Three Steps to Alignment–and Success

By Kathie Topel

Innovation, differentiation and collaboration are key to remaining competitive in this economic environment. In simpler terms: Success requires everyone in the organization to work together toward a common goal. This concept is not new, but it needs to be frequently reviewed to ensure that everyone is engaged and working as effectively as possible toward achieving the corporate vision.

Why now, especially? As the technology boom continues its exponential growth, we must find a way to put IT at the heart of business success, or we risk our business decreasing in value to our customers.

As corporate and technology leaders continue their struggle to align, the largest barrier between these two groups is a lack of communication. On one side, executives complain of IT staff being in a techno-bubble. On the other side, technology professionals feel that business executives have their heads in the clouds.

We need to find ways to remove this barrier quickly and get these two groups working toward the same corporate vision as one synergistic team. This is the only way that innovation, differentiation and collaboration can be effective.

How do we overcome this challenge? Diamond Rio may have said it best in its 1991 song, “Meet in the Middle”:
We’d gain a lot of ground
Cause we’d both give a little
Ain’t no road too long
When we meet in the middle.

So, how do we give on both sides and find a way to knock down the barriers so we can meet in the middle and collaborate? Here are three key steps:

1. Learn how each group works.
While the natural tendencies of business and technology professionals are somewhat contradictory, it is important for all parties to realize that it takes a range of talents to create a successful team. You need to take the time to understand how both groups work best, so you can work most effectively as a team in serving your company and customers.

Let’s start the learning process by looking at the three main tendencies of top executives and technology professionals, which was developed in partnership with Frank Heegaard of Culture Index:

•    Business managers tend to be strategy-focused, visionary and forward-thinking. They plan, prioritize, strategize and innovate. These managers move forward by taking action, making mistakes and taking additional actions until they reach their goals.

•    Technology managers tend to be research-focused. They find flaws, measure and compare data, and understand and solve problems by structuring solutions scientifically. These managers move forward at a steady pace, acting carefully until they finish what they start.
These differences make apparent why there are collaboration conflicts between these two groups. Neither side is better or worse; they are just different.

You need to identify methods to allow give-and-take on both sides and support the differences between these natural tendencies so you can work together toward success. Once this happens, progress is accelerated, and the groups become much more agile, making them able to achieve the vision faster and more effectively.

Step 2. Provide tools for the groups to succeed.
Recognizing the differences in how the two groups work is the key to optimizing communication. By understanding these differences, you can introduce important tools to achieve a higher rate of success. The following tools will help.

The first tool is a visionary picture you develop for the future. Create that vision for different areas, such as return on investment, structure, culture, customer value and employee values, which can be linked for strategic alignment and accountability metrics.

By creating a vision with categories, the executive team can relay its ideas and direction to everyone, and the technology professionals in your organization can see the logic in how the vision was developed. This allows them to internalize it, think about it, and then give complete, structured feedback that is valuable because it is understood.

The next tool is strategic alignment. From a visionary picture, the strategic alignment can be divided directly into the categories that make up the vision for the future. This provides the structured link that makes technology professionals most effective. It also allows both groups to align on metrics that show accountability to results.

Step 3. Watch the groups work together for the company and the customer.
The tools provided in Step 2 foster business thinking, business accountability and business communication. This creates a language through which the two groups can align. This engagement and energy can then be applied toward a new paradigm that views technology and ROI results through a new lens—a lens focused on innovation, differentiation and collaborative knowledge share.  

When done well, the three steps will work together in concert and become part of the company culture. The steps will create a backdrop that nurtures tightly linked alignment, knowledge sharing between groups, and equally shared risk and success in the future of the company.

This kind of collaboration is what creates an environment in which innovation and differentiation thrive. Additionally, the knowledge share not only brings value to the company, it also optimizes the skills of the business and technology teams by leveraging their natural tendencies.

Technology solutions are being brought to the market faster each quarter with no sign of slowing down. It is more important than ever for technology professionals to come out of their techno-bubble and business leaders to come down from the clouds to meet in the middle so they can reach their vision for the future—together.

Kathie Topel is vice president of Impact Insights, an SPR Companies’ enterprise service that helps businesses build successful IT departments by aligning IT performance with business objectives. She is a speaker on organizational motivation and the author of POWERSHIP, a book about leadership and corporate culture.