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Driving Alignment with Data—and Without Conversation: The Paradigm Shift to Alignment Optimization

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/12/2014

Alignment is core to managing alliances—so alliance leaders often become adroit at driving (or restoring) alignment through management of strategic conversations. But even the best outcomes are hard to sustain, and the hard conversations must be repeated. What if there were an analytically driven way to uncover the causes of misalignment without the often excruciating conversations? What if—instead of merely sensing misalignment and rooting around for its causes—you could measure the degree of misalignment, and only then pinpoint the necessary conversations?

“Conversation-based decision-making is incomplete,” explained Michael Tayler, CEO of SchellingPoint, who presented an approach based on the science of alignment optimization in a Tuesday afternoon session at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Scottsdale, AZ USA. “There are too many opinions. On average, alliance teams and other groups have 167 opinions driving their behavior around a shared subject.” That’s what he said—167 different opinions falling into four different categories of opinion—two that are known, two that are unknown, and all four requiring some sort of process to identify and address. And there are more layers of complexity. “On average, a single subject has 14 themes, but [in alignment conversations] we don’t organize them, we don’t have a clear mapping of themes, so typically we don’t know when to stop a conversation and move on to the solution,” Taylor added.

Taylor's answer? “Stay out of meetings.” His firm (and others that license its methodology and tools) instead drives a three-step virtual dialogue—60 minutes for the first dialogue, 20 for the second and third—with everyone remaining at their desk. Analytics performed on the dialogues—what he dubs “a group MRI” (referring to magnetic resonance imaging)—identify what conversations must be had and avoid conversations that don’t need to occur.

But don’t expect that misalignment becomes perfect alignment—that’s the other aspect of the paradigm shift in alignment optimization. “Alignment is not binary,” Taylor explained. “It is a state and changes continually. You simply cannot control it as an alliance manager.” But, as with other areas of alliance management, by understanding the hidden and explicit causes of misalignment, you can influence and optimize alignment—becoming as aligned as possible at any given point.

Taylor wrapped his session with several illustrative case studies, including a fascinating example of misalignment in a European group working on sustainability initiatives. (Taylor's approach uncovered that some in the group believed in its potential to "save the planet," others believed the earth is already doomed, therefore sustainability efforts can only delay the planet's inevitable demise. The solution: split into two groups, with each group's approach reflecting its hope, or lack thereof, in the ultimate impact of their efforts.)

There is no such thing as perfect, controllable alignment. But you can know and influence the degree to which you are aligned--and you can make better decisions and define more effective courses of action with this knowledge. Therefore, “The question is not, ‘Are we aligned?'” Taylor concluded. “The question should always be, ‘How aligned are we?’”

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