Total Alignment Blog

Questions & Answers About Total Alignment

by Riaz & Linda Khadem

Total Alignment is now implemented in major international corporations, and case studies are available in major business schools. Often we hear the same questions from those investigating the management system. We have put together some of those questions with short answers. We hope this is helpful.  This blog is organized in five sections comprising of general questions followed by questions about each of the four pillars of Total Alignment, Vision & Strategy, Accountability, Information, and Culture and the Management Model.

General Questions

Q: Which companies can benefit from Total Alignment?

A: The concepts of Total Alignment are universal and can benefit all companies, from all industries.

Q: Which companies can expect similar results to those of ProlecGE

A: Any company that implements the complete methodology without allowing resistance to change to derail the implementation can expect excellent results. There were several factors to Prolec that caused its success to be remarkable, such as outstanding leadership, favorable market, and available financial resources.

Q: We have our alignment through Management by Objectives where the objectives for the organization are cascaded down through our managers, each assigning objectives for the year to their direct reports. Can we say we have alignment?

A: You have the semblance of alignment, but cannot be sure you have real alignment, certainly not total alignment. It is like the telephone game when one person in a group of five to ten people sharing a statement with the next person and asks her to convey it to the next person and so on. Often the message received by the tenth person is completely different.

In management by objectives, each direct report becomes aligned with the boss based on what he hears from the boss, and the original message could have been lost in the cascade process. Often two people doing the exact same job reporting to two different bosses have different objectives. Additionally, the performance appraisal system gives plenty of latitude to the opinion of the managers at each level that might not be based on facts. In Total Alignment, everyone is aligned directly with the vision and strategy of the organization. The evaluation of performance is based on the performance data in the scorecard of the person.

Q: Is Total Alignment another form of Balanced Scorecard?

A: Both are excellent programs, but completely different. The only commonality in the two systems is the word ‘Scorecard’!  The methodologies, the approach to implementation, the er resulting culture and sustainability after implementation are all different. Even the scorecards defined in Total Alignment is fundamentally different from those defined in Balanced Scorecard.

The Scorecards in Total Alignment are both business scorecards and individual scorecards. Great emphasis is placed on individual scorecards that combine to impact the business scorecards. The contents of the individual scorecards measure the added value of the job and the role of the jobholder in impacting the KPI. Embedded in the definition of the individual scorecard is a delegation process that empowers the lowest appropriate levels to be accountable for directly impacting a KPI and focuses the upper levels on strategic issues related to the future. Additionally, the individual scorecards defined in Total Alignment include accountability for direct impact on a KPI as well as accountability for cross-functional and vertical influence. The individual scorecards serve to increase collaboration across functions and eliminate silos.

Q: Do we need Total Alignment if we already have Balanced Scorecard?

A: The answer is yes. Total Alignment complements Balanced Scorecard with all the features that exist in Total Alignment.

Q: We are very good at planning, but not so good at execution. How can Total Alignment help us with execution?

A: You are not alone. Many organizations have this challenge. To have good execution requires more than having a few people who execute well. It needs establishing a culture of execution through adequate methodologies and processes to enable everyone to improve execution. In Total Alignment, an infrastructure is constructed first with methodologies that use a software for keeping track and encouraging execution. Then, the twin management processes of team review and vertical review utilizes the infrastructure to ensure excellent execution.

Q: Can we identify our areas of misalignment and treat them one by one with different sets of methodologies?

A: Of course, and that will help you a lot. The organization will have better alignment in several areas or functions, but you won’t have total alignment across functions and throughout the company. The solutions you create in each area will probably not be aligned with each other.

Q: Does the structured approach in Total Alignment diminish creativity?

A: On the contrary, Total Alignment structures promote creativity. One of the structural elements of Total Alignment is the cycle of Team Review, where teams including the owners of a KPI, and all the influencers gather to brainstorm and improve the performance of a KPI. Within this structure and aided by the guidelines for consultation emphasized by Total Alignment, the free flow of ideas leads to creative solutions that are adopted, acted upon, and reflected upon in the next cycle. The pursuit after creative solutions is embedded in the Total Alignment process.

