“We want all our leaders, around the world, to align around a single set of leadership behaviors… as of Monday, if possible. Anyway, our leadership profile is on the intranet. So it should work”.
Alignment! Metaphors are what they are. Let me try one. Wandering in a newly replanted patch of forest is basically moving from one row of trees to the other. They are usually perfectly aligned and it’s quite boring. On the other end, trying to get through the mess of a jungle is a real challenge. Some people like the perfect rigor of aligned trees, ready to be cut down and carried down a perfect and cost-conscious supply chain process. Others prefer the lively, creative mess and beauty of the jungle.
A messy organization does not lead anywhere, that’s clear. But I, for one, can’t buy this alignment buzzword. It just pushes an unrealistic expectation. Companies are not forests; operational entities are not newly planted rows; leaders are not trees that can simply be pushed into lining up behind the newly communicated leadership profile.
Overcoming the drawbacks of the diversity inherent in any multinational organization is a key challenge. No discussion about that. But it has to be by finding the right balance between diversity and similarity.
This is why, at ICM, we prefer to talk about “convergence” rather than “alignment”.
Alignment is about authority and submission. As the French say, “Je ne veux voir qu’une tête!” And as the Japanese say, « the nail that protrudes gets hammered down.” The perfect alignment of soldiers parading…
Well, in 2010, and soon 2011, most of the young engineers, experts, managers and employees a company wants to attract might find this simplistic top-down model-based vision quite repellant. Every day we hear people sneering at the requirement for alignment and reacting negatively, if not refusing outright, to align. Alignment implies unquestioned hierarchical authority and acceptance, if not submission, of subordinates.
Convergence, on the other hand, is about meaning and engagement. Building convergence is not an “order”. Building convergence is a process where people are involved and where they agree on the best common set of processes, strategies and practices they can implement in order to accomplish their mission and achieve ambitious goals.
Our conviction at ICM is that this is the only way to respond to the inherent diversity of multinational organizations and at the same time build individual engagement and collective consistency. Such a system depends on the leader’s capacity to convey a compelling and meaningful vision and the workforce involvement and engagement to make it happen.
Moving from alignment to convergence, a change of mindset. Worth trying!