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In your leadership work, do you sometimes feel like you are trying to push water up a mountain with a rake?

Despite your carefully laid plans, do your team members seem to be pulling in different directions?

If so, there is probably an alignment problem.

To give a physical example, any good chiropractor can tell you that an untreated misalignment will inevitably lead to further pain throughout the body.

Misalignment in the workplace creates a similar ripple effect.

Workplace misalignment can be defined as an environment where “HOW things get done” does not match “WHAT needs to be done” when it comes to implementing strategies to achieve high performance. Trust and accountability begin to erode. Results suffer. Good people quit and leave. Or, even worse, good people quit and remain.

Patty Beach can help. She is the author of The Art of Alignment: A Practical Guide to Inclusive Leadership. As founder of a consulting firm called LeadershipSmarts, Beach has developed award-winning programs for corporations, universities, nonprofits and government agencies.

“Alignment happens when two or more people come together and share a common goal or vision,” says Beach. “It’s one thing to inspire and motivate people, but without alignment they may end up pulling in different directions. When that happens, momentum is lost and you have to work hard to keep things on track. But when everyone is on the same page, silos break down, synergies emerge and things really move forward.”

Beach says inspirational leaders can get people excited, but it’s the alignment of others that turns that enthusiasm into real results. That’s what separates the dreamers from the leaders who actually get things done.

In business, she says, focusing on three key factors helps create a high-performance culture:

  1. Set direction: Align with the mission, vision, values, strategy and goals of the organization or team.
  2. Create the clock: Establish systems, processes and rhythm for coordinating work between individuals and groups.
  3. Empowering people: Clearly define roles and responsibilities and create conditions that enable everyone to succeed.

When it comes to innovation, Beach says, iteration is your friend.

“When a team comes together to agree on necessary changes, new information often emerges, missing data is discovered, and missing stakeholders need to be involved,” she says. “It can be frustrating. But there’s value in accepting that alignment is iterative.”

She says iteration promotes neurodiversity by allowing time for reflection. “Our best ideas often come outside of meetings, in moments of solitude, like in the shower or on the way home. Breaking down thinking into smaller steps allows introverts to contribute their best ideas, which improves the overall innovation process.”

To help people operate in an environment of psychological safety, Beach advocates what she calls SHUVA – an acronym that describes the basic human need SYes, HEar, Uunderstood, EstimatedAnd Aappreciated. She tells us a little about each of these needs.

“SHUVA represents five universal needs that we all have, regardless of gender, age, occupation, culture or language,” she explains. “These also represent actions we can take to meet those needs. By seeing, hearing, understanding, appreciating and valuing others, we pave the way for alignment.”

  • Seen – This is the need to be noticed and observed. Much of what is communicated comes through body language and eyes. Being seen allows those signals to come through. Being seen also means being in the room where it happens. You may feel invisible because you are not invited to a meeting where you might have contributed. Meeting this need is simple: turn on your Zoom cameras, walk into a room with your colleagues, put your phone away, and make eye contact.
  • Heard – This is the need to put your ideas into words. If you show up to meetings and don’t have time to speak, or if you say something and it’s not acknowledged, that need goes unmet and your contribution is lost. To meet this need, be sure to schedule airtime, take notes, look around and see who hasn’t spoken much, and then invite those people to speak up.
  • Understood – Behind your words lies the feeling you want to express. Far too often, people don’t listen to understand the deeper meaning of what is being said. To meet this need, slow down the conversation and tell others in your own words what you think they are feeling.
  • Estimated – When people are valued, their ideas are received with openness and acceptance. To meet this need, remind yourself that you don’t know everything and that it’s worth putting your own thoughts aside long enough to let what the person says guide you.
  • Estimated – When people are valued, they are credited for what they say and do. To meet this need, make sure efforts are praised and rewarded.

How can leaders learn to make SHUVA a natural – even automatic – part of their workplace behavior?

“The good news is that you’re probably already practicing SHUVA to some degree,” says Beach. “To improve, be more intentional. Focus on one aspect each day. For example, choose ‘Seen’ and focus on really noticing others all day. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed. Switch between the letters regularly to reinforce each practice.”

According to Beach, what are the most important first steps a leader can take to properly involve people in a change initiative?

“Invoke the first principle of alignment: iterative co-creation,” she says. “Instead of planning an initiative and then implementing it, involve your team in the planning process early and often.”

Open feedback is important in any relationship. Beach gives tips on how to give and receive feedback effectively.

“Feedback is often requested in the form of ‘Here’s an idea, any questions?’ to which the response is usually ‘Nope, got it,'” she says.

Instead, she recommends using the “5 Cs” of feedback to enrich the discussion.

  • Explanations: What do you need to understand better?
  • Compliments: What do you like about the proposal?
  • Issue: What are your concerns?
  • Changes: What could be changed to address concerns and build engagement?
  • engagement: How committed are you?

Beach also offers tips on how leaders can most effectively deal with naysayers who resist change.

“Take their concerns seriously,” she advises. “Often people resist change because their reservations are ignored. If they have concerns, ask them what changes might resolve their concerns. Involve them in designing the changes. People don’t tear down what they’ve built.”

Beach quotes Ken Blanchard as saying, “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” She explains how a leader accustomed to a command-and-control style can develop a more influence-oriented approach.

“You just don’t know everything and you can’t be everywhere. That’s why it’s worth learning how to lead more inclusively,” she says. “But it can also be scary!”

If you’ve been running your organization in a command-and-control way, it can feel like a big step to move to more comprehensive decision-making, she says. “It doesn’t have to happen all at once,” she says. “Ideally, you could move from authoritative decision-making to more deliberative decision-making. Just think of this formula for success: Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has a vote. If you give everyone a voice, you can harness the wisdom of the people around you. Why would you ever stop that? However, having a voice in something doesn’t mean you get to make the decision.”

Beach says you can still limit decision-making power to yourself or to those who have the time and expertise to make a good decision by making it clear whose voice counts when it comes to finalizing the decision. “Giving those below you the opportunity to vote on the final decision empowers them,” she says. “If that still makes you a little nervous, you can reserve veto power. Chances are you won’t need your veto power because those who have a voice will make informed decisions when informed by everyone who has a voice. This is especially true if you’ve spent time aligning them with goals and priorities. Try these practices and eventually you’ll feel how much you can accomplish when you distribute your authority wisely and give everyone a voice.”

What can leaders do to create more willingness to change in their organizations?

Introducing change often feels like changing a tire while driving, says Beach. “The problem is not willingness, but that most employees are already at their productivity limit. Change requires discussions about the merits of new ideas and how to re-prioritize to enable change.”

She says the principles and practices of alignment “make it much easier to create a safe and courageous space for teams to resolve conflicting priorities so they can integrate the new scope of work into the resources available. Build your team’s alignment skills, and you’ll become resilient and adaptable to change.”

Can anyone truly lead inclusively and still get things done?

Beach says yes! “The key is to understand that being an inclusive leader doesn’t mean everyone has to be involved in every decision until everyone is 100% happy with the decision. That’s just not feasible. Instead, use a more hands-on, consultative approach that lets all voices be heard, but still aims for a solution that everyone can live with.”

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