Sunday, April 10, 2011

Relationship Management Is Key to Strategic Business Alignment

When working to strengthen FM strategic alignment with the business do not overlook the importance of a strong relationship management program.  “Program” implies that this effort is intentional, as it should be.  Too many FM’s make the mistake of concentrating solely on the immediate project or task and do not pay enough attention to purposefully managing stakeholder relationships.  Relationship management, however, is a critical element of FM success, especially at the leadership level.

  • A close relationship between functional leadership and customers ranked fourth among enablers that help increase strategic alignment.  (Luftman and Brier)
  • Conversely, lack of a close relationship ranked first out of fourteen identified alignment inhibitors. (Luftman and Brier)
  • Business executives repeatedly downplayed the value of formal organizational structure, but frequently emphasized the critical role of relationships in achieving strategic alignment. (Chan)
The best relationship management programs are not only intentional but also multi-level.  Peer-to-peer communication occurs on a routine frequency at all levels of the organization, informing the alignment process up and down the FM chain.

While it is beneficial that these interactions occur at all levels it is most important that exchanges at the business unit and executive levels be especially well tuned.  This is where the most important information resides and where FM has an opportunity to learn the most about stakeholder issues, plans and initiatives.  With this knowledge FM leaders can be proactive with projects and services in a manner that best supports core business outcomes.  That is, after all, what alignment is about.

At the strategic level executives will want to be intentional about maintaining contacts and a pattern of communication which shares information.  These conversations take many forms, some of them of a more informal nature.

At the tactical level there are many ways to increase the alignment dialogue.  One common methodology is to designate specific Customer Relationship Managers to interact with their counterparts or senior executives in business units.  Often this takes the form of a zone management program in which building specific information and projects  are shared, but it need not be that tactical.  If it is, the strategic dialogue should be a specific touch point as well.

Alignment, however, is not a one way street.  While FM may be seeking to align its strategies and operations with core business strategies this process also informs stakeholders about FM’s capabilities, forward leaning attitude and willingness to be a true partner in the business, not just a “call me when you need me” service provider.  It is a critical difference.  The more business stakeholders accept FM as a full partner in the enterprise then the more leverage FM can apply to positive effect.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aligning FM with Enterprise Strategy – What Works?

Aligning functional operations and strategy with enterprise strategy first requires correctly understanding what alignment is.  I think the best practical definition I’ve run across is from Y.E. Chan who says,

“Alignment is best described not as a uni-dimensional phenomenon but as a superset of multiple, simultaneous component alignments that bring together an organization’s structure, strategy, and culture at multiple levels, with all their inherent demands.”

Multi-dimensionsal, simultaneous, and I would add, ongoing alignments.  Sounds like a messy process and it sometimes can be.  But there are a number of tactics that will help to make the alignment process successful.

A top down approach with a clear focus on business strategy is essential.   The changes required during serious alignment projects often require top-down motivation to overcome inertia and turf issues.  Senior executives are closer to enterprise strategy and have the ability to exert influence across the organization, and the ability to fund technology and other initiatives. 

The alignment framework must be strategy driven.  It’s all about consistently applying the same key strategies across the organization in a manner that maximizes adoption, market reach and shareholder value.  If the framework is focused on non-strategy issues then the lack of a unifying driver can present obstacles that stymie the effort. 

Operational metrics and customer satisfaction help to drive alignment initiatives.  Metrics to the rescue, again.  It’s hard to align something that you do not clearly see or understand.  Correctly quantifying operations and customer satisfaction provides a way to measure alignment gaps and prioritize projects based on expected benefit and importance to successive alignment initiatives.

Adopt continuous improvement and six sigma as alignment tools.   Hopefully you have already been using continuous improvement and six sigma protocols to optimize your own processes.  Alignment initiatives present the opportunity to take this to the next step, expanding the boundaries around your processes to include outside functions in which there is an important relationship in either direction.

Revisit mission statements to assure relevance and alignment.  It may sound obvious (because it is) but many organizations have not aligned their mission statements to be complimentary of each other.  If these statements are indeed the pointer on your compass to success, then different parts of the organization are moving in different directions at different speeds and with different levels of concern.  Making sure that mission statements express common values and outcomes all the way down the line helps everyone keep their eyes on the same goals.

Make alignment important to everyone.  You think it is now?  Maybe.  Making alignment a reportable element that influences performance reviews and compensation will guarantee it gets the attention you want it to get.