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What is strategic alignment?

Strategic alignment is the degree to which all noses are in the same direction; when employees embrace the strategy and allow it to guide their work. When we are all aligned on the organization’s strategy, we are all on the same page about what we want to achieve ( what strategic goals we are pursuing), how we want to achieve those goals (what strategic choices we need to make to achieve those goals) and why we want to achieve those goals (what our higher purpose and right to exist is, what values underlie it).

Having a strategy is one thing, executing it well and effectively is another challenge. Because you can have the best strategy in the world, if the people in your organization don’t put that strategy into practice, it’s no use at all. Strategy depends on its proper implementation. Research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to get their strategy implemented. So how do you make sure that the people in your organization want and can implement the strategy? That starts with strategic alignment!

Why it makes sense that we are not initially aligned

People also often ask us if it is really necessary to be aligned with each other. Isn’t it very logical and just right when different board members or different groups in the organization have different or divergent ideas, preferences and opinions about what our strategy should be? After all, we belong to everything, we are all responsible for something else, right? Then it is not strange that we are different in the game, is it?

Strange it certainly isn’t. Indeed, we are forced to look at reality through our own unique “filter.” We, as a human species, cannot do otherwise. We are unfortunately cognitively limited, can only process a certain amount of data, and therefore must create a mental model “between our ears” with which we very selectively filter information. Because of all our unique life experiences, education, preferences, interests, etc., we all make a unique model. This also applies to something like business strategy: “Strategy is in the eye of the beholder.” Have the Marketing Director and the Operations Director look at the same business strategy and they pick out (totally) different priorities. And will start acting accordingly. Where one goes left, and the other goes right. Perfectly logical all around. But at the same time, it is also completely dysfunctional.

Why it is still important to achieve strategic alignment

A 2018 meta-analysis of as many as 78 studies by Van Knippenberg and colleagues on this topic shows that when there is disagreement on strategy in the Board and board members have different views on strategy, this actually leads to poorer decision-making and also poorer organizational performance.

But why is that so? This meta-analysis also gives us insight into that: when board members have different ideas, preferences and opinions about strategy, it negatively affects the interrelationships on the board. It leads to more tensions and conflicts, because nowadays there is often the idea: those who disagree with me do not like me. And those who question my views question my abilities and knowledge. This creates stress, dissatisfaction, and the idea that members represent conflicting interests and must protect their own positions and goals.

Those poorer interrelationships and seemingly conflicting interests create poorer mutual communication, and this leads to suboptimal decision-making. Good decision-making requires the exchange, discussion and integration of information, insights and perspectives, but that is precisely what usually does not happen in these teams. In these teams, information, insights and perspectives are often not shared openly precisely because members are afraid or unwilling to show the back of their tongues.

And if the board is already not on the same page about strategy , that will only magnify itself toward the shop floor. The crack of light shining at the top of the organization between divergent visions of strategy translates toward the shop floor into a laser show.

In short, disalignment creates poorer interrelationships and thus communication, leading to poorer strategic decision-making and poorer organizational performance. So it is important to achieve strategic alignment. And although our brains are not necessarily built for it, alignment is makeable!

Strategic Alignment Scan

Our Strategic Alignment Scan measures the level of alignment within your organization and shows you how you can improve it. Download the product sheet to learn more.

Related publications

Latest articles on strategic alignment

Dark Side of Visionary Leadership in Strategy Implementation
How does visionary leadership influence the achievement of strategic goals? The authors of this article examine the influence of visionary leadership of mid- and lower-level managers on the strategic impact of their teams.
Intergroup knowledge integration: the role of meta-knowledge and boundary spanners
Intergroup knowledge integration involves the acquisition, processing and use of knowledge across group boundaries. Intergroup knowledge integration is a critical source of competitive advantage in modern organizations.
A motivated information processing perspective on the antecedents of empowering leadership
Empowering team leadership has an important influence on team effectiveness. But what antecedents team empowering leadership? But what determinants then underlie team empowering leadership?