Employee Alignment: Unlocking the Engagement Puzzle
In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Lindsay Uittenbogaard. Lindsay is Director at Mirror Mirror, which is an employee engagement consultancy based in the Netherlands.
Mirror Mirror has built around 120 practitioners in 17 different countries. It is a tool that identifies and measures alignment gaps, by capturing the way that people perceive their context at work and comparing them in other team levels, to identify common ground and differences. It helps organisations and employees create clarity and engagement, enabling teams and organisations to develop more effectively.
Prior to Mirror Mirror, Lindsay held senior internal communication roles at Shell, T-Systems, VEON, and FEMS (Federation of European Microbiological Societies). Lindsay also has experience in micro-businesses.
Employee alignment is different to employee engagement
Employee alignment is often viewed as a consequence of employee engagement. In reality, alignment is a precursor to engagement. Alignment is crucial to employee engagement.
Lindsay explains this in three levels of alignment in an organisation:
1. The alignment of the enterprise to the strategic intent
This provides a strategic frame in which employees can operate, ensuring an organisation’s systems and processes are all pointing in the same direction.
2. The alignment of people to the organisation’s strategy
How the context can be shared with employees to enable them to align with the strategy.
3. Aligning employees with each other
With the strategy and communication in place, this level ensures employees can collaborate and interact to fill the gaps.
Lindsay explains that without alignment and a clear view of the strategy on how to collaborate and implement it, employees will not be engaged. However, she also puts forward that employees may be aligned yet not engaged.
When employees understand the vision, the strategy, their team’s purpose, and how they can implement it, engagement is achieved to advance the organisation’s mission through their role.
Creating employee alignment in a diversified world
Thankfully, world culture and organisational culture now encourage diversity and the embracing of differences. However, it may appear contradictory to combine this with alignment, with all employees expected to sit on the same page.
Lindsay is quick to clarify that alignment must not be confused with the idea of everybody thinking the same thing. “We don’t want you to just kind of memorise a message, because that’s not really going to have them internalise it,” she explains. “People have to make sense of things in their own ways.”
Alignment is not a uniformed and rigid message. It’s about cognitive and behavioural compatibility.
Organisations must both deliver a strategy and allow employees to express their interpretations and views within it.
Employees and teams must take time to discuss their interpretations, healthily challenging each other without confrontation or conflict, with respect for differences in opinions. Doing so will pave the way for alignment as employees adapt to each other’s views and decisions and come to agreement on how to move forward together.
Therefore, communication must focus on engaging people in conversation to surface misalignments and resolve them as a team.
Communication through conversation is widely accepted as the best method to engage people in organisations. But how one person hears a message can be very different to how others hear it. The result could be engaged teams that are misaligned.
Organisations must take care not to assume that people’s engagement with message means they agree on how to work together. Companies can continue for years believing that they have teams and employees working from the same manual, when their interpretations are misaligned and possibly in conflict.
As the world becomes increasingly complex and diverse, alignment is becoming increasingly important. While conversation is an effective alignment tool, on its own it is no longer effective enough in a fast-paced world in which remote working has been normalised.
Organisations must adopt methods that allow time and communication between their employees. Without this, alignment will not happen.
Using mental models to create employee alignment without stereotyping
Mental models affect how someone sees the world, and their logic behind it.
When organisations create a new strategy for a group of individuals to interpret and deliver, employees’ assumptions of the world are challenged. These assumptions must be unpicked and rebuilt to foster alignment with an organisation’s strategy.
This can be very hard to achieve, for individuals, their teams, and an organisation. Organisations would find it almost impossible to investigate each individual’s mental model to help them rebuild their logic. Consequently, they approach the problem by communicating to groups.
Here is where the risk of stereotyping lies: assuming how certain groups of employees interpret a message. For example:
- Assuming frontline factory workers’ only concerns are money
- Key players in succession planning are focused only on promotion
Such assumptions may be wrong, which will have a very detrimental impact on understanding cognitive and behavioural actions. Lindsay explains that fundamentally, organisations must understand that all people are different:
“We don’t get involved in all the understanding how people are fundamentally. We just want to know how they see what’s happening in the team, so that we can understand what’s happening in the team. If you measure that,” she says, “you can then understand what needs attention in order for people to better align when you compare how they see things.”
To do this, organisations must ask qualitive and quantitative questions.
Answers must be regarding the team and not merely the individual, because alignment can only happen in team context, not individually. This will identify team goals and how they plan to reach them, without individual motivations involved.
The importance of dialogue
“Dialogue is a key competence and key skill set that we can have to bring structure and effective dialogue to life,” Lindsay defines.
Dialogue is not solely the responsibility of the internal comms workforce in an organisation. Allocating time in a structured format to allow teams to not only look at the data but also listen to each other, ask questions, and respect each other’s interpretations, creates psychological safety for people to open up and align with each other.
How organisations define alignment as a core competency in their structure – Summary
Craig points out that organisations set much of their focus on engagement through contented workforces of individuals who have a sense of belonging within their organisation’s culture. But how do organisations make studying and filling the gaps between individuals to create alignment as a core part of their culture and development?
“Just like you need a structure to hang a conversation on, you need a tool to identify the alignment gaps so that you’ve got the right things to talk about, in the right way.” Lindsay clarifies.
Organisations must create a structured approach of discussion, and not simply a conduit to convey messages. They must welcome individual interpretations. Providing a common ground of openness allows individuals to look beyond their own beliefs and discuss their team’s different interpretations in a respectful, open-minded way. Only then can teams of individuals create a unified vision of engagement.
Lindsay’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindsay-uittenbogaard-1a653b/?originalSubdomain=nl