PEOPLE, PROFIT, and PERFORMANCE (Wiley, April 3, 2018).