Alignment vs. Agreement - in conversation with Troy Taylor

Troy Taylor
Troy Taylor

Organizations that focus on alignment of thought, vision, and leadership make quicker decisions and achieve better goals. Organizational alignment allows employees to harmoniously work toward and deliver superior outcomes. Troy Taylor, a thought leader, shares with us his views on organizational alignment vs. agreement.

We discussed different leadership styles, one of which was the concept of ‘alignment before agreement’. Can you explain to us how this works and why this is a more sustainable approach in the long run than looking for agreement first?

“One of the biggest personal development opportunities that I’ve ever gotten in my corporate career was the ability to develop my people and leadership skills. At the very first company that I worked for, I was taught that careers are yours, you are responsible for your career and you have to own it. Coming in and doing a good job does not guarantee one’s success. You have to differentiate yourself and be the best at something the company values. I recall a leadership development course that discussed the difference between Alignment and Agreement. The lecturer stated that “… there will be times as a leader that you will have to make a decision on the extra level of effort to get to an agreement versus alignment…”. In many cases, you can achieve exceptional results as an organization by starting out with an aligned group of people versus spending the extra effort to get everyone in agreement. The agreement will come faster if you are aligned and in some cases, you may not need it at all. There is often more than one way to do something and trying to get everyone to agree on which way to do it may be less important than getting them aligned on the need for it to be done.

“Alignment and agreement are very different. As a leader, one must lay out a strategy, and energize the organization to follow you on that journey to a better tomorrow. You have to empower everyone in the organization to internalize the strategy and contribute to its success from their vantage point. For example, to achieve the strategy the exact actions from the sales force, customer service associates, the marketing team, the R&D folks, and the manufacturing plants, will obviously be different, however, if they are all aligned on the final outcome, you're well on your way to success. I’ve seen a company’s strategic imperatives used as a form of a daily litmus test to effectively get and keep organizations aligned. By having each associate ask themselves the simple question “…are the things I did today consistent with helping the organization achieve its strategic imperatives?… if the answer is yes, come back tomorrow and do it again, if the answer is no, come back tomorrow and do something different…”. By allowing everyone to internalize and develop their own relationship with the company’s imperatives you’ve gained alignment and have significantly improved your chances of success.

“A second key to alignment is to make sure you see what everyone else sees. Quite often we all look at the same object or event and agree that generally, it is the same however, we often get to very different conclusions for a host of reasons. At a company I worked for, we helped leaders get past this dilemma with a simple hypothetical situation. Assume there are two individuals who have been lost in the wilderness for some time. They are starving and suddenly come upon an apple hanging in a tree. One individual approaches the apple from the left side and the other from the right side. The individual on the left says look there is an apple let's pick it and eat it. The individual on the right looks at the apple in disbelief and wonders why the other person would want to eat it. They both agree that they are looking at an apple, but it turns out that the left side of the apple was nice and shiny, but the right side was moldy and filled with wormholes. Although both individuals agreed that they were looking at an apple, they disagree as to whether they should eat it or not because they are viewing the apple from different perspectives. The key to the story is as you strive for alignment you must listen to and appreciate different perspectives. As a leader, whenever I share my vision and opinions, I always end with “what do you see?” so that people feel included.

“A third element of creating alignment is how you go about listening. I am a big fan of Stephen Covey who said “do you listen to understand or do you listen to respond?” As a leader, if you make people feel like they are being understood, you gain an empathetic quality, and they feel valued.”

Do you think alignment is closely related to inclusion as well?

“Absolutely. It is so much easier to get people engaged if they feel that they are being heard, you don’t have to agree but you have to listen to understand. Alignment has flexibility, it allows for many degrees of freedom and individuality. Agreement on the other hand is a very narrow concept, and hence harder to achieve. As a leader, you think differently when you first seek to get alignment versus agreement.”

Thank you for sharing, Troy. Interesting viewpoint on alignment.

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