What Every New Manager Needs to Know – Focus on Aligning the Organization for Effective Execution

From Individual Contributor to Organizational Leader

One of the most difficult tasks for an individual contributor moving into a managerial role is knowing where and how to spend one’s time. As an individual contributor, and most likely a highly-successful one, figuring out what to do and how to do was within your control. For the most part, individuals have the ability to wrap their arms around key responsibilities and priorities. Successful execution is directly related to the individual’s ability to deliver results.

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A Different Role, a Different Focus

As a new manager, successful performance requires individuals to take on a much different role. If you are in this position, it is critical to realize that you are no longer able to get your hands on all the work that needs to be accomplished, nor should you. What is different is a different focus, a different perspective. Your role as manager is to accomplish work through others, which means that you need to create the conditions for success for others to execute effectively. Your goal is to increase the level of engagement as a way to achieve results as effectively as possible. Rather than focus only on individual or team execution, you must also focus on organizational alignment.

From the Field to the Press Box

As the manager of a team, the focus on execution is understanding how work is performed. If you were a coach of a football team, for example, your view of the action is from the sidelines. This perspective, an on-the-field view, focuses on task performance: assignments, roles and results. Execution is a compilation of several tactical moves. The team huddles for a play call. When the football is snapped, each person has a role – to perform their assignment successfully. The results are measured. Then back to the huddle, call a new play and execute again. The on-the-field view gives you literally a play-by-play view of the game.

However, if you were to walk up to the press box in the stadium, you would have a much broader view of the action. At this level, you get a more dynamic context to understand the team’s performance. You have a wider range of site. You can see plays develop, look for strengths and weaknesses, and look for patterns to determine where and how the team can execute more effectively. This higher level perspective is the press box view with a focus on alignment, the extent to which all the parts work together to achieve successful execution.

For a new manager, the press box view can be challenging. Having been a player, it is natural to think that the manager role is telling people how to execute their jobs. There’s a name for this condition if it persists over time – micromanagement. However, micromanagement creates disengagement. It is possible to micromanage the team to get results, but it is not sustainable. The battle cry of “results at any cost” actually comes with a high cost. If you have ever been micromanaged, you know how demoralizing it can be.

But this does not have to be the case. As a manager and leader, there has to be a dual focus on both execution and alignment. The more strategic press box view and the ability to focus on organizational alignment is a broader and potentially more effective way to engage team members by creating and maintaining the conditions for them to succeed.

Aligning Four Critical Organizational Elements

Alignment refers to the dynamic state is which the important elements within the organization are in sync. These elements are:

  1. Managers as leaders set the vision, strategy and culture for what is expected. Leaders are orchestra conductors. Their effectiveness is directly linked to the role they play and where and how they spend their time. Their responsibility is to maintain both on-the-field and press box views to make sure that roadblocks to outstanding performance caused by lack of direction, clarity or communication are removed.
  2. The organization consists of the structure that is created and the critical processes based on the strategy. Processes are both business-related and culture-related, meaning they define the environment is which people engage and perform.
  3. Jobs are the means by which responsibilities and tasks are carved out for individuals or teams. Clarity, standards and accountabilities are critical for successful performance of the jobs.
  4. Work is performed through people. In order for individuals to succeed, they must be motivated, trained, developed and rewarded. Yet again this is a critical leadership responsibility. For people to succeed, they must possess the right skill sets and behaviors and given the opportunity to grow professionally. If people are engaged, there is a greater likelihood there will be a higher level of performance.

When Alignment Becomes an Issue

When leadership, the organization, jobs and people are aligned, performance increases. How is this possible in such a highly dynamic world? The short answer is the leader is focused and poised to make adjustments as needed. An effective leader knows that a change in one element potentially throw the others out of alignment. Change the structure, and the jobs may change. Change the jobs and the skill sets could also change.

There is also the situation when misalignment is “built in” to the system. For example, there may be a very talented team who is working with poorly designed processes, such that people have overlapping responsibilities while other areas of the business are not covered at all. No matter how hard they work, their ability to execute effectively is hampered and will not change until the processes are improved.

Recommendation for New Managers

The instinct for many new to a manager role is to think about results as an extension of how work was performed as an individual contributor. You no longer have the ability nor the mandate to perform all the work yourself. The need to get results by micromanaging not only demotivates others, it inherently lacks the ability to scale. It’s a lose-lose way of doing business.

A better approach is to begin to adopt a different perspective, one in which you walk up to the press box to see and understand all the moving parts that impact performance. As a new manager, you do not have to be an uber achiever. Your job is to help others be successful, to execute effectively. The individual wins, the organization wins. There is no expectation that a new manager will become an organizational development expert overnight. Beginning to examine the elements of organizational alignment and how they contribute to creating the conditions for team success is a great starting point, one that has the right trajectory for your success as a manager and leader.

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