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How to Achieve Alignment Across the Organization

Internal Communication
Sharing the vision

10 May, 2020

Vijay Gill, SVP Engineering at Databricks, emphasizes the importance of organizational alignment and thoroughly explains how to achieve it.

Problem

Organizational alignment is vital to the success of any organization. However, while most smaller companies align almost spontaneously by the rule of osmosis, larger companies have to put a significant effort into planning and executing organizational alignment and ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals. Without organizational alignment, your work will be futile and erratic and everyone will pull in a different direction. The problem is: how do you achieve an alignment?
 

Actions taken

First things first. The alignment journey starts with your annual company goal that is revised every six months, or more frequently if the company is moving fast. These revisions are necessary to ensure that you are on the right track and that you are capable to adjust to the changing circumstance. If the company is small, you can revise your company goals more frequently, but if the company is larger and more stable, the response will be slower and the revisions will be hard to implement. Your mission and values are critical in defining these goals and should also provide overall guidance and evaluation criteria. Obviously, mission and values are more permanent because if you revise them too often you’ll end up jumping around tactical execution.
 

With annual goals and values in place, the prioritization framework will allow you to make trade-offs between various inputs. From there, organizational goals are broken down at the next level of tactical execution -- into departmental goals and further to the team and functional groups’ goals. These goals are then turned into roadmaps, milestones, sprint planning, and backlogs -- and executed. I use Five Ws framework -- who, what, where, when and why -- to break goals down into sprints.
 

I would select two or three goals -- not more than that -- and open all of my staff meetings by emphasizing the top three goals we want to focus on and the core values that should guide us. You should keep repeating these goals meeting after meeting. These goals are defined quarter by quarter. However, sometimes things go sideways but this is when the prioritization kicks in. For fast-moving companies, prioritization happens on a weekly basis.
 

All the meetings should start by repeating the goals. Not more than 50 percent of people will repeat them after hearing it several times only. But, after eight or nine times, most will be able to repeat them.
 

Lessons learned

  • The organizational alignment allows you to successfully execute your strategy. Without the alignment, you will remain on the tactical execution level and operating in a random direction.
  • You have to continuously repeat, revise, and reiterate the message!
  • From the alignment perspective -- the larger you are, the longer it takes to get everybody aligned, which means that your frequency response is delayed. For example, if it takes three months to align, you can’t change your goals more frequently than once every three months. In larger companies, it would take six or more months to do that.
  • Misalignment usually happens in middle management at the manager of managers level. The leadership easily gets aligned as well as engineers on the floor and ICs who will do the work following team objectives. However, at the middle management level, there are too many competing goals, priorities, career issues and pressures that blur the goals.

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