Your company may need an alignment – here’s a way to fix it

If your car is out of alignment, you’ll be fighting to drive in a straight line, wasting fuel, wearing out your tires, and taxing your frame prematurely. When everything is pointing in the same direction it’s much easier and more efficient to control the vehicle. Companies are no different. Teams and capabilities that are aligned create an organization that is more efficient to drive. And when everyone is on the same page it’s also easy and quicker to change direction when needed – this is essential for the early-stage venture tacking and pivoting its way to ideal product/market fit. 

As I wrote in a previous post, early stage companies should ruthlessly pursue alignment. Teams throughout the business should share an understanding of the target audience, the challenges that audience face, the reasons why the audience finds the company’s products/solutions valuable, and what makes the audience’s experience with the company unique and compelling. And why and how their various individual projects support those goals.

So what can you do to reach and retain alignment? It obviously starts with ensuring the CEO and management team are on the same page. Business plans and yearly and quarterly goals will be used as key frameworks here and will be expected by the board. But they don’t always translate well to front-line teams since the goals can be over a longer time period and not always well defined at the individual level.

For years I’ve used a framework that I call the “Play Card” which translates corporate strategy into a set of supporting cross-functional initiatives that attack various opportunities – just like it takes a group of athletes with specialized skills to run plays throughout a game of football. These Plays are broader than “marketing programs” since they will require contributions from many functional departments.

When the venture is big enough to execute in several markets or target industries, this Play approach can really assist in creating alignment and helping management to assess and balance a portfolio of initiatives. I’ve used them to take products into new vertical markets, explore major new channel efforts, and even created one once to launch a major new initiative for improving customer intimacy. Managing with Plays also makes it easier to assign and track revenue targets, investment expenses, and ROI. Even for the start-up, a one-page framework like this can help ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.  

The left side of the Play Card outlines the strategy – the target segment for the initiative, key messages to deliver, key offerings/solutions/calls-to-action, and competitive edge. The right side *highlights* out key tactical contributions that will be needed to execute the strategy. The intent is not to detail everything, but to review representative initiatives so everyone is aware of the major moving parts. The act of forming and working with the cross-functional team to “call the Play” is where a ton of value is created. That process is amazingly helpful for creating alignment.

Though anyone in the company can own this effort, I generally have Product Marketing folks lead the creation of Plays, organize the team, and run standing meetings to review progress against the Play. It creates a great sense of ownership and entrepreneurship - allowing people throughout the company to act like mini-GM’s in a way.

Keep your venture from wasting valuable “fuel” or missing a lucrative “exit” – get an alignment!