Q: If we already have similar elements from Total Alignment implemented in our company, do we still need Total Alignment?

A: That is a question you will have to answer yourself.  It depends on how well those elements have been implemented, how aligned they are with one another, and how well they work together to boost the progress of your company.

Q: Some of our top managers were recruited from successful organizations. Implementing Total Alignment means they should change the way they manage. Will we lose in the process? 

A: These managers have no doubt gained competence in management and could produce results using their own approach based on the competence they have gained. They would, however, recognize the value of the Total Alignment process that includes much of what they have learned from their previous jobs. So, for the sake of alignment with their similarly competent colleagues and especially with the lower levels they supervise, we recommend that they embrace the Total Alignment process.

Q: Implementing Total Alignment will take time of our managers who are already on overload. How can they keep focused on delivering results and implementing a whole new way of managing at the same time?

A: Acquiring anything of value requires investment. In this case, your managers will have to invest their time to do both, continue to perform and produce results in their jobs and implement the Total Alignment process as necessary. This has been done in many organizations and has proven that the investment of time has been well worthwhile.

Q: We tried to implement Total Alignment after reading the book, but it didn’t work, people found the management process cumbersome and time consuming.

A: The success of Total Alignment depends on the way it is implemented. As Total Alignment impacts so many people, functions, and levels of management, it requires certified external facilitators who have experience in implementation. It is a cultural transformation that does not lend itself to ‘do it yourself’ by internal resources who are already ingrained in a culture that must change.

First of Four Pillars – Vision & Strategy

Q: We all have Mission, Vision, Values. We invested time creating them, why not use what we have?

A: Are they truly at the center of everything the company does? And are all activities in the organization aligned with them.? If there is true ownership of these statements by the owners of the business, the board, and the workforce, then you don’t need to create new ones. If you decide to create a new set, you can incorporate what you have into the new definition.

Q: About strategy, there are those who say, forget about strategy. Instead, be awake and grab opportunities that emerge dynamically because you can’t foresee opportunities ahead of time. What does Total Alignment say about that?

A: Total Alignment says that you should have a clear strategy for the future but be open to opportunities that arise and modify your strategy accordingly.

Q: We’ve implemented blue ocean strategy. Is Total Alignment another strategy we must pursue?

A: The Blue Ocean strategy as well as similar strategies available in the literature are different approaches to your market. In Total Alignment, market strategy is one of the components to consider. Your Blue Ocean strategy might fit that component. The other components are Support strategy and Closing Gap strategy.  The Total Alignment process includes guidelines for each of these three components. The guidelines are process guidelines, not content guidelines. In other words, Total Alignment does not suggest what you should do, but gives you a process to enable you to make your own decision to create the strategy you need.

Q: Why do you use the alignment map to capture strategies, why not let each area develop its own strategy and execute?

A: Implementing strategy involves investment. Different business units or areas of the company can indeed develop strategies for their own area. Without the Alignment Map, the area that gets a strategy funded could have a leader who is the most assertive or politically connected. It is possible that this area should not actually grow but be divested if the personality at the head is not considered. With the alignment map, Total Alignment brings transparency to strategic decisions at the upper levels of the organization. The Alignment Map becomes a tool for dynamically updating and always showing activities for the present and future of the company.

The Second Pillar – Accountability

Q: The accountability pillar appears to be time consuming. Why not make everyone accountable for the main indicators of the company – Sales, expenses, profits, and growth?

A: If everyone is accountable for an indicator, it means no one is. Each person assumes others will do something to improve the performance. You need one person at the lowest appropriate level to be accountable. That person could be the CEO for EBITDA or the supervisor on the line for % Rejects depending on the KPI. Other people who can exert their influence on the KPI would also have accountability for exerting their influence.

Q: You can’t measure many jobs, especially staff jobs, so how do you define a scorecard for everyone?

A: This is exactly where the cross-functional influence in Total Alignment comes in. If the job is necessary, the person performing the job can measure his or her added value. Staff jobs exist to serve line areas. Therefore, they can have accountability for their influence through what we call critical influence factors that can be defined in their scorecards. Their scorecards can also include strategic projects. If a job cannot be measured and does not serve other areas, then that job is not necessary and can be eliminated.

