Imagine this scene: Fade into a senior leadership team meeting, in progress:
"Wait, wait, wait! Didn't we already decide that we were moving forward with the design?" asked Heather.
Stefano jumped in, "I thought we agreed on what we were going to do, but we still need to talk through how we're going to do it."
"I remember having a conversation about it but not making a decision," replied Nanda.
"What are you talking about?" quipped Millie.
Sadly, this type of exchange happens too often within leadership teams*.
There are many variations of this type of discussion that range from silent compliance (but not agreement) to head nods and smiles (but no commitment to act) to repeating the same conversation over and over.
It's hard to put into words how underrated leadership alignment is. It's one of those things that, once you experience it and its impact, you question how the team accomplished anything in the past. Unfortunately, teams at all levels stay misaligned but still get things done. What they don't see, in terms of lost potential and performance can keep them locked into their state of misalignment. And this is a significant issue for anyone leading change. It slows things down (if not to a halt). It gets in the way of broader buy-in in the organization. It makes your job harder. It costs time and money. So, how can teams get a glimpse of their highest potential and best performance? They can start by focusing on leadership alignment.
What is leadership alignment?
A leadership team is aligned when ALL team members work together to accomplish a common purpose. An aligned leadership team is laser-focused on what is most important and, at a high level, what action will be taken, how that action will be taken, by whom, and by when.
For example, in rolling out a new carbon management system, the leadership team understands that it will be piloted at two sites by the HES team. The pilot will be completed by the end of Q1. HES will roll out the system to the rest of the organization based on learnings beginning in Q3. In this case, all leadership team members understand this plan and are also aligned on the aspects of the plan and understand their roles in making it happen (which might simply mean staying out of the way).
Why is leadership alignment important to a lower carbon leader?
There are many reasons for and benefits to gaining senior leadership alignment. Three reasons include:
- It's critical to maintaining the pace and effectiveness of your work. Alignment reduces the "rees"—rework, recycle, repeat, regret, etc.
- It ensures that senior leaders are "in the boat" with you—rowing together toward the same goal.
- It makes your work easier when you collaborate across functions and down into the organization for action and support from others.
How do you get senior leadership alignment?
It's important to understand that leadership alignment is a process and not a one-time event. Getting the team aligned is one thing; keeping it aligned is another. It's easy for a leadership team to lose sight of what is going on because of other priorities, a change of mind, or unforeseen things.
Here are four steps for getting and maintaining senior leadership alignment for your work.
- Know what you need from the senior leadership team, collectively and individually. Use a stakeholder engagement map to capture the specific behaviors you need from the senior leadership team.
- Tell them what you need, test for understanding, and ask for their commitment. Share the behaviors you need from the leadership team as a whole and individually (if different).
Ask questions to check if the leadership team members understand your request. This part is essential because it's easy for team members to nod their heads in agreement but not really understand (or buy into) what you're asking.
Next, ask for their commitment to demonstrate the behaviors you’re requesting. After all, nothing speaks louder than action. You can use a simple tool like "Fist or Five" to get a quick read of how committed each leader is to the request.
- Let them know how they're doing. Give the leadership team members feedback on how well they're demonstrating critical behaviors (or not) and the impact that these behaviors are having on your change. The impact part is crucial as it connects their behavior with results.
- Continue to monitor their alignment. This is the "keeping alignment" part of the process. Take note of whether leaders continue to follow through on their commitments or whether it's fading. Note if the team members are consistent in their messaging. Don't make the mistake of assuming the team is aligned because of their initial commitment.
By the way, none of this is to suggest that there is any bad intent on the part of leadership team members. These are busy people who have a lot tugging at them. As the initiatives that require focus pile up, it’s natural for them to forget what they need to do for you.
There is much more to getting and maintaining leadership alignment, but the four steps above are where to start. I'll share some other tips and approaches in future posts. In the meantime, try the Stakeholder Map and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions while completing it - I'm always glad to help. It's well worth the time and effort to get leadership alignment—it will help you and help the leadership team itself!
Register for our upcoming webinar series: Planning for the Organizational Impact of Decarbonization.
* The term ‘leadership team’ refers to the senior-most team from which you need support and action for your work to be successful. It could be the Executive Team of your organization or a regional/functional leadership team.