Are your leaders aligned?

Here's how to make sure your firm's leadership is moving in the same direction

Effective leaders drive positive change, but they can't do it alone. It takes strong teams to manage change successfully. And here's the key: those in leadership positions have to be aligned in several important ways.  

When there's alignment among the leaders, positive change spreads more easily through the group, whether it's big or small. "If you want your folks to come together, the leaders also have to be able to come together," says Beverly Flaxington, an author and founder of The Collaborative, a professional-development consulting firm in Massachusetts.

As you work to build alignment among your leaders, consider these five questions.

What does success look like?

Developing a clear plan starts with defining a clear target. Before leaders can move in the same direction, they need to agree on their destination. What are their shared goals? What do they want to accomplish? If leadership cant agree on those goals, it's challenging to create a coherent plan to move forward. Successful teams make sure each person on the team understands the shared vision, and their role and responsibility in pursuing it.

What are the main obstacles to success?

Pretending obstacles don't exist only makes them more difficult to overcome. Leaders should work together to identify the main hurdles that stand in the way of reaching the organization's goals. Agreeing on key obstacles also means leaders are better prepared to talk about them honestly and effectively, turning them from points of resistance to opportunities for effective change.

How will we approach change?

Reaching a common goal often requires people to embrace change—in processes, priorities, technology or organization. While leaders' energy and passion to managing change matters, it's really critical that they approach change as a team. Having different leaders take different approaches can cause confusion. Flaxington notes that leaders may choose to take a slow approach, a fast approach or even a less-structured "just try it" approach. "This is a critical area for senior leaders to be aligned," she says.

Six steps to managing change successfully
Change initiatives often fail because they lack structure, says business expert Beverly Flaxington. She points out that 30% of change initiatives are launched without any formal structure—and not unrelatedly, 70% of change efforts fail.

Here are six steps you can use to bring important changes to a firm of any size. 

Bullseye on a target

Target outcomes. If your people can't envision it or measure it, they won't aim toward it. Set clear goals and share them.

 

Finding a place on a map

Map the process. Make a plan for who will do what, when it will get done, what it might cost and how you'll get back on track if things go wrong. Be specific. 

 

Overcoming a hurdle

Highlight obstacles. To turn obstacles into opportunities, you have to acknowledge they exist. Don't hide from challenges or problems.

 

 Magnifying glass focusing in on a chart

Focus your priorities. Place your obstacles in three categories: things you can control, things you can influence and things that are out of your control. Focus on the first two.

 

A team of people

Build a team. Identify internal and external stakeholders and consider how to make them active, willing participants in the process. Don't try to go it alone. 

 

Signs pointing in different directions

Plot a course. Let your team find ways around the obstacles you've identified. Great leaders support this process without dictating it. Be flexible. 

 

These steps can help you develop a more organized approach. The result: a team that embraces change and makes it work for your firm.  

What happens next?

Managing is challenging. Whether it's bringing new people on board, adopting new technology or some other fundamental change, leaders must continually develop a vision for what steps are coming next, so that they can communicate that vision early and often to their people. That sense of purpose and immediacy also helps leaders delegate appropriately and ensure follow-through. If leaders aren't in agreement on the next steps in the path, teams can end up wandering in different directions.

What do we care about?

Lack of alignment on company culture can derail a leadership team quickly. Great leaders lead by example. It's nearly impossible to do that without agreement on the most important qualities your organization strives to uphold. A firm's values act as reassuring signposts during times of change. And they can provide guidance when teams are trying to overcome barriers to change.

Whether your firm is small or large, the same fundamentals apply. The future will inevitably bring change, but good leadership prepares by setting smart goals, understanding obstacles and nurturing a strong culture. 

What you can do next