Q: What does a typical scorecard for a top-level manager look like?

A: It will have about five indicators or strategic initiatives the person is accountable for. At this level, there could be one or two management factors related to the basic KPIs of the company, perhaps one or two indicators of cross functional influence and two or three indicators for the execution of strategic initiatives of the company.

Q: What does a typical scorecard for a supervisor look like?

A: As this person is close to the frontlines of the operation, his or her scorecard will have perhaps three to four critical success factors of direct influence, perhaps one or two factors of cross-functional influence.

Q: What is unique about the Total Alignment scorecard?

A: There are five unique features in the Total Alignment individual scorecards. 1) it imbeds the delegation of responsibility across levels and functions of the organization, 2) it distributes the shared responsibility across functions to eliminate silos, 3) the numbers displayed in the scorecard for critical success factors are not averages or totals, they are source numbers, 4) the scorecard is aligned with the vision of the organization and shows the line of sight to advancing towards vision, 5)  the scorecard clearly defines the priorities of the job and the focus of the person.

The Third Pillar – Information

Q: What is the purpose of TOPS, the One Page Software?

A: The purpose of TOPS is to provide the performance status of each scorecard to its owner, to the influencers of the KPIs, and to management levels above, once a period. The period could be daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly, although the most popular period is monthly. The information is provided in three one-page reports, the Focus report which is the actual scorecard, the Feedback Report that has the positive and negative exceptions of the jobholder, and the Management report that has positive and negative escalations of the collaborators’ performance.

Q: Can we do Total Alignment without TOPS?

A: If you do, you won’t have Total Alignment because the software is a big part of the infrastructure of alignment that has a complex internal network to facilitate information flow among people vertically and horizontally. Without it, maintaining alignment will be a real challenge.

Q: How does TOPS access source information?

A: TOPS access to source information is through interface templates connected to the information warehouse of the company. It is managed by the IT department and supported by the software provider.

Q: How secure is TOPS?

A: The security protection from outside of the company is ensured by installing it behind the firewall of the company, therefore, it is as secure as other information in the company. The security protection from inside is through username and passwords.

Q: Can I use TOPS on my smart phone?

A: Yes, a mobile version of TOPS has been created to enable users to obtain some basic information, also to send and receive notifications related to the fourth pillar, the Management Model.

Q: What is unique about TOPS?

A: TOPS uniqueness is due to its design for enabling the entire management from the CEO down to the frontlines to have visibility, depending on their password permissions, of business scorecards, and individual scorecards of every job. It sends push information that any jobholder needs to see every period and enables the jobholder to research further and pull information to assist him in developing action plans. It provides a template for action plans linked to every KPI and Strategic Initiative. It enables each jobholder to generate agendas for team reviews and vertical reviews and to capture the agreements and commitments that result from these meetings. It sends notifications via TOPS mobile to jobholders when their commitments are due and enables jobholders to close their commitments and upload support files. It allows additional commitments to be entered through smartphones. TOPS calculates a performance score for the jobholder that can be linked to compensation for a given interval. TOPS serves as the engine to facilitate alignment.

The Fourth Pillar – Culture, Management Model

Q: You talk about the culture of collaboration and alignment in your book, how can Total Alignment prevent diverse opinions to divide rather than unite the team? Sometimes, directors scream at each other in the leadership team of companies.

A: Expressing disagreements is good, but screaming is not. When companies engage us to facilitate Total Alignment, we first bring the top team together and explain to them that if they want alignment, they should define the ground rules for all their meetings and promise to make the effort to abide by them. We then engage them in defining the ground rules for all their meetings that often include everyone participates, no put downs, listen to understand not to respond, no hierarchy in expressing opinions, express your ideas clearly but be detached from them, no interruptions by cell phones except for emergencies, no side meetings that diffuse attention of the group.

These guidelines are usually adopted. They are called “the code of conduct” and are adhered to in every team review and vertical review of the company and beyond that in all spaces. It is amazing how this simple tool helps alignment.

Q: What is the purpose of Team Review?

