Building Capability for Organization Alignment: Beyond the Toolbox

  |  March 27, 2018

When we think about building capability, we often think about equipping leaders, change partners, and other key individuals within an organization with the tools and methodologies they need to help them maintain an aligned organization. We can point to a lot of companies who have done a nice job utilizing different tools and methods to standardize their organization effectiveness efforts and bring a common language and approach to the way they operate.

One of our best clients is extraordinarily good at this. They have acquired a number of excellent organization design and leadership tools and frameworks. Every leader in the company is trained on them and knows how to use them to facilitate organization alignment work, communicate effectively, and deliver value.

We applaud companies who make such optimal use of tools and methodologies.  However, a word of caution is in order: we have also noticed a tendency in some leaders and practitioners to rely too heavily on the toolset. The right tools and methodologies are indeed valuable; they can help you see things you can’t otherwise, and provide a framework for solving problems. However, they have to be used in intelligent ways.

The Right Tool In the Wrong Hands Won’t Lead to Success

Too often, we see a tool or framework used as though it’s a checklist. While it’s important to be thorough and to use the tool properly, it’s also easy to neglect the all-important question: did you make the business better?

Every organization is complex and unique.  It is important for an executive to not only know how to use a tool, but to thoroughly understand the underlying reasons why the tool is being used in any given situation. When this happens, the tool can be used in a nuanced way that truly addresses the needs of the organization.

We once had a practitioner we trained run a session with some senior executives in which this principle came to the forefront. After the first day’s work session, we got a call saying, “This consultant does not even understand the problem we’re trying to solve.” Despite having been well trained in our tools and methods, this individual had taken the approach of trying harder to stick to the formula even when it became apparent that it wasn’t working. The right tools had been used, and used correctly, but they still didn’t solve the problem. A better way to handle the situation would have been to ask questions to ensure a thorough understanding of the problem, and to adapt the tools and approach accordingly.

Using Organization Alignment Tools Thoughtfully

When a practitioner or executive uses tools and methodologies to effect change, it is therefore helpful to have a way to address the intangibles that almost invariably arise. It is a good idea to consider factors such as the following:

  • Are you asking the right questions?
  • Are you using the available tools and methods at the right time for the right kinds of problems?
  • Are you adapting the tool or framework to the situation at hand?
  • Are you keeping the end goals in mind?
  • Are you teaching others the framework in a way that encourages them to think and act for themselves?

Just because an organization has great tools, frameworks, and methodologies will not necessarily make it successful. To become comfortable and truly adept at using an organization alignment framework, you have to go beyond the formula and learn the ins and outs of adapting it to various situations. If you’re thinking of building capability in others, don’t just assume that because they know how the tool works they will use it in a way that makes sense for the organization. Make sure there’s substance, nuance, and savvy behind the use of any organization alignment tool.

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