Finding Workplace Alignment by Exploring Misalignment

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How much alignment must exist between company and employee goals, to describe the relationship as a good fit? When does misalignment cause the company and employee to part ways? How do you prevent that from occurring prematurely?

My partners gave their answer in The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age and how a defined tour of duty can help.

By focusing on building alignment for the duration a specific mission, a tour of duty reduces the issue of aligning values and aspirations to a manageable scope.

In other words, if both company (represented by an employee’s manager) and employee strongly value the successful completion of a mission, there should be sufficient alignment per se. The misalignment that remains, becomes relatively unimportant. Yet it is still ideal to identify it, because that knowledge provides opportunities for — paradoxically — more alignment going forward.

At Allied Talent our experiences training managers lets us know that this notion can be difficult to fully comprehend, because there is often misunderstanding when managers and employees over-complicate the process when defining a tour of duty.

The fit doesn’t need to be perfect or all-inclusive. It simply must reach the criterion of being mutually beneficial.

Let me explain simply, with a non-workplace example.

At my university’s student union building, there was a bulletin board dedicated to people hoping to share rides on road trips — often back home. Let’s say Steve sees Mike’s post looking for someone to share expenses to drive home to Potomac, Maryland from Ann Arbor for winter break. Steve calls Mike and says he too is from Potomac and wants to return home for the break but doesn’t have a car and hoped to pay for half of the gas and tolls.

Some issues immediately are aired. Steve cannot leave until late Friday after his last final; Mike was hoping to leave Thursday morning. Furthermore, Steve actually is not planning to return to Ann Arbor after the break: he’s going to Italy for the next semester, and Mike was hoping to have someone to return with him.

After some negotiations, Steve agrees to drive Mike home on Friday and in exchange Mike will pay for all gas and tolls.

Also, upon learning that Steve was going to the same Italian university as Mike attended the previous year, Mike asked Steve to bring a gift to someone he befriended there.

The original thought for the mission objective did not work out: a shared round trip did not work because it was not aligned with Steve’s intention to stay in Potomac. So the two narrowed the scope of the mission to a one-way trip. There were other issues concerning when to leave Ann Arbor, and how to split expenses. These were resolved by understanding the misalignment and focusing on opportunities to align. In the end, both parties still realized gains.

Neither side gets all he desired, but by defining an appropriate mission objective, there was sufficient alignment to move forward satisfactorily. By discussing the misalignment that existed, their alignment was strengthened in one way: Steve would bring Mike’s gift to Italy.

Both Mike and Steve are highly incentivized to work together to make a success of the mission objective. They have to put trust in each other, as well. They must be honorable. Furthermore, Mike and Steve recognize that in future semesters, there may be opportunities to travel together again. Therefore, being allies, makes sense for both of them.

So the process involves, talking about where you want to go, and then delving into all the details. Discuss goals. Narrow the scope until there is enough commonality to form a mutually beneficial mission objective.

So — always take the time to discuss the misalignment. Look further to identify alignment possibilities. Negotiate. Commit to the mission objective.Then, fulfill your responsibilities honorably.

Be allies, and look forward to working together again.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent. He brings the Alliance Framework to organizations worldwide.

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