Strategic alignment: Why it matters and how you do it

by Cascade Team, on Apr 14, 2022

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Do you know why 52% of projects fail? Because the company lacks strategic alignment. If you have a misaligned strategy, your employees feel like we did while watching the movie, Tenet—confused, frustrated, and unsure of what direction things are moving.

Strategic alignment is how an organization coordinates its project objectives, decisions, and actions to support the overall corporate strategic goals. This structured roadmap should align teams, employees, and key stakeholders, both internal and external.

If you are to succeed with business strategy execution, your organization’s strategy can’t afford to look like an apocalyptic, dystopian script from Christopher Nolan.

Here’s what you will discover inside this article: 

  1. Why is strategic alignment important for strategy execution
  2. What are the consequences of misalignment in your strategy?
  3. What are the benefits of strategic alignment?
  4. 5 steps to strategic alignment

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

Why is strategic alignment important for strategy execution?

Back in the strategy dark ages, a few select executives would form a strategy initiatives cabal and climb the mountain to meeting room C. Weeks later, they would emerge with a stone tablet upon which the new strategic goals had been chiseled. They might also have had a pizza party (but we can't be sure because they never invited any employees).

Job done, strategy accomplished. Or so they thought. But in the real world, this top-down, prehistoric approach to strategy doesn’t work. Thankfully, there has been an evolution in strategy in recent years.

If your company sets inflexible strategy goals without any consideration for the strategic alignment process, you have a fiery new recipe for failure at every step. Let us explain the costs of poor strategic alignment.

What are the consequences of misalignment in your strategy?

When you keep strategy planning as the private reserve of business leadership, the outcome is a tone-deaf mess. It ends up distilled so far from its origins that it's unrecognizable. 

And then, this complex "plan" is thrown at employees like some incomprehensible totem pole. The executives wrap their neckties around their foreheads and rhythmically chant 'this is the future.." Under the flickering light of a 417-slide PowerPoint presentation on the old projector, a wide-eyed CEO thumps an ominous beat on the bongo as confused (and terrified) employees stick matchsticks in their eyes to stay awake. 

Okay, we might be prone to exaggerating a little bit (sometimes), but it's safe to say employee buy-in is not high. With such a plan, business units do their best to 'Exceed Success,' or 'Awesomize the day,' but as there's no coordination or communication between departments, each go their separate ways, and the goals of the organization fall at the feet of the project conflicts and siloed teams.

In this business environment, employees feel frustrated and disconnected from the leadership's vision. Isolated expertise stagnates, and demotivation runs rife. Some employees leave, office staplers go missing, and in-office Netflix viewing time skyrockets. People can quote lines from Denzel Washington's son, but nobody has a clue about the company strategy.

Ultimately, employee engagement nosedives and performance suffers. People don't know what they should do and become less interested in making an effort.

The outcome? Wasted time, wasted financial resources, and wasted talent. (And a fast and furious beat on the bongo).

In this scenario, a lack of strategic alignment has rendered strategy execution impossible to achieve and pointless to pursue. Every attempt by management to drum up support is a costly endeavor that generates more resentment than ROI.

What are the benefits of strategic alignment?

Now, let’s contrast this dire, Dilbertesque vision of purgatory with the benefits of strategic alignment done right. 

Imagine your organization rolls the strategic planning process out to include everyone in the business, with production, operations, and leadership equally represented.

The new strategy is straightforward and appeals to all parties. This collaborative ethos encourages enthusiastic discussion by everyone in the company—because they all had a hand in producing the strategy. Your strategy is a living thing. It is an ongoing process with action plans that identify how each employee and team can contribute to the success of the overall vision.

With a higher sense of ownership, you can boost engagement levels. Team members understand their role and know exactly what they can do to support strategy execution. Better yet, they feel motivated to propose new ideas. The bottom line is that this uptick in engagement and motivation translates to high-impact work and competitive advantage.

In this high-performing environment, employees feel validated and connected to the business, which fosters a positive, capable, human-centric work culture. People feel proud to work for this business, and each day they go home smiling (instead of shooting staplers at a picture of the CEO’s face on the breakroom door).

5 steps to strategic alignment

The beautiful example of strategic alignment above is what our strategy execution platform, Cascade, does best. That evolved attitude to strategy is what we’re all about.

Let’s show you our approach to help you achieve strategic alignment in your organization.

1. Align on top-level and create a plan

The first step is for your leadership team to get clear on your priorities. But wait, business leaders?! Aren’t we always banging on about strategy being for everyone?! 

Yes (we are, and it is), but before you can inspire your team to embrace the new ways, you must get your leader ducks in a row. After all, evolution can’t happen if there is any confusion in the ranks.

