What It Means To Lead With Alignment
By Tyler Bray, CEO, owner, & founder of The Trailer Parts Outlet.
We all know that workplaces tend to have jargon that comes and goes in trends. Lately, you might be hearing the word “alignment” or talk of “aligning” often. Alignment is a key part of my own leadership strategy, but to be perfectly honest, I believe this word gets misused quite often. I want to define alignment in terms of business leadership, and explain how you can harness this powerful tool to go further with your team.
Often, you’ll hear people writing or speaking about “aligning” team members as a synonym for getting on the same page about the context and purpose of a given project. Don’t get me wrong, this conversation is critical and prevents hours of correcting old work when done right. But alignment from a business leader’s perspective refers to a more complex strategy. In leadership terms, when you identify a source of motivation in a member of your team that can drive an overall goal for your business, that’s alignment.
An Example Of Alignment
Here is an example. Let’s say you have a team member who has expressed an interest in sales even though they may be a member of your warehouse. You can tell this employee they are more necessary in their current role, or you can harness the energy of their motivation to improve your sales team.
Sit down with that team member and strategize about a starting point; logically, that would be some cross-training. After all, you both want to make sure they actually like sales as much as they think they will. Strategize how their current position could be covered including a plan for your team member to train a replacement while transitioning into the new role in which they are more interested. You’ve just aligned a passion in your team member with a need within your team.
Practicing Alignment In Your Own Company
It starts during the interview process. You’re moving toward knowing your team members in a personal way. That’s a soft skill—one that takes time, consistency and being worthy of their trust to develop. You might be swimming upstream against previous workplace experiences that fell into a more toxic “boss versus employee” dynamic. Be patient, and create room for those more personal vision-oriented conversations.
That might mean grabbing coffee with different members of your team, casually chatting at the workplace or having a simple catch-up phone call with your remote employees. Don’t expect immediate answers when you first embark on this endeavor. See your first steps as planting the seeds that will grow into the motivation you can use for alignment.
Alignment On Multiple Levels
Mostly, I’ve discussed personal alignment. But on a company-wide level, everyone needs to know where you’re going next, from the boardroom to the warehouse floor. Make it clear how the mission can bring each person closer to their own goals, whether that’s more pay, more family time or figuring out a way to have both. Otherwise, you’ll run into problems like burnout and high turnover.
Here’s a real example of misalignment: For the first six to seven years of my business, I emphasized revenue. After that, I pivoted to increased profitability. However, I still had team members who were making revenue-driven decisions sometimes at the expense of profitability because I hadn’t made sure my company was in top-to-bottom alignment yet.
Why Alignment Makes Your Team Better
When you’ve cultivated a clear and honest sense of your team’s goals and worked with those to fuel your mission, you have a team that functions better. Simply put, there is less “friction,” distraction or longing for something different within your team members. Your channels of communication are stronger because you have steadily built trust over time. You’ve eliminated a “trapped” sense that too many employees feel by demonstrating that mobility is possible within your team. In all, you’re rowing with energetic currents instead of fighting them.