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by Art Johnson
Indian Management April 2021

Summary: Why do key initiatives in the organisation do not meet expectations, even when they put in a lot of time, effort, and resources. The answer could be that leaders need to align their teams with the organisation’s goals in order to make their initiatives successful.

One of the main puzzlements plaguing leaders is why key initiatives in the organisation do not meet expectations, even when they put in a lot of time, effort, and resources. They may have spent a lot of political capital to get it moving and a lot is riding on its success. But then, it does not go as planned—deadlines are missed, costs are higher than projected, different people and functions are fighting over who does what and when.

Why is this happening? Is the design of the initiative that you are on the line for poor? Doubtful. It is likely that you would not have gotten it off the ground if it were. Is the finish line too far off and it is hard to see how to get there? That might be, but there are steps in place to get you to the final objective. Could the issue be systemic from an organisation perspective and related to how aligned it is to your mission and vision? This possibility is more likely than you might think.

Causes why your initiative is failing
If you look at this issue from an organisational perspective rather than as a tactical issue, you will see systemic, alignment-related reasons that your initiative and other programs in your organisation, are floundering. For example, ask yourself:

Is leadership in different functions not well-aligned to the plan and, therefore, the initiative?
When other leaders are not bought into what is happening, they naturally put kinks in the flow of the organisation. If leaders are misaligned, there is no way levels down the organisation can align. No level can be more aligned than the level above it, simply because leaders can only effectively communicate what they understand.

Have the mission, vision, and plan been effectively sold?
Mostly, this is weighted on the strategic plan. If the plan has not been sold well, its initiatives will have a hard time doing better. Teams will not be on the same page. They will engage in tasks based on their own priorities, not those of the organisation. They will drag their feet.

Does the initiative engage key stakeholders?
This one is on you, potentially. If you are part of a misaligned organisation, you likely knew there would be people and departments that might not buy into your ideas. You may have pushed them aside in the planning and selling process, hoping it would not come back to bite you or that you could force the work to happen when it was needed.

Alignment to the mission and plan are the key
When an organisation’s employee base has bought into, and is connected with, its mission, vision, and strategic plan, a variety of things fall into place:

  1. - Employees are on the same page on why the organisation exists and what their role is to meet that ‘why’;
  2. - With passion towards the common goal, it is much easier to see how plans, tasks, and workflows across teams fit together;
  3. - Initiatives and programs that flow from the strategic plan are better understood and are easier to sell.

All organisations have alignment gaps. The farther you go down into the levels of an organisation, the less connection there is to the mission. When a people in a broad set are not connected, they do not see how an initiative fits into the overall scheme. They pick holes at it. They prioritise other items they see as more important for their role. When momentum for your initiative down in the organisation wanes, it is hard to get it back.

How to fix misalignment

Getting your organisation aligned to its mission, vision, and strategic plan should always be your priority. Everything else that is done on a daily basis flows off that. You should not have excuses that you are in the middle of this or that or there is a fire that needs to be put out. Take care of those, sure. But you need to right the ship or it will always list, and may capsize.

Work to make certain that there is a common language that is used at organisational, cross-team, and individual levels. When you instill a common understanding of why everyone is there and their role in the success of the organisation, it will help remove barriers and miscommunication pertaining to initiatives and even daily work.

Lastly, blaming those responsible, unless it is you, helps nobody. If an initiative is not meeting expectations, determine why the gaps exist, have open and honest discussions about its viability and the path forward and then set agreements in place that everyone is comfortable with taking on and being held accountable for.

You have a great initiative. It will positively impact your organisation and those it serves. Remember that most initiatives fail to meet their goals because misalignment causes a lot of disconnection, differing priorities, and individual thinking. Work on the alignment opportunities and you will see the success of initiatives increase substantially.

Art Johnson is CEO, Infinity Systems, Inc. He is also author, The Art of Alignment: A Data-Driven Approach to Lead Aligned Organizations.

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