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How Alignment Helps Organizations Succeed

By Jerome Oberlton

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When I was asked to participate in this series of articles on the alignment of IT within the larger business structure of an organization, my goal was to drive home the overarching impact that cross-functional alignment can have on organizational success.

Much like the law of physics which states that inertia is accelerated when forces are moving in the same direction, organizations with internal departments whose strategies and operating plans are aligned have a greater potential for success. Conversely, organizations that don’t have alignment have a difficult time achieving success in the marketplace, again demonstrated by the law of physics which states that inertia is reduced when forces are pulling in opposite directions.

While alignment is the goal, it is often difficult to achieve over time as the business moves forward. Balancing myriad priorities while swiftly responding to market pressures and organizational demands can be a daunting task. Yet, building a culture and philosophy of alignment into the way work is achieved everyday creates the greatest possibility of long-term success.

Alignment cannot be an afterthought, it must be the way the organization does business. This will assure that the organization improves over time. Consistent with this, the organization will also see the true benefit of alignment as it continues to press the need for alignment into the very fabric of its culture.

Alignment & Hardship

Business alignment is especially important during economic crisis and tough markets. This is because the failed execution of key strategies and programs can cost a company in both time and money. Moreover, the tightening of the belt means fewer programs will be executed. Given this, it is essential that these programs are the right programs to deliver value for the business. Often, making the determination of the right strategies and programs require cross-functional, cross-organizational alignment. Once this determination is made, a tightly aligned organization will be necessary to execute these strategies and programs.

This principal was played out at Mannatech when the business had to choose the programs to execute during a period of declining sales for the organization. Collectively, a number of executives decided that the reduction in the price of product packages was needed to help resuscitate the business. After this determination was made, every functional department head had to ensure their organizations were aligned to execute this strategy.

The department heads met to discuss this alignment and assembled the right teams to execute the product price reduction for the U.S., South Africa and Canada. Because of this alignment, the solution was implemented for these markets in less than two months. Overall, the solution has improved the revenue position of the organization, and the business is now working on the global expansion of this package price reduction strategy.

While alignment is certainly not a new discovery in the world of business, the current economic crisis is exposing just how impactful proper alignment can be. There are a host of collaboration tools that support alignment efforts, such as Microsoft Share Point and video conferencing. There are also social media tools which enable blogging and threaded conversations for company resources that may not be located near each other. These tools help companies structure and organize cross-company efforts. While the tools themselves don’t create alignment, they can certainly support alignment efforts.

In all, the key to good alignment is ensuring that well-respected resources work together under a common cause to champion organizational efforts.

Please see the other two articles in this series: IT in Practice: Building a Foundation of Collaboration and Leveraging the Right Resources for Alignment.

Jerome Oberlton is CIO and VP of Technology for Mannatech, Inc., a global provider of proprietary dietary supplements, weight management products and skin care solutions. Oberlton, who recently completed a series of executive leadership classes at Harvard University's JFK School of Government, is the former CIO of the Atlanta Public Schools and CIO for the Spare Parts business of GE Energy Services.