A few years ago, I asked the Strategy Management Office (SMO) team that I was working with if they thought they had strong employee alignment. I had no reason to doubt them when they confidently responded that yes, their company had excellent alignment at the employee level. Each SMO employee had great performance management experience, all the needed certifications, and a thorough understanding of the Balanced Scorecard methodology. I had no reason to doubt them, but I still wanted to verify.
To assess alignment, we subjectively compared a sample of employee goals to their corresponding department’s strategic objectives, looking for obvious alignment. To confirm our findings, we requested that the objective teams review the same documents. What we found was heart-breaking: only about 55% of the staff goals were categorized as ‘clearly aligned’ to the strategic plan. Making it more painful was that most of the unaligned staff were front-line employees.
How did this happen? The SMO determined that the answer was two-fold: 1) they had not focused enough on front-line supervisor teaching and coaching, and 2) they had not used a systems approach (with a verification/improvement step) to employee goal writing/alignment.
A Deeper Dive
Once the enterprise strategic plan was completed and cascaded to departments/units, the SMO then focused their efforts on supporting mid and senior-level staff. This happened for several reasons: management employees were users of the strategy software, they were SMO peers, they presented at strategy review meetings, and they owned strategic elements (e.g., objectives, KPIs, projects). Supporting these efforts required a heavy investment of SMO capacity and did not leave time to focus on the front-line supervisors.
Why was it important to focus on front-line supervisors for improved strategy execution? In short, they had large spans of control, they regularly met with their employees, and they were responsible for developing performance goals for their staff. As one can imagine, strategy execution can only improve with a cadre of supervisors who understand and can communicate their department’s strategy, who know how their team fits into the plan, and who can align their employees to the plan through goals.
Shifting the focus to front-line supervisors did not happen overnight. It took several months of working with HR to co-develop a supervisor training program that covered the strategic plan itself, balanced scorecard methodology education, and of course, goal writing. Over the course of a year, employee alignment went up significantly (higher 80s). This training eventually became a requirement for all newly promoted/hired supervisors.
To monitor performance in this area, the SMO added a verification/improve step to their methodology. This step was done in partnership with objective teams. By auditing a sample of goals on a regular basis, the SMO was able to identify struggling departments and more importantly, struggling supervisors who could then be targeted for additional mentoring/coaching. By closing this loop in their process, the SMO has been able to keep their alignment score in the higher 80s for several years.
It is important to note that sophisticated criteria to score employee alignment is not necessary. Having the strategy practitioners and strategy element owners review documentation and score using a Likert scale is a great start. The goal is to have discussions around the subject and seek improvements.
Richard Juarez, MBA, BSMP, PMP, KPIP, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a Senior Consultant, Strategic Planning and Strategy Execution for the Balanced Scorecard Institute/Strategy Management Group. Richard is a performance management expert and thought leader who brings real-world planning and execution experience to his training and consulting engagements. Richard is also a secondary author/reviewer on A Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge® (BIZBOK® Guide), v 5.1; 2016.