No professional writing program or initiative can succeed if the component parts are working at odds rather than in tandem. When the gears of a clock stop interacting seamlessly, the clock can no longer tell the correct time. When the leaders, managers, and work teams of an organization fall out of alignment, they can no longer reliably produce successful, effective documents.
What is alignment exactly? Global consultancy group McKinsey & Co. describes alignment as the fulcrum of an organization's ability to just get work done:
"Achieving real alignment, where strategy, goals, and meaningful purpose reinforce one another, gives an organization a major advantage because it has a clearer sense of what to do at any given time, and it can trust people to move in the right direction. The result is an organization that can focus less on deciding what to do—and more on simply doing.”
In other words, alignment is about getting all stakeholders on board with strategy and process – and this is just as important for the writing an organization produces as for its other work.
To break down how alignment works – and why it’s so important – let’s look at the question from the perspective of multiple stakeholders. Why consider multiple perspectives? As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) writes:
“Generally, no individual or group is functionally responsible for overseeing the arrangement of the enterprise from end to end. Multiple individuals and groups are responsible for different components of the enterprise value chain, and usually, they are not as joined up as they should be. Who is responsible for ensuring your enterprise is as strategically aligned as it should be? The answer cannot be ‘nobody’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Neither can the answer be ‘the CEO’ (or equivalent)."
In other words, alignment is a jointly held responsibility of all levels of the organization.
Leaders exert a disproportionate influence in shaping an organization's writing processes. Their preferences, expectations, and communication styles carry a lot of weight. When leaders aren’t aligned with writing process improvements, a chasm between their vision and the practical execution of writing tasks is created.
- Fostering a Culture of Buy-In: Leaders must understand that their endorsement of writing process improvements is pivotal because workers often emulate the practices they see their leaders following. If leaders are actively engaged in and supportive of change, a clear message is sent to the entire organization that the shift is valuable and necessary.
- Effective Communication: Leaders need to communicate the rationale behind process improvements transparently. This involves explaining the benefits, setting expectations, and addressing any concerns or questions. Leaders articulating the “why” behind the changes can help bridge the gap between their preferences and worker adherence.
Middle Management Perspective
Middle managers often find themselves in a challenging position: caught between the preferences of leaders and the practical realities of their workers. Leaders want one thing, individual writers want another, both are a little right, both are a little wrong. Managers are caught in the middle, trying to reconcile the unreconcilable. This situation can pose a difficult problem for middle managers unless everyone is aligned and can address these challenges together.
- Advocating for Realism: Middle managers must advocate for realistic processes. If leaders' preferences clash with the logistical feasibility of the writing process or writers’ needs, they’re responsible for facilitating discussions and proposing solutions that align both worlds.
- Facilitating Communication: Effective communication between leaders and workers is a critical function of middle management in that they must serve as a conduit, conveying the concerns and needs of workers to leaders while also conveying leadership expectations to the workforce.
From the perspective of individual writers, adherence to writing guidelines can be challenging, especially if they perceive a lack of commitment from their superiors. Why should they follow processes that leaders don’t care about? This is a recipe for each worker just doing whatever they want or producing work in whatever idiosyncratic way they think (correctly or incorrectly) their higher-ups will like. In other cases, they might resist change or resist writing tasks altogether because they don’t understand the value of these activities.
- Clear Relevance: Workers must understand the relevance of writing process improvements to the organization's goals and their own success. When they see a direct link between following processes and achieving better outcomes, they’re more likely to embrace change.
- Engage and Involve Workers: Organizations should involve workers in developing and refining writing processes, as this empowers them to contribute their insights, and thereby fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the process.
Alignment Puts Everyone on the Same Page
Ultimately, for the organization as a whole, if everyone's not aligned, a standardized process that yields consistent output and predictable outcomes is impossible. By contrast, alignment ensures that leadership preferences are translated into feasible guidelines, which fosters buy-in and empowers workers to embrace change. With this alignment, organizations can establish standardized writing processes that generate consistent, high-quality, and predictable outcomes, ultimately strengthening their overall effectiveness and reputation.
Every Hurley Write client relationship starts with a preliminary “alignment” intro. To learn more, contact Hurley Write for a demo or consultation.