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What is strategic alignment?

Strategic alignment is about having everyone on the same page; when employees embrace the strategy and allow it to guide their work. When we are aligned on the organization’s strategy, we are all in consensus on what we want to achieve (what strategic goals we pursue), how we want to achieve those goals (what are the strategic choices we need to make in order to achieve those goals) and why we want to achieve those goals (what is our higher purpose or right to exist, with which set of underlying values).

Having a strategy is one thing, executing it well and effectively is another challenge on its own. Even after having shaped the best strategy in the world, as long as the people in your organization are not putting that strategy into practice, it is practically of no use at all as 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 are willing and able to implement the strategy? It starts with strategic alignment!

Why it makes sense that we are not initially aligned

People regularly ask us if it is really necessary to be aligned with each other. Isn’t it normal and maybe even beneficial 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 have different concerns and interests, as we have different responsibilities, right? Therefore, it makes sense not all of us are seeing eye to eye, doesn’t it?

Strange it certainly isn’t. Indeed, we are forced to look at reality through our own unique “filter.” We, as a human species, can not do any different. Unfortunately we are cognitively limited, we 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 construct a personal and 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 will pick out (totally) different priorities. And start acting accordingly. Where one goes left, the other goes right. Perfectly logical all around. But at the same time, it is also completely dysfunctional.

Why it remains 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 disagreement on strategy is present in the Board as the board members have different views on strategy, this actually leads to poorer decision-making and also poorer organizational performance.

But how come? This meta-analysis also provides insight into that: when board members have different ideas, preferences and opinions about strategy, it negatively affects the relationships of board members. It leads to more tensions and conflicts, as we associate disagreement with personal dislike. We tend to believe when someone questions our views or perspective, they therefore also question our 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, contributing to suboptimal decision-making. Good decision-making requires the exchange, discussion and integration of information, insights and perspectives. This is however, exactly what usually isn’t happening in strategically unalligned teams. In these teams, information, insights and perspectives are often not shared openly because of members being afraid or unwilling to open up and speak there minds.

And if the board itself is not on the same page about strategy, the disallignment will also be sensable in the workplace itself. The crack of light shining through the top of the organization translates into a laser show on the floors below.

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

Strategic Alignment Roadmap

Strategic alignment is important to almost every organization. But how do you work on aspects such as leadership, behavior, collaboration and culture to achieve better alignment?
In this roadmap, we explain:

  • How to measure the current level of alignment
  • What proven drivers for better alignment are
  • How to arrive at the right interventions to increase alignment

Download the paper and find out how to get started and make existing development programs more effective.


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