Are your good intentions paving a road straight to business hell?

As a leader, you may be doing everything you can to engage and empower your employees: giving them the latest technology apps, exploring flatter company structures (a la systems such as Zappos' Holacracy), and letting more people work remotely. Yet in reality, many leaders add trendy bells and whistles to their operations while denying their employees something much simpler and more essential--they don't effectively align each person's day-to-day work with the company's broader objectives.

Teams of rudderless employees who don't understand where the company is going or what they are trying to achieve have trouble engaging in their work, collaborating effectively across teams, and making informed decisions quickly.

The fallout is clear along all three dimensions. Well-known Gallup data reveals that more than two-thirds of the U.S. workforce is not engaged or is actively disengaged. A study by Stanford professor Behnam Tabrizi found that 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. And CEB research shows that business is slowing down; according to CEB chairman and CEO Tom Monahan, "we find again and again that decision-making at even the most basic level has slowed materially over the past five to 10 years." 

It doesn't have to be this way in your organization. As a leader, you are responsible for aligning employees to the corporate objectives, and doing so well will keep your employees fulfilled, collaborating, and making great decisions.

How do you do this? Not by verbal decree, but by taking a careful systems approach. Here are four steps to ensure that everyone in your company is on the same page:

  1. Create a set of clear goals: Whether you are a CEO or report to one, you need to work together to create a set of five to eight corporate goals that capture the organization's key initiatives for the coming quarter.
  2. Cascade the goals: This is nothing new but is critical: Each executive should create appropriate goals for their department that relate to the CEO's goals. Then each manager should work with each employee to document individual goals that align to the department and corporate goals.
  3. Codify the goals in a management system: Every single goal in the company should be codified in a system that is accessible to all. When every company, department, and individual goal is aligned and visible in the platform, you and your employees can easily spot dependencies and redundancies between groups. This transparency boosts trust and collaboration.
  4.  Require weekly input from each employee: Each week, have employees meet with their managers to briefly touch base on their goals. Are they still on track to achieve them? Is the work going okay? This continually reemphasizes the goals and ensures that employees are focused on achieving them in a timely and high-quality manner. It also lends purpose and motivation to each working day and helps employees work more efficiently with others.

Employee alignment is a critical role for CEOs and leaders and the only way to deliver consistent performance. A management system that reinforces goals and requires regular employee input enables you to more actively manage the company. You will have more influence and facilitate better collaboration, no matter what latest trends--with good intentions--you foist upon employees! 

Published on: Mar 2, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.