Mirror Mirror: A new approach to employee alignment

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Employee alignment is traditionally defined as being a connection between organisational, team and individual goals. Guest blogger Lindsay Uittenbogaard presents a much more comprehensive definition and approach to employee alignment, based on existing research, methods, and common sense.

I’ve been working in global communication management and leadership positions within large organisations since 2001. Prior to that I spent 10 years building up small businesses with no more than 8 employees. The move from micro to macro business environments was a kind of comedic shock. How could these fantastic brands – and every other large organisation around, it seemed – be operating like this?

I learned how crucial it is for people to align in large organizations, yet how difficult it is to do. I saw the immense cost and frustration of misalignment, and started to imagine what could be done about it.

My experience has shown me that typically, leaders push ahead with their own tangible agendas and it is either assumed that people will ‘fall into’ alignment, or it is not a priority: partly because attempts to align properly, using conversation and traditional communications, are tricky and time consuming.

And because it’s impossible to see what other people are thinking, once there is ‘clarity’ with one or more people at the top, it is easily assumed that the clarity has spread after a few phrases have been spoken and repeated. This is propelled of course, by subordinates who send out nods and multiple other agreement signals in response.

If anything, alignment is labelled ‘employee engagement’ and delegated to the Communications Department where attempts to bring people on to the same page – mainly using media in different countries, languages, and cultures – make a lot of noise…  But we know about Chinese whispers and how easy it is for meaning to be diluted or distorted. What I term as ‘alignment fog’ inevitably seeps in to muddy the waters: assumptions, misunderstandings, personal biases, information gaps, and social influences.

Disillusioned about the ‘success’ of internal communications and itching for my own project, I called my favourite brainstorm partner – who became equally curious about the challenge of effective alignment – and we got to work.

Defining alignment

Misalignment is a natural, recurring phenomenon that happens because we have separate brains. It can take place within any aspect of a situation: the why, what, how, who, when, and where. And people factors, such as availability, competence or interpersonal communication skills affect the quality of the connections between people – and how well they align with each other.  And by the way, of course the context keeps changing…

And so instantly, alignment is not just about goal setting anymore, it’s the extent to which people have a ‘shared current reality’. This is based on Social Constructionism, derived mainly from Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality (1971): “all knowledge, and therefore all meaningful reality as such, is contingent upon human practices, being constructed in and out of interactions between human beings and their world, and developed and transmitted within an essentially social context.”

So, you could say that where engagement is about having people change or broaden their understanding of a situation to match a wider strategic direction (let’s not get too far into that discussion), then alignment goes to a deeper level. Based on the established notion that perception is reality, alignment is the extent to which people perceive a shared current reality, based on common ground or known differences.

Therefore, the more overlap there is in how people perceive their current reality to be, the more aligned they are. And that’s something people can work with. If they know where the common ground and differences are, they know exactly where to have a conversation, what inputs are needed, and they can build a better shared current reality towards being something way more useful.

Creating alignment

The Mirror Mirror approach works by:

3 steps to employee alignment

We capture how people perceive their world at work via 1-1 guided interviews. The question sets are standard – so allowing for answers to be compared – and are based on a breakdown of ‘context’ into 96 factors within 9 categories. The factors range from industry influences, to the company culture; and from the organisation’s strategic direction, to the working locations of the team.

We also recommend psychometric assessments to shed more light on the people and diversity within the team.  All the data collected is presented in visualisations, showing a ‘snapshot’ of how people perceive their world at work.  When you present these back to the team – when you hold up the mirror to show how team members and their leader currently perceive things – believe me, they are very curious to see the results.  The gaps and opportunities become clear, and that’s where real dialogue starts.

We only apply this process to teams of up to 20 people because teams share a goal, a leader, and content. With more people attempting to align, the content become less relevant and people just can’t get to know everyone in the mix.

Putting it to work

Now that we’ve developed this approach and the data processing software, we are in Beta Test mode.

What differentiates Mirror Mirror from other communication approaches is that the input for Mirror Mirror comes from the team, which makes people feel heard and included. They own the ideas and so are more likely to commit to next steps. And because it’s all about their context, it is relevant, actionable, and immediate.

We have just finished a test of Mirror Mirror with a logistics team in Samsung Electronics. The results were that:

  • 79% of participants said they feel the team has more, or much more clarity and alignment to go ahead and achieve its objectives than it did before the Mirror Mirror exercise
  • 86% of participants said they felt positive or very positive about the team and its outlook going forwards after the Mirror Mirror workshop
  • All participants said they feel their team is better prepared to succeed now than it was before the Mirror Mirror exercise.

Here are some of the comments we got back from those who took part.

 

What the participants said

If you would like to find out more about that test, or propose a test team for inclusion in our Beta Test phase at a reduced rate, please get in touch.  We are seeking 3 more trials with teams in any sector between now and March 2018. All comments and feedback to this article also most welcome.

GUEST BLOG by Lindsay Uittenbogaard for simply communicate.

Mirror Mirror identifies and addresses team alignment gaps and opportunities to improve effectiveness:  www.mirrormirrorhub.com