I just put some money into my car. Driving home from the shop knowing I had fresh brake pads, clean filters, new belt, fresh fluids, and a pair of new tires in precise alignment, I gave it a little extra push. It felt great knowing everything was in sync and I was getting all the performance the machine was engineered to deliver.
Our companies are like sports cars. They can be full of great parts (people, processes, and systems), but if the parts are not aligned, our companies will not operate at peak performance. The enemy of company peak performance is fragmentation. Specifically, the fragmentation I am talking about is when the core leadership team is not in perfect alignment around critical topics.
You might have heard of the old adage, "A mist in the pulpit creates a fog in the congregation." Well, fragmentation of your top people, even slight, amplifies through the chains of command, causing confusion, fear, resistance, and unnecessary risk.
This top team can and should argue and debate behind closed doors, but when they walk out on the deck they need to be saying the same things the same way repeatedly.
I know this advice flies in the face of a lot of trendy organization philosophy, but after 35 years driving large-scale organizational change, I'm sticking by it. I have seen it work. And I have seen ignoring this advice cost companies dearly.
This level of alignment of the top team takes effort. Fragmentation happens all on its own. Alignment is an unnatural state and takes constant investment of energy to sustain it. But trust me -- the return on investment is worth it.
Perform this diagnostic to assess the level of alignment or fragmentation that exists in your company. Write down the names of the seven most critical people in your company. You may have to look beyond the organization chart. These seven people carry a disproportionate amount of essential skills and capabilities that the future of your company depends on.
Now imagine that I interviewed each of these people one-on-one, and I asked each the same five questions:
1. How would you describe the current condition of the company?
This team needs to have a clear understanding of what's going on at the company -- both good and bad. If you don't all agree on how things are, you won't be able to address any challenges you're facing or take advantage of opportunities you see.
2. What are the top market and environmental dynamics that are affecting the future of your company, and how are those effects manifesting?
The trends in the market and the broader environment your company is living in have a huge impact on your company and the decisions you make. Your top team needs to be aware of and understand these trends and the environment because they are all things that you have no control over but that will deeply affect the company.
3. What is at stake if the company just keeps doing what it is doing as it is doing it? Is change needed, and if so, what needs to change and how fast?
It's critical that you all agree on what's at stake. Not only do you need to understand whether you need to change the path your company is on and how quickly, you need to be able to communicate what's at stake to the rest of the company so they buy into the direction.
4. What is your intention and vision for the company? What are you trying to make happen?
If you don't all have the same idea about the vision of the company, then you're all probably heading in different directions. To achieve your company's vision and intention, all of your energy and resources need to be focused in the same direction.
5. What are the fewest, most important initiatives the company is implementing to drive the changes and realize its intention?
The critical people need to be focused on making the company's vision and intention happen. This means they are clear on the near- and mid-term activities and milestones and are leading the rest of the company in implementation. Otherwise, the team is wasting valuable resources on activities that aren't moving you towards your goals.
No doubt all seven on your list would give us answers. The question is would their answers be identical? Fragmentation in answers from these seven people on these five questions is a telltale sign that your organization is not operating at peak performance and the organization is at unnecessary risk.