I recently returned from a family vacation to Hawaii. Our family vacations involve nine people: my wife and I, my two sons and their wives, and my three granddaughters. While we have downtime, we generally plan our days for activities we all enjoy and in which we can all participate (ages 6 through, ah-hem, senior citizens). I know there are also families who plan their vacations differently, for example independent activities during the day and then a communal dinner.
By now you are probably asking, what could this possibly have to do with strategic alignment? Well, I recently read a blog about strategic alignment, in which Dennis Miller discusses the importance of strategic alignment in nonprofit organizations. He defines strategic alignment as, "the process of aligning all stakeholders, internal and external, so that all are focused and committed to achieving a shared organizational vision." Well, our family had a shared vision of having a great, once-in-a-lifetime, vacation in Hawaii. And we had to align all our individual desires and gain cooperation of external partners, like the luau providers. Was that strategic alignment? It was challenging at times and strategic alignment is difficult. However, I began to wonder, isn't there more to true organizational strategic alignment than the alignment of people, although that alone can certainly be a challenge.
I did some literature searching to see if there was general agreement on the definition of strategic alignment. I found two articles in the Houston Chronicle about strategic alignment, with a focus on for-profit companies. The first article, by Steven Symes, defines strategic alignment as, "what matters most to the organization and then create a road map to achieving the organization's purpose." The article goes on to indicate that alignment requires planning, a willingness to make adjustments, and an involved workforce. So this definition focused on the planning process. The second article, by Flora Richards-Gustafson, defines strategic alignment as, "lining up a business' strategy with its culture." The approach according to Richards-Gustafson is a process that requires management to change and align its vision with leadership goals, organizational culture, and individual staff members. So, maybe our family wasn't in strategic alignment, since there were no "leadership" goals that others had to align with?
Finally, I went to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, which defines strategic alignment as, "the process and the result of linking an organization's structure and resources with its strategy and business environment (regulatory, physical, etc)". So, is strategic alignment about use of SWOT or PEST analysis?
In the end, I think all of these concepts are important to strategic alignment. But, in my opinion (and I am biased), the critical organizational concept is one of a systems perspective. It is the first of the 11 Baldrige Core Values and Concepts.
A systems perspective means, "managing all components of your organization as a unified whole to achieve your mission, ongoing success, and performance excellence."
You need to view the organization as a system with interdependent operations that need to operate in a unified and mutually beneficial manner. It incorporates key business attributes, including core competencies, strategic objectives, action plans, work systems, and workforce needs.
How does your organization operate? With a systems perspective or a more narrow approach of (choose your definition!) strategic alignment ?
A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance
Baldrige Excellence Framework
The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.