Management Articles


How To Achieve Focus, Alignment, Accountability and Results

By: Brian Ward

Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting. He helps leaders, teams and individuals acquire new knowledge and wisdom through their consulting and educational work. He can be reached at t

The pace of change has accelerated dramatically...or so the various business commentators would have us believe. Without a doubt, organizations of all types are introducing new products, programs and services at a much faster rate than ever before. The customer focused mantra of "Better Value...Faster" has become etched in the psyche of for-profit as well as non-profit and governmental organizations in recent years, driving this demand.

A slew of management 'solutions' have been developed over the years to help leaders and their teams deal with this demand. Witness the rise (and in some cases fall) of:
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM),
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP),
  • Total Quality Management (TQM),
  • Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI),
  • Business Process Management (BPM),
  • Business Process Reengineering (BPR),
  • Benchmarking,
  • Customer Satisfaction Measurement,
  • Customer Loyalty Programs,
  • Kaizen,
  • QFD/Voice of the Customer/Concurrent Design
  • ISO Series of Quality Standards,
  • Outcomes Management,
  • Supply (or Value) Chain Management,
  • Activity Based Costing/Management,
  • Program Evaluation,
  • Six Sigma/Statistical Process Control (SPC),
  • Balanced Scorecard,
  • Strategy Mapping,
  • E-Commerce,
  • Knowledge Management,
  • Corporate Intranets,
  • Project Management,
  • Self-Directed Teams (SDT's),
  • Lean Operations,
  • Competency Modeling,
  • 360 Degree Feedback,
  • Accountability Contracts,
  • Executive, Leadership and Team Coaching,
  • Accreditation,
  • Organizational Self-Assessments (Baldrige, NQI, EFQM) your head hurting yet?
Try this out. Invite your team out for a beer and pizza and get them to make a list of all the initiatives (both approved and know the ones I'm referring to) that are currently being 'tried' in your organization. Offer a small prize to the person who can come up with the longest list. One such inventory I witnessed had a total of 350 initiatives...and that was with an organization of only 1200 people!

Where does it all start? Well, every organization has it's own 'initiatives hatchery'. For instance, most organizations, during their annual planning ritual, decide to try out some of these approaches in the hope of boosting performance. My advice is 'don't try'. Have you ever 'tried' to do something? Here's a test - place a pen in front of you and 'try' to pick it up. Now please note...the instruction is not to 'pick it up', the instruction is to 'try'. See what I mean?

So, each year the top leadership team takes off on it's annual retreat, and 'brainstorms' more initiatives to 'try', on top of the ones that are currently being 'tried'.

The message comes back from the retreat...'let's try some more', cleverly disguised as a 'portfolio' of strategic initiatives, replete with (new) performance measures and assigned accountabilities. The result? Increasing lack of focus, poor alignment of employee actions with the mission, blurred accountabilities, tired and demoralized workforce and lackluster results.
Oh...and lots more 'trying'.
Confessions of a Management Consultant
Oftentimes management consultants are in the wings egging these teams on...'have you tried this, or how about trying this?' When things get really messy, consultants sell 'integration' solutions that attempt to clean up the mess, such as Reengineering. When the IT solution begins to take it's toll, other consultants come along and sell Employee Assistance Programs - EAP's, as a way to manage the stress.


The answer? Stop trying. Get focused. Here are some examples of focus:
  • Be the #1 or #2 in each of our business sectors (Thanks to Jack Welch of GE)
  • Make people happy (Thanks to Walt Disney)
  • Have a man on the moon by the end of the decade (Thanks to JFK)
  • Overnight parcel delivery, worldwide (Thanks to Fred Smith of FedEx)
  • The #1 discounter in small town America (Thanks to Sam Walton)
Did you notice that all of these focused on an end result, without reference to how that result would be achieved...that's what makes them clear and compelling. They represent a true challenge to people, and provide the broad scope within which people can develop responses and make very focused strategic and tactical choices.

Alignment and Accountability

Alignment occurs voluntarily when your focus is both clear and compelling. People sign up en masse. Detractors make themselves known very early. Others, in due course will either come on board, join the detractors or leave. For more on this see The Footsteps of Change.

With voluntary alignment comes accountability. People demand to be held accountable when they are passionately aligned with the organization's focus. In fact, they hold themselves and each other accountable, without the need for the 'big brother' type of accountability that permeates many organizations who attempt compliance with the focus. In addition, because senior leadership have led by example, people at various levels also stop 'trying' and develop their own focus, which supports that of the organization. Pet projects either get dropped or are seriously realigned, in an accountable fashion, with the focus. Less really is more.


Once the focus, alignment and accountability challenges are met, new energy and excitement grips the organization. New hope emerges. Success becomes attainable. Small successes build into big ones and the organization redefines what is meant by 'trying'...and all because the leaders stopped trying and gave the organization the gift of a clear and compelling focus.

So stop trying and get focused. When you make your focus compelling, you can be assured that alignment, accountability & results will follow naturally.

Oh, about that next planning retreat...speaking as a consultant, why not give this meeting process a 'try'.

© Copyright 2003 Affinity Consulting. All rights reserved.

Other Articles by Brian Ward

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