Alignment Makes the Future Possible

April 4, 2017

Alignment Makes the Future Possible

By Marc Sokol

If you follow this journal from quarter to quarter, you know that six months ago, we devoted our fall 2016 issue to the theme of candor and transparency, two key attributes that impact who we choose to follow—or not follow—as senior leaders. Three months ago, early in 2017, we devoted our winter issue to the topic of leadership transitions, the actions that promote a smooth and collaborative transfer of power as a new leader takes the helm, as well as what increases or decreases followership. Once in a leadership role, all leaders are faced with the challenge of fostering alignment so they can execute their strategy, elevate the business, and transform where deemed necessary.

"If you want to truly understand something, try to change it"

This issue of People + Strategy centers on the role of alignment and how leaders can be more successful transforming the companies they lead. Is it simply a matter of getting the culture right in the first place? Given how long it takes to change culture, that would suggest a slower pace to the future, unless alignment efforts are embedded within the existing culture.

What about the importance of talent practices to align people across the company, which is close to the heart of what so many of us focus upon? Some might argue that the key levers are organizational design, and that these basic building blocks form the architecture around which people understand roles, relationships, and who is on the same team or not. Yes, in some ways it is all of these things, but in the end, we must choose where to place emphasis—where to invest our time and energy.

Lacking alignment, people, teams, and business go off in all manner of directions. Each individual may have a sense of what he or she is doing, but not what we are doing. Efficiency is absent, effectiveness of action elusive, and overall impact is muted at best. In contrast, thoughtful, consistent, strong alignment allows a team or business to accelerate like a high-powered speedboat.

Now suppose you are in a position as the one who decides how to align the business, or you have the opportunity to advise the senior team to create the alignment they desire. Where would you start? How would you assess the level of alignment, the pitfalls, and the possibilities? What would you prioritize?

Kurt Lewin is credited with the saying, "If you want to truly understand something, try to change it," a maxim that stands the test of time. Our two guest editors for this issue have deep experience helping change and transform organizations. They have each advised leaders how to plan change, facilitate process, and anchor new strategy, structure, and teams into a coherent approach.

Steven Steckler is the head of transformation management and HR practices for mergers and acquisitions at a multinational firm, a role that allows him to see transformation before it starts and through its lengthy progression. Mary Cianni is a global M&A practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, having worked across a wide range of transformation efforts. Each is a seasoned change agent; they understand on a deep personal level and at an ongoing professional level how leaders, HR teams, and entire companies drive transformation and change. Together, they have curated a set of articles, case studies, perspectives, and commentaries.

More than 20 years ago, John Kotter published his seminal article, "Why Transformation Efforts Fail" (Harvard Business Review, 1995). He and many others continue to build on such thinking, and we look to the contributors of this issue to carry on that tradition.

Now I look to you, the reader, to carry forward the ideas and stories you find in the pages ahead of you.

The Authors: 

Marc Sokol, Ph.D., is founder of Sage Consulting Resources and executive editor of the People + Strategy journal. Marc has more than 30 years of experience in organizational effectiveness, leadership development, and coaching. He can be reached at