When you think about team alignment from early on, it lays the groundwork for more successful strategy execution. Your strategic plan should clearly state your mission and vision for the future of your organization, the values your business will uphold, and the ultimate goals you will pursue.

Once you have an outline plan, a SWOT analysis will help determine your strengths and weaknesses. Our platform allows you to map out, modify and manage your strategy plan, and you can add insights from SWOT analysis and other strategy tools as your project grows. 

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

2. Expose your strategy 

At this point, the old way would be to host an internal town hall meeting and try to sell your vision to your disengaged employees.

The old-school approach of pitching your strategy to your people doesn’t work because people are resistant. They didn’t have any involvement in laying the strategy framework, so it’s too abstract to make an impact. And if they don’t get it, how will they ever buy into it? (hint: they won’t).

The new way thrives on exposure. When you make your company strategy everybody’s business, you help them see how their work connects to the business goals and where they fit into the grand plan. 

Give your people access to your strategy at all times so that they can constantly learn from it and apply its principles to their work. Cascade lets you create and share an elegant, straightforward plan that offers your people more context around daily actions and unifies them under a shared vision. 

vision and values alignment

A vision and values lay the foundation for your business strategy. Make sure that it’s on everyone’s top of mind with Cascade

3. Inspire collaboration and engagement

As you open up your strategy in this way, show your people that you trust them to use it responsibly. You give them a stake in your business' success, foster company-wide buy-in, and acknowledge that everyone's efforts are valued. You show that your executive team accepts feedback and criticism.

A strategy execution platform makes this easy and creates a living, resilient strategy ecosystem where empowered decision-making is the norm. Doesn’t that sound better than the old staple of a mystical, unchanging Excel spreadsheet hidden away on a dusty hard drive at the CMO’s house? (shame on you, Matt).

With no boundaries between business units, there are no limits to your strategic growth. Transparency between teams and through authority levels is compelling, with the added benefit of showing that failures and setbacks can be overcome as a group.

This cross-functional collaboration helps you avoid duplicated work, as everyone has visibility on the dashboard. You can see which projects are on the go and the teams responsible. It's a silo-busting approach that brings separate teams together for maximum impact.

4. Measure strategy alignment 

And now, for the massive drag—you've got to measure strategic alignment. While some people would rather listen to more bongo music in the boardroom, the simple truth is that if you don't track your efforts, you'll struggle to deliver the best outcomes. You'll let your strategy down, you'll let your team down, and you'll let us down.

If you’re stuck in the mud with old-school tricks, you’ll spend weeks chasing people around the office with your notepad in a futile attempt to gather notes for your big PowerPoint presentation. 

Cascade’s platform lets you track progress against set targets in real-time. You can banish weeks of data collection and tedious work in Excel spreadsheets. Even better, you can give your people the freedom to engage in the strategy their way (without you hounding them). 

strategic contribution visualized

Visualize the strategic contribution and progress of each KPI and project within Cascade.

With Cascade, your strategic plan remains current. Everyone can see the key performance indicators (KPIs), track progress, and share accomplishments. 

5. Adapt quickly and align everybody

The old way was reactive. If some disruption in the market or internal business happened, it could take months before the company responded—which meant they're always playing catch up.

Your strategy should be evolutionary and ready to change with the shifts in the digital landscape. We think that Washington State University hit the nail on the head when it said strategic planning is not a “one-time project that produces a milestone document of its best thinking at the moment.”

Instead, you should take your tips from JD Washington (Son of Denzel) and be prepared to adapt to rapid changes constantly. When everyone is aligned on the understanding that things can change in an instant, you'll be in a stronger position to cope with sudden changes. For example, if there's a pandemic or if a unit of time-traveling assassins storms the Opera House during you're evening soiree. 

You can use Cascade to analyze what does and doesn't work in real-time. You’ll be able to quickly identify underperforming areas and confidently shift focus to things that need more attention. You’ll be able to keep people informed and enable them to adapt to disruptions faster—before it's too late. 

strategic alignment dashboard

Create customized reports with dashboards within Cascade. You’ll be able to quickly identify lagging KPIs and prioritize your actions accordingly. 

Share your strategy with your people

The code phrase repeated in Tenet is: "We live in a twilight world…and there are no friends at dusk." 

If you keep your team in the dusk about your strategy, we guarantee they’ll not be your friends. It’s time to share everything about your strategy with everybody in the organization.

When you disrupt the way you do strategy with a boundaryless approach, you can achieve strategic alignment and help your people adapt and evolve. You can leave the dark ages of siloed strategy planning behind to embrace a new way where everybody thinks bigger and can take the leap to execution.

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

Download the strategic planning template.    This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now <https://www.cascade.app/free-strategic-planning-template>