Your Communication Doesn’t Suck, Your Alignment Does

Author: Bryan Ritchie

I have yet to work with a senior management team that when asked doesn’t identify communication weaknesses as a major impediment to success. The unstated assumption is that if only we would all talk to each other, then everyone would understand what needed to be done and we’d all do it at the right frequency and standard for success.

The truth is, however, that while it’s true that communication can almost always be improved, the problem is frequently more of an alignment problem than a communication one. Yes, better communication can improve alignment, but while necessary, it’s not sufficient. Alignment is a process that requires significant leadership attention to be sure that everyone understands AND THEN DOES the right behaviors at the right levels and frequency to ensure that a key objective gets accomplished.

Consider a sports team. Most sports teams understand the idea of alignment. Think of a basketball team where the point guard calls a play and no one but him runs it? Or what about a rowing team where every member is rowing in a different, albeit maybe only slightly, direction? How about a football team where the linemen pass block on a running play. It’s obvious that each of these teams will fail to achieve their objective.

Yet, ironically, most organizations are like dysfunctional sports teams where team members do their own thing in spite of what coaches and team leaders might or might not be communicating. Conduct a simple test of your organization: are there initiatives your organization has been trying to accomplish that have just not happened? If you’re like most organizations, the answer is yes. Some examples of companies we’re aware of:

  • A large telephone company trying to achieve a “mean-time to repair” number for 10 years
  • A market share leader in hotel chains trying to achieve a customer service number without success
  • A major hospital management company trying to achieve an hcahps score but constantly falling behind the competition

One can easily imagine other key milestones that an organization might desire to achieve but that constantly remain out of reach, such as:

  • Raising capital
  • Bringing new product to market
  • Achieving customer satisfaction ratings
  • Scaling existing products or services into new markets or countries
  • And so forth…

What differentiates the successful organizations from the not so successful? Put simply, alignment. Great organizations are highly aligned while weaker ones are fragmented and conflictual. As mentioned above, most organizations conceive of this problem as one of communication. Almost every organization that we’ve worked with will say that it needs to improve its communication. What it’s really saying is that is that it’s misaligned. Communication might be part of the problem. But as often as not, even the senior leaders are not clear on how to align the organization.

Great alignment consists of two parts:

  1. The direction components developed by the leaders of the organization. These include mission, values, objectives, vision, and strategy. This is the first step in alignment.
  2. The key performance activities developed by the middle and front line team members that when done at the right frequency and standard will result in the accomplishment of the strategy and objectives of the organization.

Most organizations miss the power of aligning the top-down direction with the bottom-up behaviors to accomplish specific outcomes. When this happens, however, there is nothing that cannot be achieved. Remember the examples above? Once aligned the:

  • Telephone company achieved their mean time to repair number if 9 months
  • Hotel chain achieved customer satisfaction numbers in one year that vaulted them to number one
  • Hospital management company reached their desired HCAHPS score in one cycle

Want to get things done? Get your organization aligned!

Bryan Ritchie and James Western are co-founders of GrowthSPORT, a successful consulting company whose mission is to improve SCORES (Stimulate Culture, Optimize Results and Engage Staff) for Teams, Divisions, Departments and Organizations through the SPORT model (Strategic Alignment, Personnel Performance, Operational Execution, Results Accountability and Team Strength), which are the Five Core Elements of Success.

GrowthSPORT provides resources, tools and experienced consultants to effectively implement the SPORT performance model from companies ranging from Startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Feel free to reach out to GrowthSPORT at (801) 676-2500 or at


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