Aligning Employees to Execute Strategy: Getting Started

When firm leaders agree on strategic objectives, it’s time to align employees towards achieving them. As with anything with multiple moving parts, adjustments can help the system work at its best.

Last week, I discussed the difference between employee engagement and employee alignment. Engagement is what motivates people to arrive at work each morning. Alignment is what they do when they get there.

Why focus on alignment?

  • It gives everyone a purpose beyond their individual roles
  • It’s an opportunity to break down silos between groups
  • It strengthens your firm’s reputation as performance becomes more consistent and profitable

Signs of misalignment
Let’s start with the most obvious. If your employees can’t articulate the firm’s goals and their role in achieving them, you have a problem.

There are subtle indicators, too. A lack of accountability, confusion about which performance indicators matter, tolerance of “special anomalies” who behave in contradiction to your espoused values, entrenched attitudes, missed opportunities and not to mention plain old bad habits are just a few.

Where to start
Your goals need to be specific, sound and feasible. You’ll also need a clear idea of the attitudes, skills and behaviours that your employees will need in order to reach them.

Cees van Riel, co-founder of the Reputation Institute and author of “The Alignment Factor” offers a formula for doing this:

  1. Determine what makes your firm unique. Which identity traits are central and distinctive to the firm? What is consistently prioritized? For example, you might value your “green” initiatives or innovative file management processes.
  2. Ask employees how they would identify the firm as a whole. Find patterns among leaders, partners, staff and managers.
  3. Inquire if employees feel their personal behaviour is in accordance with firm initiatives and if they help others achieve goals too.

Begin to create alignment
Once you know where to focus your efforts, you can begin to align employees towards your objectives. Large organizations might consider a robust tool such as the Rep Trak Alignment Monitor. Others might create their own process that incorporate realism into the execution strategy as suggested by van Riel:

  1. Review misalignments between your:
  • Desired identity – how you want to be known as a firm, based on the behaviour of your employees;
  • Projected identity – how you actually communicate with employees about their role in strategy and;
  • Perceived identity – what employees believe about your firm, and how this affects their level of support in helping the whole organization reach its goals.
  1. Look for broad inconsistencies in the answers to these questions:
  • Are people being trained in the capabilities they’ll need to execute your strategy?
  • Are performance expectations and rewards aligned with the behaviours necessary to reach your goal?
  • What do employees know about your strategy? What is the best way to communicate with them about their role in it?
  1. Adjust operational procedures accordingly. Many firms introduce shiny new processes when launching a strategy, only to be met with a collective eye-roll. What if you started with fixing the most common or most visible roadblocks to achieving your goal (as reported by employees) instead? This might involve updates to your leadership behaviours but it’s a good way to ‘walk the talk’.
  1. Benchmark your initial efforts and set up a system to monitor signs of misalignment throughout the life of your strategic plan. Large organizations might create a cross-functional committee including a variety of perspectives.

A law firm strategy lives and dies with its people. If you’ve committed to accomplishing something that will improve your prospects to attract, retain and develop those people to achieve long-term advantage, aligning your workforce is the best place to start.

I originally published this post on Canada’s online legal magazine, on August 6, 2014