Strategy is about being different. It’s about the unique way you configure your product and service. It’s all the things your customers love about you that keep them coming back. For smaller businesses, sometimes simply explaining what your difference is will “strategically align” your team. When they know how they’re unique, they can apply their creativity and intelligence to staying that way.
But as a business starts to grow, strategic alignment gets harder. When people start to specialize into functional areas, they start seeing strategic alignment in terms of how their team contributes. They start to lose focus on other teams’ contributions. It becomes more difficult to understand how each team’s activity maps to the company’s uniqueness
Then as leadership builds work processes simply to coordinate the larger group, opportunities to apply creativity and intelligence start to become rare – and specialized. That makes them even harder for people on other teams to understand.
This can become a cultural problem with bottom-line implications. A study in the Harvard Business Review found that, while strategic alignment within teams is often very good, it breaks down completely between teams. The people in a department may be working together in strategic alignment, but the departments themselves are not.
It gets worse when teams that must rely upon one another begin to question if they can trust one another. A muddled strategic alignment can easily cause miscommunication, even amongst one or two dozen people. Your employee’s best intentions can be wasted. Their creativity and intelligence can be lost or, much worse, rebuffed by coworkers.
If you want to be excellent at being different, you can’t lose those good intentions. You need those creative ideas and those flashes of insight. Your success depends upon it, especially in today’s volatile and fast-moving markets.
Fortunately, strategic alignment starts at the top, with you, and invites everyone to have a top-level view of their company. The way you communicate it matters, and to do it well, you need to truly understand what strategy is. Our Head of Strategy, the award winning author Stephen Lynch, explains: