What Are We Doing Here?
A new CEO takes the helm at a famous organization after a multi-year downturn. His challenge: restore it to greatness. His starting point: alignment.
The CEO in this case is a coach, Tom Herman, and the organization is Football at The University of Texas at Austin. Football (the oblong kind) is a big deal in the state of Texas, and UT-Austin is the biggest college program in the state. But the Longhorns have been mediocre for several years, and it's Herman's job to turn it around.
At his introductory press conference, according to ESPN, Herman identified alignment as the most critical principle for success. But why would that be worth his focus? Everyone knows that success at Texas looks like lots of wins every year. Isn't "alignment" that simple?
Everyone knows at your company that success looks like plenty of revenue and profit every year. Does that make you aligned?
Here's the problem: winning is not something we can do. Winning is an outcome, whether it's wins on the field or wins in the market. Our job is to help the organization do the things that are more likely to lead to wins. And there are infinite options for what those might be.
That's why Herman, quoting a mentor, defined alignment as a unified culture, strategy and purpose. Alignment is critical in who we will be (culture), and what approach we will take (strategy), in order to reach our goals (purpose).
Too often companies are aligned around the outcome, winning, but disjointed when it comes to how they expect to win. One team member thinks they're trying to build the best mousetrap, another thinks they're competing for mousetrap business at the lowest price. The head of Sales thinks they're pushing full speed into overseas markets, while the CFO is not so sure they want to go there. HR thinks they're building a collaborative culture for the long haul, but the CEO likes the idea of internal competition, and frankly sees the long term as less important than the profit metrics he promised to hit this year and next.
No wonder we don't make the progress we want. We're all trying to "win," but our ideas for how to win - and sometimes even our definition of a win - are different.
If your team doesn't discuss this out loud and regularly, it almost certainly isn't aligned. It doesn't happen by accident.
So if your key players and coaches can't tell you off the cuff, in their own words, who you are, your team is not trying to build the same culture. If they can't tell you what you're trying to accomplish, your team is not striving for the same goals. And if they can't tell you how they're going to get there, your team is not pursuing the same strategy.
Does that sound like a formula for winning?