When your car is out of alignment, it still works. It gets you from point A to point B, but it just feels wrong. Let your hand off the steering wheel, and it can go off course pretty easily.
It’s not too much different than when you are out of alignment with your job. Things function, but you know they could be going better. When things get really bad, the misalignment is hard to ignore.
I was recently told a truly bold story about alignment — and the need for re-alignment — straight from the source when I interviewed Justin Copie for Episode 830 of Onward Nation.
When Justin purchased Innovative Solutions and became CEO in 2016, he saw that it was time for an alignment. It’s important to know, he didn’t just swoop in out of nowhere. He had been working at Innovative Solutions for a number of years already. When the owner decided to sell, Justin took the reigns.
So in this case — the need for alignment was not just about one job, but about gearing up a whole company for growth, and making sure everyone was in alignment with the culture and direction the company was headed.
And as Justin shared the story with me, I started to understand and really appreciate what he was doing.
Here’s what happened. He invited any employee to apply for another job outside the company. He wanted them to feel free to see what else was out there for them, and to take advantage of a position that might be better aligned to their own personal goals.
Justin describes it as the most challenging experience of his career. But he knew he had to do something bold like this to get everyone rowing in the same direction.
They took a look at everyone within the organization — 70 people at the time — and what people believed in, and whether or not that aligned with their personal mission as well the company’s organizational mission.
Justin did something that is now referred to in company lore as “THE ASK.”
“I gathered the group for an all-hands and said, listen, we are on a journey and if we don’t have the right people around the table, we are not going to be able to move this business forward. So I’m going to encourage everybody to go out and interview for a new job.”
Holy bananas! He wasn’t firing anyone, and nobody was required to look for a job. But he was encouraging it.
It was time for an alignment. Justin saw this as a chance for everybody to go out into the market, take a look at opportunities that may be of interest, actually interview, look at the job descriptions, look at the type of work that you could be doing.
And he wanted everyone to ask the question: “Why aren’t you doing that here at Innovative Solutions?”
Here’s what happened…
He invited people to check out the job market and if better opportunities presented themselves go for it. He invited people to come back and write their own job descriptions after seeing what else was out there, and to feel free to have a frank discussion about the value they were bringing to the company. Is the market telling you you are worth more than Innovative Solutions was paying? Justin wanted to know about that.
This kind of move is not easy.
Justin was blunt with me, saying, “I cannot tell you how scary this was. I had just bought the business, but I knew this was necessary for us to move the ball forward.”
The upshot in terms of HR was that 12 people — 12 that Justin counted as friends — decided to take positions in other companies. And so they watched 12 friends and colleagues leave and spent the better part of 2017 filling those roles. But they could now do it with a level of intentionality and purpose that wasn’t possible before.
Rock solid awesome, right?
The alignment process and the 12 new people helped the company raise the bar. They helped Justin and the leadership team look at things differently and they challenged the way they had been evaluating the business and thinking about their customers.
This bold alignment process led to a 2018 with nearly 25% growth in the business.
I’m really impressed by the guts that it took to make this kind of move.
Where does the strength and guts to make this kind of move come from? It may sound paradoxical, but for Justin it comes from a business philosophy that puts people over profits.
This makes sense if you think about it. He was willing to risk great people leaving as he invited everyone to look for opportunities elsewhere. He wanted people to be happy in their work and aligned with their work — whether that was at Innovative Solutions or somewhere else.
He was convinced that if you put people over profits like this, profit will follow. Which is exactly what has happened.
Where do you see this kind of alignment? Here are a few more examples I’ve seen:
- Zappos, where people literally go to learn about people-first culture. Justin took a team to the Zappos culture camp last year as part of this alignment process.
- LinkedIn, where they have unlimited PTO, and everyone gets a week off the first week of July, and the last week of December. Many companies I know are experimenting with unlimited PTO and other employee-first ideas beyond ping-pong tables in the break room.
Alignment as dramatic as this is no easy task. It takes courage and a willingness to see it through once you start down the path.
Where do you see this kind of alignment, that not only leads to great employee satisfaction, but to a healthy bottom line?
I’d love to hear about it!