United States

Organizational alignment assessment

Blurry vision? Examine your company’s focus and alignment

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

As we age, many rely on corrective lenses to fix eye weaknesses. So too, over time, business owners may need assistance to clearly see their organizations’ strengths and weaknesses.

RSM’s Center for Business Transition (CBT) has developed an assessment to help owners clearly see all areas of their business. The CBT’s organizational alignment process assesses an owner’s vision of the company compared to that of key employees.  Our observations are the result of surveying over 180 employees across a number of companies, industries and geographies. The confidential, online survey assesses a business in 10 areas:

  1. Company purpose
  2. Organizational structure
  3. Leadership
  4. Personnel
  5. Planning
  6. Controls and accountability
  7. Coordination and communication
  8. Culture
  9. Functions and departments
  10. Output and results

In conducting organizational alignment assessments across the country, we have discovered information that could be helpful to a closely held business majority owner, president and management team. The following discusses our observations in the 10 business areas.

Company purpose

In most cases, where the company is going usually needs better definition. While company purpose may be informally discussed, the reality is very little time or attention is set aside to work on the business versus in the business. Daily routines often trump the time allocated to long-term planning.

As one client said, “The management team has regularly scheduled meetings, but rarely if ever are they strategic in nature. They tend to be status oriented and skip over the real issues. If real issues are brought up they are rarely tackled to resolution; they tend to linger on.”

Our conclusion here is there is a different mindset in meetings that focus on the business versus in the business. Working on the business means dedicated time spent on business strategy, especially in the areas of customer service strategy, product strategy and overall financial planning for capital and financing alternatives. The company as a whole would benefit to know what the long-term plan is, and certainly what products will get you there and why.

Organizational structure

In the survey process, we have discovered that many employees understand what they are responsible for today. Employees are clear on what management expects of them. Within the organization, however, we find that meetings are not well planned and are poorly focused, and frequently derail on other topics. Companies that are moving from one business cycle to the next require different thinking about the organization and need to re-focus on the structure and duties that need changing. What served them yesterday and what will serve them tomorrow will need an overhaul in duties, responsibilities, leverage and even compensation.

Leadership

The view from the management lens can be very different from the owner’s lens. Employees look for a clear direction from the top as well as strong decision-making and execution from company’s top management. The music and words need to match. When owners and management are not in concert about where the organization is headed, it allows employees to choose whom to follow on important issues.

Personnel

The survey also checks the vision within people areas. A very lax area of focus is the development of the future bench and assessment of employees’ desires and real interests. Often in closely held businesses, a job becomes so routine that the excitement of the future is never seen. The depth chart development is the owner’s responsibility and often overlooked.

Another glaring weakness in this area is in the training and development of not only technical skills, but also personal development. As an organization goes through its life cycles, it is imperative to look at continuous improvement.

Planning

An old adage is, “If we don’t know where we are going, how do we know when we get there?” With that in mind, we suggest in all situations that an integrated three-year business plan be developed. To get started, we challenge businesses to consider the following:

  1. Can we scale this business?
  2. What resources would we need to grow?
  3. Are our capital and financing requirements clear for our growth strategy?
  4. When is a good time to think about a transition?
  5. Is it both ownership and management?
  6. Can we hold and grow this company?
  7. Can we replicate our product strategy in new geographies?
Controls and accountability

At the very highest level among the owners in a family business, accountability frequently gets rated very low. In our opinion, this results from leadership not agreeing what is important in strategy, mission and high-level business tactics. We have also discovered that taking advantage of best-in-class procedures, processes and tactics are very often omitted from the improvement process. As with systems, organizations keep adding reporting tools, but never review the information output overload. Objectives of today would point to major changes to replace ineffective reporting with dashboard tracking.

Coordination and communication

The extent and frequency of communication within the organization is viewed by owners as adequate, but in 90 percent of the organizations surveyed, communication is the number one area that needs improvement. The days of keeping results hidden and strategic plans a secret from employees are over. People simply want to know what’s going on and where they are going. The best organizations are the ones where internal town hall meetings are established and internet communications and periodic webcasts tell employees the highlights of results. New wins, human interest stories and process within the organization are areas of focus.

Culture

In examining how the culture is seen within the organization, we explore several elements when working with our clients, including:

  1. Handling conflict. The conclusion here is that most companies have a high degree of mutual respect to handle conflict. Those that fail the test have fear about expressing opinions and little faith that problems will be resolved in a positive way.
  2. Teamwork. Teams are assessed and usually we see lack of collaboration and communication within departments.
  3. Respect. Mutual respect can be corrected easily by leadership. In one instance, our analysis came back with this quote from an employee: “Seems to be an allowance for one person to be disrespectful. Needs to be addressed.” Following this, leadership had a crucial conversation with the appropriate parties and the issue was quickly resolved.
  4. Resolution timeliness. Quick reaction to solve problems was rated very high but further analysis revealed that proper planning to analyze, dismiss and resolve in one organization was needed. A good lesson? The company culture should be one that addresses issues with facts not emotions.
  5. Opportunities. We’ve seen if communication is poor around opportunities and initiatives, management may not be on the same page with the owner on the company’s innovation efforts and future growth plans. To counter, owner and management must examine together business strengths and future plans.
  6. Morale. We examine tone at the top with regard to enthusiasm, innovation, teamwork and a sense of the morale in the organization. What we want to see is morale is high and people are looking forward.
Functions and departments

It’s important all company functions and departments are working in concert to meet customer needs. In one top-performing company we found that the entire management team and the interaction of their departments was so positive that a large competitor had recently offered to buy the company because of this high alignment. We have also found that low alignment usually stems from the company not being able to express how they satisfy customers’ needs and how their products, services and company fulfill those needs. In this case, silos are created and nothing seems to collaborate.

Output and results

We frequently find that timely and accurate reporting is weak in a closely held company. With technology, we examine the potential for improvement with trending and dashboard reports. By far, the most focus in this area is what systems and information are essential to running the company and resolving this issue.

The surveying process and alignment tool used by the CBT are easy ways to examine a company’s focus and alignment. To learn more about this helpful resource, contact us.

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