Let me share these scenarios. There are caricatures of common situations.
R&D wants to create a product that works. Marketing and Sales want many versions of that product, as many as possible, in order to hit as many customers as possible. Manufacturing wants to create one version, one pack, one size, one colour.
R&D does not think the way Marketing and Sales does. The ‘that works’ comes first, the ‘that can be sold’ comes later. Manufacturing does not think the way R&D or Marketing and Sales see the world. One version should be good enough for everybody. Marketing and Sales thinks that R&D and Manufacturing should serve their needs. After all, they know what the market needs. (R&D and Manufacturing think that this is a hell of an assumption)
Of course I am in caricature mode, but unless you have been in a corporate sabbatical for a long time, you will recognise my points. There is a natural tension between these functions. How do we solve it? What do we need? Ah! The magic word: alignment. A soon to be granted a place in the Hall of Fame of Management Commodities.
Alignment is fine, but it is usually misplaced in the ‘thinking chain’. It tends to come too early to the party. Many leaders are obsessed with alignment to the point that they expect it upfront in the decision making process. To achieve that, it would mean, in the example above, that R&D needs to think like Marketing, Manufacturing like the others etc. Not only that, when this is not shown, you may be diagnosed of silo mentality and bad corporate citizen. In the quest for corporate citizenship, I’ve seen many times great ‘alignment’ on a common lower denominator. Everybody agrees, gets behind, supports and aligns on a poor decision.
Let R&D be R&D, Marketing and Sales be Marketing and Sales and Manufacturing be Manufacturing. The creative tension is needed. Early ‘alignment’ in the decision making process is a bad idea. When a client comes to me singing the alignment song, and I can’t find signs of dissent around, I do worry.
Change the R&D, Marketing and Manufacturing functions for any other in your company, the point is the same.
Creative tension is first, leadership decision is next and alignment comes afterwards to support and execute the leadership decision. Alignment should never be upfront.