In our book, 7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation, my co-author, Warren Shiver, and I write about a key sales transformational lever that is often thrown around like a platitude, but it’s not to be overlooked or trivialized for any organizational initiative. It requires a constant struggle to maintain and enhance. Given that a sales transformation should be a cross-functional endeavor, it’s an essential element to developing and deepening relationships across an organization.
If you haven’t guessed it, I’m talking about alignment, one of our six transformational levers. In a nutshell, organizational and individual alignment are all about being in sync around expectations and actions, as well as having a plan going forward. There can be many flavors of alignment – strategic, operational, horizontal, and vertical, among others. In the book, our main focus is around organizational and individual alignment, which are both essential to improving the chances of success for any major change effort.
As part of the research for our book, we surveyed over a hundred leaders who led, or were a key part of, a sales transformation to tell us what they would do differently the next time. Over 30% of those surveyed said they would spend more time up-front creating alliances and building alignment across the organization. Some emblematic responses were:
- Ensure alignment of Senior Management at the beginning and have rules of engagement for project deployment (e.g., decision-making criteria)
- Gain more alignment with marketing to drive results
- Foster more upfront alignment with finance and better KPI reporting
As most of us know from our business and personal relationships, it’s not easy to stay aligned. It requires ongoing dialogue and communications, as well as the ability to be flexible around jointly agreed-upon outcomes.
The law of entropy, also known as the second law of thermodynamics, can help to provide some insight into the challenges of maintaining alignment. To simplify, the law basically states that the world moves from order to disorder, along with the tendency of energy to spread out or disperse if not prevented from doing so.
For a real world example, it takes time, energy and effort to maintain a deep relationship with someone – be it a customer, a friend or a significant other. You don’t just get aligned with someone and then it’s done. Over time, relationships will often deteriorate or become more superficial without ongoing disclosure, empathy and authenticity. Alignment is not a one-time event and will often drift to mis-alignment if not purposefully nurtured.
The lesson learned here for anyone embarking on a sales transformation is to write out the list of all the people you need to maintain alignment with in order to successfully execute and sustain a sales transformation. These stakeholders, which should have cross-functional representation, need to be included in regular communications and consulted with to ensure they stay aligned with the mission and vision of the sales transformation. Communication is another key transformational lever, with some saying that you can’t be a great leader without being a great communicator.
In summary, maintaining alignment is a process that needs to be cultivated and ‘fed’ if one is to grow deep-rooted relationships and alliances that can withstand the inevitable “hiccups” involved in a sales transformation. Driving alignment is ultimately an investment that will yield dividends throughout a sales transformation, as it signals that you care what others think, feel and believe, which is the essence of change management and behavioral transformation.
For further reading, I’d recommend reading the book The Power of Alignment by George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky. The book focuses on aligning four key elements to create growth and profits: strategy, customers, people, and processes.
What’s your alignment or misalignment story or lesson learned?