We’ve been conducting a series of three webinars on organizational alignment for IABC members. The third session is coming up on 19 August (or 20 August Asia Pacific Time).
These webinars explore why alignment is important and how to go about driving it. In doing so, this builds on our two global studies “Strategic Alignment: How Communicators Can Change the Face of Leadership” and “The Road to Alignment.”
If you’ve had a chance to view the papers and webinars, you may have noticed we’ve been tinkering a bit lately. In particular, we’ve changed our core “Road to Alignment” model from four to five steps:
- One vision: Ensuring there is a clear alignment plan and the executives are committed to it.
- One story: Developing the organization’s corporate story — who you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there.
- One conversation: Ensuring there is a shared understanding and meaning of the story.
- One team: Aligning leaders and teams so everyone is moving in the same (the right) direction.
- One voice: Holding on to this alignment over time and ensuring that the organization’s corporate story is reflected in all communication.
As you may have gathered from this article’s title, the new step is “one conversation,” or the need to build shared understanding and meaning.
Why is that? The short answer is that shared understanding and meaning were always part of the model, but now it’s been “spun out” as its own discrete step.
And there are three reasons for that.
Shared Understanding Is Important
You can’t build alignment without building shared understanding and meaning first.
Building alignment is about building teams and shared context. As we said above, everyone is moving in the same (the right) direction. You can’t do that without everyone in the team having a clear and consistent appreciation of the big picture — who we are, where we’re going and how we’ll get there.
Shared Understanding and Alignment Are Different in One Important Way
Building shared understanding is largely a communications task. It’s a partnership between communications and leaders to communicate, listen, discuss and answer questions. Building alignment is much more. You can’t just communicate the mission, values, purpose or strategy. It must be built into your leadership, planning, goal setting, performance management and development. As such, it requires a partnership among many across the organization.
The Shift to Virtual Engagement Has Changed the Game
Once upon a time (i.e., before COVID), you only had one way to build shared understanding and alignment. That was through people leaders. Yes, you can create posters and packs, run town halls and publish intranet content. But the truth is that won’t get you far if people leaders aren’t working and conversing with their teams so they can understand and align to the corporate story, the purpose and with each other.
Senior leaders and communications didn’t have a way to reach out and talk with everyone at once, but now we do. This means we can drive shared understanding more effectively. Yes, we still need people leaders to work in lock step with us, but we’re not solely reliant on people leaders any more. We have options.
Of course, alignment is a different beast. People leaders remain vital because they are the only people who can turn the corporate story into a detailed plan with and for their team.
The bottom line?
If you want to build one team, make sure you’re having one conversation first.
Wayne Aspland and Zora Artis GAICD, SCMP
Wayne Aspland is a writer and communicator with more than 15 years’ experience in corporate, leadership and internal communications (including Head of Function). He has also lectured in communications at Deakin University and is a past member of the IABC Victoria Board and the current director of the IABC APAC Region Board.
Aspland has been intensely interested in alignment comms for over 10 years. He has created one-pagers and alignment comms strategies for several large companies. Together with Zora Artis, Aspland has also published two significant papers on the subject: “Strategic Alignment: How Communicators Can Change the Face of Leadership” (2018) and “The road to alignment” (2020).
Zora Artis, GAICD, SCMP, FAMI, CPM, is Australia’s leading alignment, brand and communication strategist, working with boards and executives to unlock value in their organizations, people and brands to drive performance. She is the CEO of Artis Advisory, co-founder of The Alignment People, chair of the IABC World Conference 2022, member of the IABC Strategic Planning Taskforce and a past director of IABC APAC Region and IABC International Executive Board.
Artis has almost three decades in business, marketing, communication, advertising and branding, and has worked with a breadth of private, public and nonprofit organizations, including AB InBev, Adidas, Aurecon, AusNet Services, AIA Australia, A2 Milk Company, GSK, LendLease, MLC, Marsh, Weir Group and the Victorian Government.
Her communications work and leadership has been recognized globally with IABC Gold Quill Awards. She is also a judge for the IABC Gold Quill Awards, Australian Marketing Institute Awards, IAP2 Core Value Awards and Cannes LIONS Awards for Effectiveness.