How Skilled Are Your Leaders When It Comes to Alignment?


How Skilled Are Your Leaders When It Comes to Alignment? 

(Second in a series on Transforming Hospital Teams)

Most hospital administration team I’ve worked with over the last decade has adopted an ‘open door’ policy.  For those following this practice, I’ve observed that it can often lead to a day of interruptions, distractions and impromptu confrontations. (Yes, I said confrontations, not conversations.) What may have started as a quick drop-in can at times morph into an agonizing drive-by for those on the receiving end.

 In the absence of putting more thoughtful structure around leadership team development and alignment, I’ve heard these words: “If I have a problem with someone, I just go to their office and tell them how I feel.” Another familiar one: “I think we’re aligned; she didn’t speak up so if there was a problem, I’d know.”  

Of course, there are many instances when spontaneous clarity on a particular issue is positive, practical and necessary; however, the “Hey got a minute?” approach seldom leads to true and lasting alignment around strategic goals and priorities. Neither does trying to achieve it during weekly operations meetings. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll reach leader to leader alignment in such a group setting, which at its core has fundamentally different goals and objectives.

Organizational alignment can only progress when leadership stakeholders are truly aligned.  The kind of alignment I’m describing does not automatically mean that two individuals are in agreement with each other. Instead, alignment between two high level leaders really signifies that the individuals:

Think of leadership stakeholder alignment as a master-level communication skill. It requires study, development and practice.  It involves individual leaders gaining deeper awareness of how their communication style and approaches impact their colleagues. It goes beyond the full leadership team understanding and accepting the organization’s mission, vision, goals and values.  Why? Because alignment is about relationships, and sometimes these get complicated.

For senior leaders to master alignment, they must also recognize and acknowledge the strengths of their counterparts. At the same time, alignment requires each leader to own their own communication weaknesses (all leaders have them) and be willing to do the necessary work to improve them. If leaders are not authentically aligned, it’s not possible for hospital employees to be aligned with each other and with the needs of patients.

Alignment does not have to be triggered by an adverse event or crisis.  Used proactively, it safeguards and fortifies relationships, helps avoid costly rework and brings clarity and efficiency to the culture.  In our process, we encourage facilitated Leader to Leader (L2L) alignment.  An impartial third party with the requisite skills can help create a safe environment and set the guidelines for constructing and conducting conversations that are courageous and conducive to alignment.

Senior leader to leader alignment is the crucial first step in achieving a cultural transformation that ensures caregivers at all levels are on board to effectively pursue your organization’s mission.  In fact, the American Hospital Association’s Committee on Performance Improvement recently identified seven principles for improved system design. Among the principles cited was “work toward collaborative leadership.”  Collaboration on a leadership team is not possible without L2L alignment. 

Once senior leaders have mastered alignment, the next step is to make sure that the employees they manage are also aligned. Caution: do not confuse alignment with conducting an annual performance review; these two functions have very different purposes and outcomes. Leadership and team alignment doesn’t just happen; it is part of a deliberate, well thought-out organizational development plan (not training) – one that is rooted in the organization’s motivation to change its culture for the better.

 Up next: Improving optimism, morale and engagement

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