I recently came across an interesting quote that “95% of human life is spent feeling misunderstood.” That is a heck of a part of our lives. I am not sure where the rationale for 95% came from; but no matter what that percentage is, I am sure it is a significant percentage. We all experience being misunderstood in different aspects of our lives. It is certainly not a good feeling and absolute deterrent to growth – both personally and professionally. Imagine the impact of it in a business setting where the leaders, employees, partners, and customers feel misunderstood most of the time. It is a recipe for disaster.
When was the last time you measured the social impact of misalignment on your business?
If we step back and think deeply, this feeling of being “misunderstood” is fundamentally caused by the lack of ALIGNMENT. But alignment around what? There are many dimensions to it:
Alignment of Opinions
Alignment of Goals
Alignment of Needs
Alignment of Priorities
Alignment of Strategy
Alignment of Execution
Alignment of Outcomes
Alignment of Tolerance
Alignment of Satisfaction
Alignment of Commitments
Alignment of Accountability
Alignment of Respect
Alignment of Values
Alignment of Likes and Dislikes
Alignment of Culture
Alignment of Styles
Alignment of Beliefs
Alignment of Success
Alignment of Happiness
…and on and on.
So, why is it so difficult to get aligned?
Of course, the obvious answer is because there are innumerable permutations of aligning ourselves with so many different people and facets of lives that we deal with every day. It is a never-ending problem, isn’t it?
Not really! Re-read the question, “Why is it so difficult to get aligned?” What I described above is simply a scale issue (which is a valid problem by the way), but it does not explain the fundamental issue.
The fundamental issue stems from a lack of communication. We simply forget to ask, “Are we aligned?” and not just ask but also make sure that we are aligned on what matters. The “what matters” is the key phrase here.
Generally, everyone has their own definition and understanding of “what matters,” which gets lost in the “Assumptions” we all make about them while getting aligned. When people feel misunderstood, it’s mostly because “what matters” to them is not aligned with “what matters” to other individuals or with what everyone thinks “what matters” to achieve a greater good. For instance, you might have worked hard on a project; but the customer or manager is still not happy with your efforts. Everyone will likely feel misunderstood in this situation because nobody defined and aligned on what success would mean – to the customer, to the manager, and to you. It was assumed! And you know what “assumes” means!
I am sure we all experience similar instances of such misalignment every day in our personal lives as well when couples argue, or parents and kids argue. In all these situations, the fundamental gap is a lack of communication among family members to have an open conversation about “what matters” to them and so that the family can agree on a set of “what matters” to the family.
Similar challenges exist in the corporate world. Those set of “what matters” are seldom discussed as a cross-functional team or within a team or between a manager and employee. They must be identified with customers and partners and aligned across cross-functional teams – sales, product, finance, marketing, engineering, support, operations, HR, etc. Likewise, similar alignment around “what matters” is warranted within the individual team and across teams to create a healthy and productive work environment.
Now you might be thinking isn’t that what the overall mission statements, GTM strategies, quarterly business reviews, weekly team meetings, team-building exercises, off-site meetings, and one-on-one meetings intend to do – i.e., make sure everyone is on the same page and marching towards a common goal? Well yes, and no. Yes, because that’s the intent. No, because it does not always get fulfilled and more importantly, it does not ensure alignment.
Just having discussions on company goals and objectives, defining a prioritized task list for the year, or saying “we are aligned” is not enough. I am sure you have been in situations where you said to yourself (or heard someone else say) “what a complete waste of time” or “that doesn’t make any sense” or “I am not sure what we are trying to do” after a strategy meeting even though you nodded your head in affirmation during the meeting. This is a classic example of gaining perceived alignment (vs. actual alignment), which may not be as bad if everyone does what’s agreed to be done. Worse things happen when people say they are aligned, but they still do what they plan to do regardless of its support of the stated mission, or they don’t do it with their full enthusiasm because they are fundamentally not aligned. That’s disastrous and impacts the overall productivity of the business.
What I intend to surface here is another critical dimension to achieve alignment – “Adjustment.” In my view, there is nothing called “perfect alignment,” especially if there are multiple people and criteria of alignment involved. Someone must adjust some of their “what matters” to achieve alignment. The challenge is that those adjustments, made by individuals to align with a common goal, are seldom spelled out. In fact, it is hardly made sure that those individuals (either in personal or business setting) are aligned to make those adjustments. It is critical to have these conversations to make sure everyone (in the team) is entirely on-board – both physically and emotionally.
Alright, I am going to spin the dimension of alignment around a different pivot now. So far, I have talked about avoiding assumptions and ensuring adjustment as critical elements to get aligned. Let’s say you did everything right and made sure all the assumptions were avoided, and all the adjustments are handled properly. You and the team were completely aligned around “what matters,” but let’s say you were all wrong and things went south. Now what? Remember that alignment does not guarantee success but misalignment guarantees failure. In situations when things do not go as planned, only one thing counts “Attitude.” The attitude of how you handle failure and how you re-huddle to get re-aligned rather than playing a blame game. Individuals and organizations with such individuals who have the attitude to stay aligned are the ones who effectively figure out the path to success. The right attitude is what truly differentiates people and businesses from others.
Alignment is not a one-time activity. It is a culture and to be an honest attitude on its own that business and individuals need to inculcate. It is a must within every function of our professional and personal lives. The challenge is that even if it is identified to be important, it is hardly measured and assured. I will write about how to measure alignment in my next blog. In the meantime, I encourage you to consciously try to 1) avoid making any assumptions, 2) make sure all adjustments are understood and acknowledged, and 3) have the attitude to stay aligned under any circumstances.
At the end of the day, alignment brings harmony, harmony brings happiness, and happiness brings growth.