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The Digital Essentials

Organizational Alignment

What Is It?

For centuries, leading organizations maintained tight-knit subcultures, arcane processes, and insular ways of communicating as a means of controlling information flow. Teams were highly specialized and team members given few incentives to share knowledge with employees outside their teams. Operational efficiency reigned supreme and as long as everyone got their jobs done – it didn’t much matter how the teams interacted. Today, we recognize such intra-organizational boundaries as silos.

A modern business environment, on the other hand, demands organizational alignment, where data and insight can flow freely through each department to drive customer service and innovation. Departmental, data, and channel silos are detrimental to building customer empathy, supporting the customer journey, and building customers’ trust and confidence. And yet 40% of companies admit to having CX silos, with each department working toward its own agenda.1

The mission is not to completely eliminate silos, but rather to master them instead of allowing them to master us, as noted by author Gillian Tett.2 Companies must understand how silos fit into their new purpose and develop their team’s constitution in a way that that makes sense for the work that needs to be done.

Why Is Organizational Alignment so Essential Now?

The Age of the Customer has seen a shift in control and influence, moving away from institutions toward customers. This requires you to be both internally aligned and externally in tune with your customers’ needs and expectations. Aligning your entire organization around customers allows you to be more responsive and make decisions about what’s most important to their satisfaction and loyalty.

Many executives underestimate how much internal culture and unity directly impact the customer experience. Helping each department in your organization see your brand from the customer’s vantage point can prevent internal divisions and cultural differences from getting in the way of CX effectiveness. Remember, no single group can be solely responsible for delivering on your brand promise – it requires sustained orchestration across multiple departments and disciplines.

Research from Forbes,3 CIO,4 and McKinsey & Company,5 to name a few, confirm that the most successful digital transformations enjoy executive support and engender comprehensive organizational alignment among leaders and staff.

Who Does It Well?

The 3M Company is a well-known example of innovation-focused organizational alignment. With a long history of problem-solving, 3M has nurtured a company culture that supports its vision of “applying science in collaborative ways to improve lives daily.”6 Employees at every level are empowered to dedicate time to innovative projects, ask questions, and make mistakes without fear.

The company also has a legacy of employees recognizing and celebrating their peers’ successes. This promotes collaboration across departments, according to Jason Campagna, head of 3M’s Innovation Center: “If you want to change any organization’s culture, you change the reward structure. If people see there’s no extra value in staying in their silo, they’ll go to the place they need to create the most value for them and the company.”7

In 2014, the online retailer Zappos recognized that rapid growth had led to an organizational structure that reduced employees’ ability to deliver on its promise of stellar customer service. The company transformed its entire organization, removing traditional managerial hierarchies and lines of reporting. These moves allowed Zappos to rekindle the speed and service ethos that had been eroded since its days as a hungry start-up. Today the company’s self-organizing “holocracy” helps align employees around its “WOW service” mission, creating a “hierarchy of work, not people.”8

Starting a Transformation Off Right

One of our clients in the manufacturing sector brought us in to consult on a digital transformation project. After a few weeks of working with the company’s marketing and IT teams, it became apparent that not everyone in the company’s C-suite was aware or supportive of the project.

Knowing the importance of executive alignment for transformation initiatives, we recommended that our project sponsor take a step back and devote the necessary time to secure the C-suite’s confidence. We helped our client make the case to leadership, explaining what the initiative entailed and why it was important. The effort gained critical executive visibility and support, and after ensuring alignment across the executive team, we were able to resume the project and accomplish its objectives.

Lesson learned: Without taking those steps to get alignment from leadership, the project would likely have stalled or foundered.

Where Can You Start?

You can achieve organizational alignment through the following steps, which are part of our Envision Framework:

  • Current-state CX assessment
  • Vision articulation
  • Goal setting
  • Collaborative ideation
  • Key performance indicator (KPI) development
  • Culture/change management planning
  • Role definition

Start with your vision. What is your business’ reason for being? What unique value will you offer customers? A digital vision should enjoy executive support, so the first task is to bring your organization’s various leaders together to collaborate. To achieve organizational alignment throughout your company, you need a vision that is clear, accompanied by measurable goals, and supported by all of your leaders.

While 65% of companies have an agreed-upon strategy, only 14% of employees understand it.Make sure each department understands your vision and strategy, as well as their role in fulfilling them. Support behaviors that are in line with your goals and leverage them to break down barriers.

When leaders try to improve organizational culture, they often focus too much on fixing the negative aspects. Instead, identify a few positive attributes within your culture that are connected to your company vision and specific capabilities that drive success for your business. Perhaps a department in your company is well-known for rewarding positive risk-taking, or for learning from past mistakes. Find ways to seed such healthy attributes throughout the organization and magnify their impact. Start by empowering a few critical employees who personify the best behaviors and can help you bring those characteristics to the forefront.

CX IQ - Aligning for a Better Customer Experience

We often begin client engagements by asking department leaders to take our CX IQ℠ assessment, a proprietary tool that measures customer experience maturity. The results provide an understanding of organizational capability across seven critical CX dimensions and help business leaders understand the degree to which leadership is aligned.

Respondents consistently rank “strategy” as the dimension with the lowest levels of executive alignment. Conversely, “culture” has consistently topped the rankings. After years of companies talking about and focusing on digital transformation, an important realization has emerged. Leadership mindsets must shift to understand that successful digital transformation is not solely about technology. Strategy, culture, and alignment are just as important, and require the same rigor and thoughtfulness to get right.

Because of this, no two digital strategies are the same, and a company seeking to transform must develop its own unique plan. Yet while there’s no magic pill, there is a process, and organizational alignment must be in place for that process to move ahead smoothly.

Learn more about CX IQ.

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