How important is alignment within an organization?

If a car’s wheels are not aligned, it will cause a lot of vibration in the frame. If a machine’s drive shaft is not aligned, it could cause the machine to self-destruct from the vibration.

I believe this same principle also applies in business. If the key stakeholders are not all pulling together, the resulting vibration can destroy the company.

I have to admit that I did not really appreciate the importance of alignment for much of my early career. I simply came in every day and worked hard side by side with my colleagues to build products that would satisfy the needs of our current and future customers.

However, as my career progressed and I had opportunity to expand my horizons outside of engineering, I became aware of all the stakeholders that exist in a business beyond just management, employees, and customers, and I also realized the strength of opinion that can be expressed by each group.

There are founders, shareholders, investors and board members. These groups are generally not involved in the day to day operation of the company, but they expect the company to deliver a return to them – whether it is fast or slow, hockey stick growth or steady progress, or something else altogether.

There are also the other stakeholders within the company, each with potentially strong and different points of view. Engineering departments strive to build elegant perfect products. Operations departments want high quality repeatability and tend to be conservative. Financial departments want the numbers to add up and come in or under the cost projections. Sales departments want the new product delivered yesterday – the date they promised it to the customer.

In recent years, I have seen many examples of company misalignment.

If the Founders just want to build cool stuff, but investors want revenue growth …

If the Sales team continually makes promises that engineering can’t keep …

If the Board focuses the company on a totally new direction solely based on a massive market projection but without considering the true costs and likelihood of success …

On the other hand, there are also examples of great success when everyone is appropriately aligned.

I now know that as a Leader, I need to account for all of the different stakeholders in my decision making in order to ensure the business does not self-destruct from the resulting mis-alignment. I do not always need to agree, and I do not always need to take the stakeholder’s advice, but I DO always need to account for and respect those differing points of view.

How important is alignment within an organization? It is INCREDIBLY important!!