Organizational alignment—the creation of harmony or congruence between an organization’s goals and its many organizing choices—is a critical factor affecting performance and positive outcomes. One of the key roles in achieving organizational alignment is that of an alignment leader—a person within the organization who is responsible for facilitating optimal alignment.
The role of alignment leader is both critical to the optimal success of an organization, and extremely challenging to fulfill. To be successful in this role requires a deep understanding of the organization as a unified system comprised of interrelated and interdependent parts, as well as keen insight into how those parts relate to and interact with each other.
As we addressed in our book, Mastering the Cube: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks and Building an Organization that Works, the process of alignment is fraught with pitfalls. Clarity is vital; however, even the most accomplished alignment leader will occasionally succumb to blind spots or assumptions. These can lead to unintended and unwelcome results. This is why change partners play such an essential part in the role of leadership in change management.
What is a Change Transformation Partner, and What Makes a Successful One?
Every alignment leader needs at least one good change partner. This is a person who can help the alignment leader stay on track through the difficult process of planning and initiating organizational change. A change partner can be someone within the organization that the leader knows and trusts, or someone from the outside who can assist them during certain types of change transformation.
We have identified four primary functions of a good change partner:
- Diagnosis. change partners are masters at identifying, analyzing and finding the root causes of problems. These individuals are able to ask questions, survey the entire organizational situation and help the alignment leader determine where an intervention or work change needs to happen.
- Tools and processes. A good change partner brings tools or a process for addressing organizational gaps or misalignments. Ideally, this person is familiar with the dimensions of what we refer to as the organizational cube—the different facets of an organization that must work together to create a unified whole. He or she has tools that can help leaders align the various aspects within the organization, as well as address the consequences of misaligned choices.
- Trailblazing. Leading an organization can feel like a hike in the dark. An effective change partner acts like a trail guide with a flashlight, illuminating the path a few feet ahead so the alignment leader can see where they want to go. A great change partner anticipates where the leader wants to go next. This not only requires foresight, but also experience in helping alignment leaders navigate the transformation journey.
- Sounding board. Leaders are never short of ideas, but they need to test those ideas in a safe environment before rolling them out in the organization. A good change partner acts as a thought partner for the leader, someone off of whom he or she can bounce ideas. “Is this idea crazy? How will it play if we go to market?” The change partner can also provide advice when it comes personnel issues: “How would this person fit this job? Do you think they are up to this particular task?” A good change partner is a thought leader, capable of offering sound counsel—often behind the scenes—to the alignment leader.
Change Partnering in Your Organization
If you are involved in the process of transformational change in your organization, by now you have doubtless identified your own role in the process. I will therefore leave you with these questions:
- If you are an alignment leader, who is (or are) your change partner(s)? Do you have access to someone who can provide you all of these vital elements of support? If so, how well are they performing in each area? And if not, where do you perceive deficiencies, and whom can you enlist to correct these deficiencies going forward?
- If you are currently acting as a change partner in your own or someone else’s organization, are you well equipped to do all of these things for the change leader(s) you work with? If not, where are your deficiencies? What can you do, or whom can you enlist, to help correct them?
Answering and following through on these questions can help ensure that your leadership team is well equipped to move forward towards achieving successful organizational change.
What impact have change partners had on your organization?