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Leadership Q&A: The Three C’s of Alignment


Alignment has been a vogue term for a while. It is another attempt at trying to clarify what it means for an organization to function as a whole, not just a collection of parts.  The secret to understanding alignment is realizing that it is more than just the parts fitting together in the right way. Rather it is how the purpose of the organization is reflected in those parts.

Alignment begins with the parts of the organization defined by its purpose. All other alignment follows from that fundamental basis.

For example, is the purpose of a toy maker to be the best manufacturer of toys or to create, make and distribute toys that have a specific beneficial purpose to a child?

Ask the question about your company. Is your purpose focused internally or externally? Is it focused on how it functions or on the impact it has in the market place? This is an important distinction related to alignment. Is the question of alignment primarily an internal matter or is it ultimately focused on the impact that company is seeking to create.

Is this a too fine distinction or the most important one to make?

In large,complex organizations, the motivation to look at the business as a whole is cut into pieces by the challenge of making your part of the system perform at a high level. The thought that my area’s performance may be detrimental to another is an after thought in most cases. It is a challenge for leaders to understand how the whole fits together. The three C’s identified in the diagram above provide a framework for this.

Communication that creates alignment enables everyone connected to the organization to understand the centrality of the organization’s purpose and how their contribution leads to its fulfillment.

Collaboration that creates alignment builds trust between people that provides a foundation for negotiating how to their individual competing interests can work together for the greater good of the company’s vision for impact.

Coordination that creates alignment focuses the functions of governance, program, operations and resource management on creating the impact defined by the organization’s purpose.

While these are tools for alignment, that is not their purpose. Alignment is a benefit or outcome of the practice of communication that grounded in the connecting ideas, of collaboration that is takes seriously the values of the company, and the kind of coordination supports the work of people to fulfill the company’s vision for impact.

Alignment is not a tactical exercise. It is a strategic orientation about the purpose of your company.

If your organization is having difficulty with alignment, look first at how your company’s purpose is articulated. Unintentionally, a poorly conceived purpose opens the door for poor alignment. Therefore, begin to address alignment issues by clarifying the connecting ideas of purpose, values and your vision for impact. Once these are clear, then the strategic work of communicating, collaborating and coordination the many facets of the business have a proper foundation for resolution.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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