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Rapid Realignment: Proven Strategies for Unbeatable Performance

Rapid Realignment: Proven Strategies for Unbeatable Performance

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dr. George H. Labovitz and Victor Rosansky, the
co-authors of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance.)

When Admiral Vern Clark became Chief of Naval Operations in 2001, he made our previous book, The Power of Alignment, required reading for all the admirals in the Navy. He did so because he could sense there was enormous misalignment in his organization that was costing his service in terms of performance and money. “Things were broken in ways that nobody knew,” he explained. “The Navy was hollowing out. It was my sense.” He told us, “that if we were a public company, we’d have been in Chapter 11.”

In support of his focus on alignment, we pointed out that there is over thirty years of empirical research that shows aligned organizations outperform their nearest competitors by every major financial measure. He surprised us, however, when he said, “that may be true, but the main reason I made alignment my number one goal wasn’t financial. It was because in my business, second place is a terminal disease.” At that moment we learned why the imperative to align is so great in military and government organizations: because the price of misalignment is so high.

But military and government organizations offer unique challenges to leaders charged with rapidly realigning them to meet ongoing challenges. Government functions are usually supply driven, and operating units are often insular and bureaucratic. Their focus is on spending budgets and on activities versus customer-related performance metrics. Also the scale of these organizations is often very large and the timeframe required for realignment is often very short.

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We spent years measuring the state of alignment within major military and government organizations and working with senior leaders to improve it, often with dramatic results. The lessons we’ve learned from military and government leaders who successfully realigned their organizations are contained, with others, in our new book Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance (McGraw Hill 2012).

    In each case, we’ve learned something new and valuable. We’ve learned for example, that leaders can create alignment by measuring alignment. And when leaders are provided information that informs action, leaders can take focused action that yields more immediate results.

    For example, one of those capable leaders was Vice Admiral Phil Balisle, head of the Naval Sea Systems Command, or NAVSEA. NAVSEA is a huge enterprise with over 54,000 people and a budget of more than $20 billion dollars. It is responsible for the technical and engineering support and long-term maintenance of the surface fleet and submarines.

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    VADM Balisle took command in at a time when the Navy’s brass felt that NAVSEA needed to revolutionize its procedures, streamline operations, and break away from the perception that it was dedicated to the status quo. He knew that the Navy’s usual three-year command cycle would make implementing long-term change difficult. Could he get it all done in three years?

    Adding to the challenge was the fact that the majority of his work force was civilian, not military. Most had been doing their jobs for years and had developed an entrenched way of doing things that had made them resistant to change — rapid change in particular.

    In taking on his task, Balisle adopted what we call a Slow-Faster-Faster approach: taking his time (up to six months), initially to listen, learn, gather data, and plan; speed up with a set of ambitious initiatives; and, finally, going all out to engage the workforce in enduring change, assessing alignment at each stage.

    Each initiative adopted what Balisle’s teams would call the “Hundred Day March.” One hundred days to align and transform long-established practices seemed daunting, but Balisle felt that the foundation of change had to be laid down quickly. The first 30 days of each “march” would be devoted to defining the problem and objective. What needed fixing, and how could they fix it? For each initiative the remaining 70 days would be devoted to implementation. By the end of the hundred days, the goal was to have new and aligned structures in place.

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    The balance of Balisle’s years in command was devoted to making those new structures enduring, and to engaging the workforce — from top to bottom — in the new way of operating. Gaining buy-in was an important challenge for each team. It required an aggressive communication plan that would reach every sailor and civilian employee with a consistent message over time. As in every other successful example of rapid realignment, message consistency and repetition was required to sustain the alignment initiative. Measurement was also essential. Balisle and his team used our web-based alignment assessment tool each year to measure how people were responding to changes and to identify barriers to further progress.

    As challenging as the NAVSEA project was, and as taxing as its hundred-day marches were for people, it worked. As Phil Balisle told us:

    “We saw results very quickly — money savings and improved efficiencies. We were doing jobs with less people, were cleaning up work areas so people felt better about their work and the organization of it. We could see tangible things that were very important to where we had to go. We also received recognition of progress in the Federal Government’s 2005 survey of Best Places to Work, which showed significant improvement in NAVSEA’S across-the-board scores and a rating well above Navy and Department of Defense averages. These results, which included ranking No. 1 in effective leadership among U.S. Navy organizations, were an especially notable achievement given the amount of change we imposed on the workforce.”

    These scores were gratifying, as NAVSEA had consistently ranked low in the Department of Defense survey prior to Balisle’s command.

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    VADM Balisle’s experience, and that of other military/government leaders we have worked with, proves that no matter how challenging the environment, with focused leadership action rapid realignment can be achieved.

    Dr. George H. Labovitz, co-author of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, is the founder and CEO of ODI, an international management training and consulting company, and professor of management and organizational behavior at the Boston University Graduate School of Management.

    Victor Rosansky, co-author of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, is co-founder and president of LHR International, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience as a consultant, helping Fortune 500 clients to drive rapid strategy deployment and alignment.

    (Photo credit: Business Chart showing positive growth via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

    You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

    Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

    “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

    It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

    Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

    As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

    As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

    Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

    Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

    1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

    When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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    Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

    2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

    Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

    But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

    If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

    Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

    3. Go to All Office Networking Events

    Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

    If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

    Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

    Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

    The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

    Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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    4. Show Initiative

    Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

    Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

    Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

    5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

    Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

    Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

    6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

    A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

    Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

    Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

    A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

    Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

    Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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    These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

    Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

    7. Find a Mentor

    With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

    Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

    Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

    Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

    8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

    After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

    What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

    Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

    Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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    You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

    9. Set Your Professional Bar High

    Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

    Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

    Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

    Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

    The Bottom Line

    Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

    “Half of life is showing up.”

    The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

    Remember, your career is your business!

    More About Continuous Growth

    Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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