A: The main purpose of Team Review is to improve the individual scorecard of the natural team leader. The natural team comes together every period to review the scorecard of the team leader, pick an indicator needing attention and use problem solving tools to create an action plan for the indicator. Through this team effort, a plan with action steps assigned to appropriate individuals is formulated and put in motion. The plan is then reviewed in the next cycle of Team Review and the learning is applied for continual improvement.

Q: What is the purpose of Vertical Review?

A: The main purpose of Vertical Review is to give each manager a time to review the scorecard of a team member, to reinforce the positives, and review the negatives along with the action plans developed in the collaborator’s Team Review. It provides the opportunity for the boss to suggest improvements to the action plan and lend his or her support.

Q: If the purpose is performance, why are there four conversations in team review and vertical review?

A: Because the aim of Total Alignment is not just to improve performance, but to create a culture of alignment in which good results will be only one of its main byproducts. For this reason, a few important conversations are added while these twin processes of Team Review and Vertical Review are being conducted. This is why the team review conversation includes conversation about culture, about teamwork and synergy. The vertical review includes conversation about culture, development of the collaborator, and other important topics.

Q: How can conversation about culture in Team Review impact culture?

A: The culture of Total Alignment takes shape as the core values of the organization are practiced by each person and the processes of Total Alignment become embedded in the organization. Conversation about the pinpointed behaviors that make up the values of the organization shows the team members that the company is serious about alignment with values. The conversation has an impact on how people behave on a day-to-day basis. Over time, the cultural transformation takes place.

Q: What about culture conversation in Vertical Review?

A: As the Vertical Review is a one-on-one conversation between a manager and his or her direct report, conversation about culture enables the two to explore gaps between existing and required behaviors that need attention.

Q: If we have values in the organization, why focus on behaviors? People can figure out what to do based on their understanding of the values.

A: Theoretically that is true, but values are such broad topics that everyone can interpret them in their own way. In Total Alignment, a tree of relationship between behaviors and values is constructed to give everyone a more exact definition of the values. For example, being responsible could be a value, but how can you tell if someone is responsible without looking at the behaviors he or she is demonstrating. Pinpointed behaviors for this could be arriving to meetings on time, or delivering the work promised on time, etc. Through the team reviews and vertical reviews in Total Alignment, everyone strives to align with values by aligning with the pinpointed behaviors that make up each value.

Q: There is a conversation about development in team review and in vertical review, what is the difference?

A: In team review, the conversation is aimed at improving teamwork. In vertical review, the conversation is about improving the competency of the collaborator.

Q: There is a conversation about “synergy” in team review and “other topics” in vertical review, what is the difference?

A: In team review, the conversation is aimed at sharing information with the whole team about learnings or best practices from one area aimed at cross functional collaboration and synergy. In vertical review, a space is opened to allow discussion of other topics important to the collaborator or the manager.

Q: Can we skip the three conversations in Team Review and Vertical Review and just focus on performance?

A: You can, but it is not recommended. You might wish, however, to schedule any of the other three conversations in team review and vertical review quarterly.

Q: Can our top performers who already know how to manage eliminate the team review and vertical review conversations.

A: Absolutely not, if you want to see a cultural transformation in your company. The team review and vertical review are not just for them, but for the people they manage down the layers of the organization. Although they might not need it themselves, their people do. If your top performers don’t practice these two management processes, what are the chances that the lower levels beginning with their direct reports would practice?

Q: What is the real value of Team Review and Vertical Review

The value is in what happens before, during and after the conversations in both Team Review and Vertical Review. The preparation before has the value of prompting the participants to pay attention to information by studying the performance of a scorecard and thinking about what is necessary to improve its status. The experience of the conversation during the Team Review and Vertical Review results in strategies for improvement and concrete action items assigned to appropriate individuals. What happens afterwards is the execution of the commitments generated in these sessions and tracked by the TOPS mobile software with notifications and reminders. Together, the Team Review and Vertical Review provide the attention necessary to assure excellent execution of action plans aimed at KPIs and the strategic initiatives. But the real value is cultural transformation that takes place through strengthening horizontal and vertical alignment among the participants, and alignment with the core values of company.

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