The HR Essay: Alignment – it’s the crucial answer to many HR problems

In the second of our new 'HR Essay' series, Chris Meroff looks at the complicated topic of 'alignment' - what it is, and what it means to practice it:

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Jan 23, 2024

At the end of last year, TLNT launched a new ‘HR Essay’ series.

It’s where we challenge distinguished HR experts to tackle a topic close to their heart – with analysis that’s a little bit deeper than a standard TLNT article.

Our first essay kicked things off by looking at how HR professionals could begin to solve their perennial problem of getting a seat at the boardroom.

Well, today it’s back. In this second of our HR Essay series, we asked Chris Meroff, entrepreneur and bestselling author of “The Empathy Revolution: Practical Wisdom to Combat Organizational and Social Loneliness” to at another common HR issue that’s often misunderstood – alignment.

Here he contemplates what HR needs to do to steer the alignment ship:

Workers are unhappy

As report after report by Gallup often tells us, employees overwhelmingly dissatisfied, disengaged, and unhappy.

In a 2022 survey, some 60% report being emotionally detached at work; while 19% actually stated they were miserable.

Only a third of employees reported feeling engaged, which means that the other two-thirds appear to be disengaged.

It stands to reason that if two-thirds of your workforce is unengaged, but management is stressing about profits and productivity, it’s unlikely organizations can expect to have any form of success.

Something needs to be done about this, and soon.

But what?

Too many leaders obscure the way ahead

Many leaders often feel they can only give their employees breadcrumbs in terms of sharing the full vision and picture of where the company needs to go.

They fear their employees will misinterpret the information or be privy to company secrets.

To me though, this sounds counter-intuitive.

With no knowledge of where they’re going or why, uncertainty will cloud every aspect of their day-to-day work schedule.

Success, though, begins when your employees grasp the purpose and align with the values laid out from the top down.

When they understand the why, they’ll feel fulfilled as opposed to uncertain.

Think about it this way. If you were a boat captain prior to the steam engine, you’d have a crew of men who handled sails, knew some astronomy, and understood trade winds.

Each time they stepped aboard the vessel, they’d know their role; they’d know their responsibilities, and they’d know where the boat was headed.

Imagine then, if the crew spun the sails in any direction they thought they should go because the captain never told them where they were going? That boat would spin in circles and likely end up adrift in the Atlantic or Pacific until it capsized and everyone died.

Yet, this is the same manner in which we treat the modern work world.

No one is aligned to the day-to-day tasks, projects, or goals. They’re swinging the proverbial sail in the direction they think it should go, not where the captain wants it to head.

Alignment is needed

In order to ensure that the company moves in the same direction, and that all hands are on deck, leaders must align their employees.

Alignment comes when each person knows where they’re going and why —Every. Single. Day.

When workers are aligned, they will –despite some uncertainty – end up more fulfilled.

Why? Because at least they’ll have understood their goals, objectives, and direction.

Have you ever worked on a project or task that you poured your heart and soul into, only to have your boss leave the presentation unimpressed?

That’s because neither party was in alignment.

You worked on the wrong thing at the wrong time because of a failure from your leader to cast vision and align your efforts in the right direction.

Think about how much more fulfilled employees would feel each day if they knew the project or task they’re handed was clear and aligned with where their bosses needed them to go?

Ditch the irony

More often than not, when I consult with business leaders, they’ll complain about employees who aren’t accomplishing a task within an expected timeframe.

Here’s the irony. The first question I’ll ask them is, “Well, did you even give them a deadline?”

Almost always, the answer is a resounding no.

You can’t expect employees to be mind readers; hence, that’s why alignment is vital to the success of the company.

Workers need to know deadlines, roles, expectations, and their company’s vision.

And not just once, but every day.

Yes, to do this daily is a challenge. But if you’re a business owner, manager, CEO, or boss, and you’re hesitant to implement this strategy, then what is the point of having employees?

Provide for your employees

For me, the point of each of my entrepreneurial endeavors is to provide for my employees.

I want them to have a job they enjoy, with steady pay, and safety to express their different life experiences and beliefs.

In turn, I want my businesses to be a benefit to the community, not a detriment with disgruntled workers who leave work unfulfilled.

Even if you’re making hand-over-fist profit, but the work environment destroys the soul and beliefs of your staff, could you really call that success?

While Amazon’s profit margins are astronomical, we’ve seen report after report about walkouts and strikes. Success can’t be one-sided to the point of dismissing unity and cohesion.

For instance, my family comes from a Jewish culture.

While I’m not a practicing Jew, it’s been interesting to learn the history and practices of my extended family; about how we made our way to the United States, and the deeply held beliefs that impact their daily decisions.

Many entities fail to recognize that no single workplace is going to be homogeneous.

Each person brings life experiences, religious beliefs (or none), skill sets, ethnic backgrounds, culture, and character traits to the table. Your staff are also likely split in their political views.

Taken at face value, mixing such taboo and differing ideologies would be a recipe for disaster over a Thanksgiving meal.

Yet, each day, employees from polar opposite cultures and beliefs clock in and accomplish tasks together. We’ve all seen what happens, though, when unity breaks down and it usually results in scandalous headlines.

In order for there to be unity, cohesion, and alignment in the workplace that leads to success, we have to celebrate the differences in outlooks and views.

It’s not a threat to my personal beliefs to understand someone else’s.

My beliefs are for me. Their beliefs are for them. But by understanding a worker’s experiences and culture, managers and bosses operate in empathy and, more often than not, discover that most of us are like the rest of us.

The lie is that there are no similarities between worker and CEO. But every person on this planet will endure joy, suffering, loss, victory, fear, and courage.

Our life experiences may be utterly different, yet they produce the same human emotional experience.

Alignment doesn’t have to mean ‘fulfillment’

It’s worth mentioning that alignment in the workplace does not mean you’re responsible for your employees’ fulfillment.

We all know someone in a great work environment who’s a total joy thief.

I’m sure you know the type.

They walk into a room and suck the life and energy out of every staff meeting.

This is why leaders have to distinguish what they’re responsible to and what they’re responsible for.

Managers, bosses, and CEOs are responsible to their employees, but not responsible for their life fulfillment.

Our job is to provide the best workplace possible that allows no margin of error in aligning our employees to the company’s purpose and values.

Make no mistake, alignment is the most difficult aspect of a leader’s role.

Every morning you’ll have to choose whether you want everyone on the same page, or to just run the ship yourself.

It’s easier to pull the boss card, but it doesn’t – ultimately – lead to a successful work environment.

Successful companies have engaged employees who feel they understand where the ship is heading and can trust the leadership at the helm.

Alignment gives you the motivation for what needs to happen in the workplace and the why for what you’re doing.

And when that happens, you’ll discover engaged employees who contribute to the health and success of a company.