Are you limiting your potential to excel by not aligning to the end outcome?

In my past columns, I’ve briefly introduced the concept of alignment to drive operational and process excellence. In other words, ensuring that team members have a common understanding of what success looks like and how they can contribute to drive this success.

In process terms, this means that team members need to have an "end-to-end process understanding", a "system orientation" while also understanding the desired "successful customer outcome" or the "target condition" for the activities that they are part of.

People want to feel connected to a higher meaning and purpose and be able to gain a sense of accomplishment along the way. They want to know where they are going and why. When they do, the research shows that performance improves.

As an example, a 2011 Harvard School of Business study demonstrated that the secret to fostering amazing performance is empowering talented people to progress and succeed at work that is meaningful.

While fairly straightforward, this basic element of human performance is often missed. In many cases over the years, under the guise of improving operational performance, I’ve observed organizations implement systems that shut down human potential by instituting measurement systems that attempt to break down tasks and activities to an infinite level based on a "perfect operating environment".

In such cases the focus shifts from "what needs to be achieved" (successful outcome) to "how it needs to get done", limiting a team member’s ability to truly align to what a successful end outcome should look like. This might not cause as much concern if the measurement system was fully aligned to the desired end outcome but that is not generally the case.

While this approach might have made sense in the simplicity of Adam Smith’s pin factory of the 1800s, today’s operational complexity is not well suited for such solutions. As the adage of "what gets measured gets done", if a measurement system isn’t properly thought through, alignment will quickly fail. Not to mention that "what isn’t measured won’t get done" even if it is key to a "successful customer outcome"!

In my next columns I will provide a few illustrations of these cases as well as propose a few possible solutions and approaches to consider.

Have you seen examples where measurement systems create a false sense of alignment? What has been the impact of such cases both in the short and long term? What can you do at a project or program level to help instil this sense of alignment?