Why do some businesses thrive, while many more struggle and fail? A key reason, and the focus of a new book by Professor Jonathan Trevor is strategic alignment. Strategic alignment is the careful arrangement of the various elements of an organisation, including its business strategy, capabilities, structure, culture, people and management systems, to best support the fulfilment of its long-term purpose. The message is clear – the best aligned organisations are the best performing.
Using multiple examples such as McDonalds and Huawei, Trevor shows that the best aligned organisations are the best performing, because they are very clear on their fundamental purpose. While purpose is often used in discussions around social responsibility, the definition in the book is a simple one of what an organisation is trying to win or be best at. Once the purpose is clear, then all aspects of the organisation need to be in service of that.
Trevor accepts that most leaders recognise that organisations should be managed in such an aligned way but argues that a robust framework to execute strategic alignment and realise its benefits has been lacking. The book aims to change that and help practically the thousands of organisations globally that are operating below their potential because they are not aligned.
The book rejects any notion of universal best practice, arguing that alignment is all about organisations developing the best strategic fit for their own specific context. This means not simply copying or adopting well-known examples from other organisations and sectors. A one-size-fits-all approach to strategic alignment is always bound to fail.
The focus is recognising organisations as value chains, being only as strong as their weakest link. To function effectively, the organisational elements of business strategy, capabilities, structure, culture, people, and management systems, need to be designed and managed in a holistic and integrated way, all in alignment behind the organisational purpose.
Another major message of the book is that strategic alignment is a leadership issue. It is the quality of decision-making that decides whether an organisation is aligned or not, and whether it succeeds or fails. Trevor’s work is motivated by the belief that organisations are vital to every aspect of social and economic well-being, collectively and personally. Therefore, it is imperative that organisations that have such an impact on all of us should and can function much better.
In a world swamped with companies’ declarations of purpose — increasingly synonymous with positive corporate responsibility — the book makes clear that when it comes to alignment, purpose is fundamentally what the business does and why it matters for its stakeholders. From this flow strategy, organisational capability, architecture and management systems all of which should ideally, be in alignment.
To help leaders improve their alignment and organisational performance, Trevor presents a strategic alignment framework, against which readers can assess their specific challenges and choices, drawing on a matrix consisting of stability, agility, autonomy, and connectivity. Each chapter in the book opens with anonymised stories of organisational misalignment, as well as examples of aligned organisations throughout, yet the focus is practical application of the ideas by the reader.
As the subtitle of the book relays, Align is, therefore, a blueprint to help leaders in any organisation think carefully about how all the component parts can align to successfully fulfil its enduring purpose. Hajime Watanabe, CEO, Development Bank of Japan, emphasises the value of this in his endorsement of the book: 'Align is an invaluable compass for business leaders looking to develop a deeper understanding of their organization, providing guidance that will allow them to plot their future with confidence.'
Read: Align – A Leadership Blueprint for Aligning Enterprise Purpose, Strategy and Organisation (Bloomsbury, £20).