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Place a Bet on Alignment: The Great Equalizer in an Unpredictable Environment

Brexit, Dow 20,000, the Chicago Cubs, and Donald Trump?  Imagine the odds on that quadfacta a year ago!  Unpredictable, or perhaps unconscionable, to say the least.

In this environment ripe with uncertainty, I really hope (dare I say, predict?) we will see organizations double-down on alignment in the coming year. In fact, i4cp’s research into the Next Practices of high-performance organizations suggests that every organization can increase its odds of winning via a clear, disciplined, and courageous focus on achieving greater alignment in a few key areas:   

Alignment of business and talent strategies

As enterprises continue toward more complexity and interconnectedness in the effort to eliminate redundancies and leverage strengths, the ability to align and connect the business model and strategy to the organization’s HR and talent strategies will be essential. 

  • Action – Create a sense of urgency by quantifying and promoting the real business impact of not having the right talent in the right place at the right time.  Talent is a component of the overall business strategy that the corporate leadership team cannot afford to miscalculate or underestimate.  After all, talent risk is business risk!
  • Action – Build a team of highly competent HR business partners who can work proactively with functional and line leaders to create and execute talent action plans to close gaps through acquiring, borrowing, or building talent in critical job roles. i4cp members click here for a list of competencies and attributes that contribute to HRBP effectiveness.

Alignment across the business value chain

Up and coming leaders need to have a broad, holistic understanding of the business across various functions, business/operating units, customer segments, and supply chain. As the definition of leadership broadens to one based more on influence and collaboration than hierarchy or title, this broad understanding must also start early.

  • Action – Focus on developing boundaryless relationship builders; leaders who can successfully work across boundaries (functional, organizational, and cultural) as well as with key external stakeholders to build networks and synergies that create business value. Leaders in high-performance organizations are 3X more likely than those from lower-performing firms to interact effectively with government officials, partners, resellers, and customers.
  • Action - The best companies make the movement of top talent (i.e., talent mobility) a requirement. Purposefully structure and provide top talent with assignments and experiences that provide exposure across and understanding of the business value chain.  High-performance organizations HPOs 2X more likely to prioritize talent mobility and to clearly articulate the process.

Alignment of priorities

New i4cp research has revealed that two-thirds of organizations anticipate a revamp of their performance management process in 2017, three-quarters of which will focus on providing employees with ongoing performance feedback. The emphasis on frequent, better quality conversations places tremendous onus on mid-level leaders—a group that must translate strategic intent into daily activity, but is largely deficient in people management skills. 

  • Action - Equip the “middle” with the necessary training and tools to have effective dialogue with others, both in-person and virtually. As diversity, geographic location, and worker status (employee, contractor, freelancer, etc.) continues to evolve, ensure your people leaders are adept at using new media to engage, connect, communicate, and collaborate with others irrespective of locale, culture, generation, etc.
  • Action – Break down annual goals into quarterly objectives and/or key results and have regular check-in conversations. This will help workers stay focused on the priorities at-hand as well as allow for flexibility to adjust to the changing needs of the business.   

Alignment of leadership behaviors/capabilities

Years of i4cp research have consistently shown the strong, positive impact on market performance when the behavior of an organization's leaders is consistent with the behaviors needed to successfully execute the strategy. These behaviors should also focus on the future-focused needs of the business. 

  • Action – Simplify, make clear, and reinforce the characteristics/capabilities expected of leaders at your firm. Take, for example, how Microsoft has simplified its leadership expectations around three core areas: Create clarity, generate energy, achieve success. Each are reinforced with specifics related descriptors and measures to gauge impact.  
  • Action – If you’re leading people, you should be developing them. Make the development of talent a leadership requirement. From developing frontline workers to developing top talent, i4cp’s research has consistently shown a strong correlation between leader accountability for developing talent and an organization’s market performance, yet a large void remains.

Alignment of Purpose

i4cp’s research into the evolution of work identified worker demand for control and flexibility as one of two major trends. Workers (of all generations) are placing greater emphasis on the “what?”—what’s the purpose of the organization and what are its values, and do these align with what matters most to me? As the balance of power shifts from the organization toward the worker, alignment between people, profit, and purpose must be clear, compelling, and convincing.   

  • Action – Incorporate/embed purpose into your employer and talent branding efforts to attract talent that aligns best with the purpose (mission, vision, values) of your organization.
  • Action – Conduct stay interviews with your top talent: ask them why they are invested in the organization—what is it that really energizes them? Leverage this information by sharing it and using it to make better talent decisions.    

I predict another year of volatility and am placing my bets on organizations that can leverage synergies and collective know-how, pivot fast, have a highly engaged workforce. All of these are representative of an organization with strong alignment. As you define where to place your bets in the coming year, I encourage you to consider the same.

Read more 2017 talent predictions by other thought leaders.

Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin is the chief research officer at i4cp. A highly sought-after international keynote speaker on all aspects of human resources and talent management, Kevin has been recognized as a “Top 100 HR Influencer” by HR Examiner, is a renowned keynote speaker, and has been published in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and HBR.