The Alignment Challenge

October 7, 2010 at 2:22 PM Leave a comment

Where does the potential for innovation lie? In an organization, it’s in the individuals. And that’s the problem.

Here’s an analogy. We’ve talked about soccer before in a different context. For now, consider that each player has an individual set of ball handling skills – passing, dribbling, and the like. They don’t do much good if each player has a private agenda, say, to look good for photographers, or annoy a rival. But when they’re aligned with one objective, they can realize their potential and score a goal.

All of which is obvious in the soccer field, but not in an organization.

Recently the board of an association came to me with some typical problems: stagnant growth, and a lack of new ideas and programs. The board was trying to brainstorm new ideas in a closed room, as boards do, with no luck. They were using a top-down strategy to revive their association.

And that was the problem. Innovation, at the core, is empowered by individuals, the ones who have a vision and the energy to pursue it. It’s not cooked up in boardrooms. Moreover, that new idea remains only potential unless there is alignment around it. In other words, the whole organization needs to be focused on common goals.

That’s not very hard to understand either. But what we find in many organizations are two things:

  • unrecognized potential for innovation at all levels, and
  • people in authority who think that it’s their sole responsibility to creating new ideas

The hardest way to innovate is from the top down, but that’s the way companies try to do again and again, through sheer force of will. They don’t realize that it would be easier and more effective to align themselves with the potential for innovation that exists all through their organization.

In the case of the association I mentioned, what they really needed was not to brainstorm ideas, but find the untapped potential for innovation that was already there. I started a program of strategic listening – a web-based program of deep listening to the board, the staff and all members, asking them where they should be applying new ideas.

As it turned out, the members were saying different things from what the board was saying. Little wonder they couldn’t move forward – they were being pulled in different directions at once. Once the board and membership got in alignment, things happened.

So people, remember that the challenges are top-down thinking and a lack of alignment. If your organization isn’t moving in new and exciting directions, perhaps you’re not listening to the people who have the ideas, and working together toward the goal.

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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at www.fuseinsight.com

 

"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters

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