AB Thinks  →  25th October 2018

Would your organisation pass the Acid Test?

How many change programmes are happening right now inside your organisation? Perhaps you’ve lost count.

One of AB’s clients is currently rolling out new technology to the frontline, embarking on an ambitious programme of head office restructuring, making changes to its pension provisions, all while grappling with the operational impact of a significant shift in customer requirements.

This client is not unusual. Today, survival for almost all organisations means constantly re-evaluating whether there is a faster, cheaper or smarter way to do business. All too often there is.

Even the most well-established and successful organisations are being forced to overhaul their activities on a seemingly constant basis to stay relevant and competitive in a fast-moving world.

Ideally, employees in these organisations see each transformation initiative as necessary and logical. Each project and programme supports an overarching goal. When looked at together, these initiatives are congruent and coherent. They add up.

But all too often I see the opposite. The organisation has no clear and compelling purpose. There is no common, convincing articulation of company strategy. Each initiative is therefore an isolated endeavour. Employees trying to make sense of their working environment are completing a jigsaw puzzle without the lid.

Strategic misalignment – real or imagined – results in confusion, frustration and inefficiency. It leads to:

  • People stuck in silos – working with their heads down, thinking and behaving tactically, unaware or uncertain of the bigger picture.
  • Duplicated and wasted effort – when ideally organisations should be more than the sum of their parts, these are often less.
  • Difficulty in driving through change – because the reason why change is needed has not been properly articulated and the picture of a brighter tomorrow never convincingly communicated.
  • Few people putting in discretionary effort – job satisfaction and engagement scores will be tracking below industry benchmarks.
  • No pride in wearing the shirt – because these employees have not been persuaded to join a common cause. Even senior folk are uncertain why their organisation exists beyond the requirement to make money.
  • High attrition rates – everyone is working for a pay cheque rather than contributing to a greater cause. So, jumping ship for more money is always alluring.

How can leaders and communicators guard against strategic misalignment?

The first step is to understand the extent to which the problem exists, and then formulate a plan to address it head-on.

Our approach is to ask carefully constructed questions of the chief executive about the organisation’s purpose and strategic objectives. In essence, we ask CEOs to paint a picture of success. We also ask them to describe the obstacles – both internal and external – to achieving that.

Next, we ask exactly the same questions of each member of the CEO’s executive team, then a diverse selection of middle managers, team leaders and those working on the frontline.

During each interview the door is closed. We fiercely protect the anonymity of everyone involved. Creating an atmosphere where people can speak freely is vital. We never use recording devices and while we make copious notes, verbatim comments are never attributed to individuals.

As with all good research, participants feel valued and respected throughout the process. We listen with an inquiring mind to ascertain whether people are merely repeating the corporate mantra or truly understand and believe what they are telling us.

Even in large, complex organisations misalignment begins to surface quickly. We begin to see the gaps in understanding, language and action between and within hierarchical levels.

We call this research methodology ‘Acid Test’ because it is a simple yet conclusive way to test misalignment.

Where it differs from other qualitative research is that Acid Test is more than a listening tour. We use our time with interviewees to consider how best to address misalignment. What needs to be better communicated and understood? How should confusion or conflict be tackled?

Whether or not you use Acid Test, I recommend taking a peek inside the mind of an organisation to assess its propensity for misalignment. The cost – in cash and effort – is considerable. And as communicators and leaders, we are best placed to get the moving parts of our organisations working in sync.

Want to know more about the AB Acid Test? Katie will be presenting at a VMA workshop on Wednesday 14 November. Sign up for free here 

To find out more about AB’s Acid Test, please contact Tom.thake@abcomm.co.uk