How important is alignment in the business world? There is no one-size-fits-all formula for business success, but there is a common agreement among influencers that strategic alignment is critical. That’s true whether you are an entrepreneur with a promising start-up idea or an established leader looking for ways to move your company forward. Alignment, if you break the word down, means two or more things forming a line in relation to one another. For businesses, it is about ensuring all the moving parts work to support a long-term goal.
Many startups are missing the one component that ties all the various fractured elements together — alignment. If one co-founder tries to run the show based on his own agenda, the company breaks apart before it even gets off the ground. What if the co-founders agree on a strategy, but they have a take it or leave it attitude when it comes to customers? That’s a company with nobody to sell too. Let’s consider some ways alignment is the heart of any enterprise and how it’s importance is underestimated in business.
At the core of every business are the people that start it. Alignment between co-founders creates cohesion and, without it, a business can fracture in a way that can’t be fixed.
Consider the company Wayfair and it’s co-founders Niraj Shah and Steve Conine. The first thing you’ll notice about these two businessmen is the similarities between them. Both got their Bachelor of Science degrees from Cornell University. They worked together before running two companies, so they have a familiarity with each other’s styles and goals. They also had the same basic idea — creating an online market for stereo racks and stands.
It’s not hard to see why these two co-founders have good alignment. With similar insights and visions, they took a few small e-commerce furniture sites and turned them into a billion-dollar company with five district brands.
Without that initial alignment, it probably would have gone a different way. They could have just as easily been one of too many to count dot.com failures.
Let me break down five things all co-founders need to find success:
Shah had a head for business and Conine was a tech specialist. They had known each other since college and were able to work together to see an underdeveloped opportunity. Without all that going for them, they probably would have fractured at some point and went their separate ways.
Of course, there is no reason co-founders must know each other beyond the business. What’s important here is good communication right from the beginning. Trying to move forward without it means you’re not in alignment. If you don’t fix the problem right away, your partnership will suffer.
The startup/investor relationship is a complex one. Sure, there will be a honeymoon period where everyone is dreaming about being involved in the next big thing in business. It passes pretty quickly, though. When the stardust settles if the founders are on one side of the table and the investors are on the other — you could call that a rocky start. If the executive team loses alignment with the investors, they lose their financing and everything else tumbles.
Alignment with investors requires good communication skills, the ability to check your ego at the door and an understanding of the difference between friendship and business.
Aligning with customers starts at the marketing level with the use of personas, continues through the sales funnel and peaks at creating the right customer experience. The idea that the market will find you if you offer a good product falls flat in today’s consumer-driven culture. Finding alignment with customers means taking a different approach by learning to innovate in response to their needs. Amazon is an example of this process in action. They create brands, products and platform features based on feedback from their customer base. They are considered one of the most customer-centric companies in the world.
Virgin lives by the motto: “An organization is only as strong as its people.” Without good alignment between the executive team and the employees, there is no path to success. Companies need to understand that wealth is something they must share with the people that make it happen — the employees. Putting them at the center of your business makes them advocates for it. This alignment takes transparency and good communication, efficient and friendly workplaces and the ability to draw in the top talent. A happy workforce makes for a strong, cohesive business. Without that alignment, the company breaks down and nobody’s happy.
Alignment means finding a path everyone involved with an organization can accept and develop. Without it, the entrepreneur can’t find a partner or get startup funding, the budding company fails to grow and the established business loses sight of what is important giving way instead to greed and a lack of focus.
It takes innovation to create a successful business, but without strategic alignment, even the best ideas will fail.