Podcast: Aligning employees with shared mental models

Thu, Oct 15, '20 •

Podcast: Aligning employees with shared mental models

Imagine: flying saucers above your head, robot dogs wreaking havoc, colorful pills instead of meals...the future is near. Things are changing, more so now than ever before. The real challenge comes in the form of adaptability. Getting your organization to be aligned towards one common goal, ready to affront change with empathy and tolerance.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard, director at Mirror Mirror, takes us through the process of shared mental models and how to address misalignment.

You can listen, watch the podcast, or read the full transcript down below. We hope you find this conversation as insightful as we did.

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Jonathan Davies: Welcome back to the Internal Communications podcast, and I'm delighted to be sharing the stage with Lindsay Uittenbogaard, who is an Internal Communications pro, a veteran, I should be saying, you've been in the field for a very long time, you have done some very amazing things. And importantly, we got in touch because there's a subject that we're both quite passionate about and is maybe the most misunderstood part of Internal Comms today, which is employee alignment. So, Lindsay, before we go off on a tangent, please introduce yourself to the audience. That floor is yours. 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Hello, thank you very much. And isn't it ironic that the most misunderstood part of Internal Comms could be in fact alignment? So yes, thanks for having me on the show.

I spent 15 years in corporate communication positions, in the oil and gas and telecoms industries, before moving into the field of alignment, which is where I am now. So let's talk about it. 

Jonathan Davies: All right. Awesome. So I think first things first, when we start talking about definitions in terms, it's probably best to establish what the definition is of employee alignment, because I think just like employee engagement, the problem with those terms is that if I asked five different Internal Communicators, I'm likely to get five different answers. I'm so very curious to hear, how would you define employee alignment?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Employee alignment is really when people are moving in the same direction and their views are compatible. They feel like they're in a well oiled machine, they're with a group of people who respect each other for being talented in their own ways. So it's very much about inclusion and diversity, and there's energy and momentum.

So I define alignment essentially about being about compatibility, where the opposite of that is misalignment, which you would define as conflict then. So I can unpack that a little more, by talking about the broader alignment picture on three levels, because you know, alignment can apply to anything from cars and wheels, to systems and processes.

So we're essentially talking about people-alignment. So people-alignment can be on three levels, there's the whole strategic intent alignment piece, which is where our strategy, and purpose, and systems, and capability, and architecture, and everything inside a whole system of an organization matches up. 

Then beneath that there's the alignment of people to that. The strategic alignment. And then there's alignment of people with each other, and that's in terms of how they implement the strategy. So I think that's worth spelling out to start with. 

Jonathan Davies: Interesting. So you can say that there's a difference between, aligning maybe culturally and aligning when it comes to strategy, and then maybe more on the team level side of things. Is that how you would separate them? It's like micro, macro, meso almost.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: I mean, traditionally people used to narrow in the scope of alignment to look at goals, and how individual goals matched up to team goals and organizational goals.

And I think that was probably from a sort of doability perspective. And also because goal alignment is hugely important, but today and with information we know from the social sciences, alignment can cover so much more than that. And let's just say for one second, we're not going to be scared by what we're talking about here, but looking at it from a sort of whole systems perspective, it can start with the strategic direction and goals, but it also can expand out to how that relates to the implementation of strategy to look at what developments are happening that are impacting delivery and looking at how people are collaborating to deliver together. So even though that's a huge scope, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't start there. It just means that the approach to alignment should be a kind of 80 20 rule, whereby people are taking what's most important to align because when you do that, the rest of the alignment issues tend to sort of start to unravel and fall away.

Jonathan Davies: That's interesting, I think it's really interesting that you mentioned looking at the developments around how alignment starts happening, because that would almost make it a little bit more of an iterative process where you're not just saying, well, here are our goals, here's our strategy, dump it out. At the end of the quarter, we're going to see what happens. It's more like, no, we're going to communicate this, check what's working, what's not working, and adjust it in a timely fashion. Is that, for example, when you deploy your employee alignment strategy from an Internal Comms perspective, is that an approach that you would be taking?

Would you set evaluation moments and milestones and that type of stuff? 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Well, definitely, because you know, things are always changing. Alignment is a state at a particular point in time, much like a balance sheet is to finance. Misalignment inevitably keeps coming up. So we shouldn't be frustrated about the fact that we're having to deal with misalignment.

Misalignment is completely inevitable. It's caused by diversity, effectively about how people are different, and how they see things differently and how they're exposed to different pieces of information at different points in time. Of course, there's going to be misalignment, but it is an ongoing process.

And the ways of dealing with that are constant: having checkpoints, big interventions, small interventions, the agile community already does it a lot, with a load of difference: retrospectives, visions , the kickoffs, visualization, stand ups, showcases. There are a lot of little tricks and interventions that agile teams use and the other teams use on a daily basis.

In fact, we see it more now when people are working remotely, there's a sort of check in. But proper alignment is giving people the opportunity to see what's important and relevant to their delivery context, if you like, and having them have the opportunity to share views so that they build better shared mental models.

Jonathan Davies: And I think that shared mental models was a very key piece in how you talk about alignment because that's completely different from what I've seen out in the world of Internal Comms, you're really the only person emphasizing this. So you spoke before of the social sciences aspect.

You really take that point of view in it, don't you?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Well, I do because, I think mental models and shared mental models is a language that's more associated with psychology, but I think we can't ignore it any longer.

The way I like to think about it is that we all have a mental model in our heads about what is reality for us and for those that are in our sphere of concern, we're influenced. And it's almost like the old, sort of image where you have let's say, something standing on your shoulder, that's telling you messages all the time.

Sort of your inner voice. Well, this time, imagine that you have the whole sort of mental picture of, let's say a house following you around everywhere. And it's got different rooms. And it's how every single thing in that house, which is the way that you understand the whole world is built on a series of logic steps, and patterns that make sense to you for whatever reason.

And every time you see another house, that's like yours, but you like it better and you think it should and serve you better, you'll switch it. And so people are updating their shared mental models of what's going on with them, every single detail of them without even knowing it, subconsciously they're updating those shared mental models so that they are accommodating the changing world around them.

And in organizations so much is changing and so much is conceptual, it's not tangible, it's ideas, concepts, what people are saying, how we're interpreting the layers of what makes sense to people, can go so deep. That they're constantly unconsciously updating their shared mental models about what is the world, what's going on and therefore, what am I doing?

And a lot of neuroscience speaks to this fascinating stuff about how we make assumptions to fill in the gaps where we need to kind of close a part of our shared mental model in order to be able to carry on and not be distracted by a gap of us wonderin: Hmm I wonder what that's about.

We have to make assumptions. We have to have mental models and shared mental models is the absolute basis of delivery. I mean, there's no question about it. Most business problems have misalignment at their core. 

Jonathan Davies: So I, wow. I have so many questions that I want to ask you about. I guess the first thing that I want to ask is, one of the things that I always learned when it came to communications and psychology is that first of all, is people only hear what they want to hear. So I guess that aligns with what you said about people building their own houses and their own rooms, because if they see something as better, they're going to update it.

So that's that 'what's in it for them' factor, understanding why it's important to them, that type of stuff. And secondly, I like your metaphor of having a house filled with rooms of your understanding of the world, because what is a room: it's essentially a square box and we've all had this kind of cliche, of people want to put everything into boxes to understand reality, but that's just how us humans cope with reality and as businesses change, and become far more complex, and indeed, as you said, we're talking more about concepts and actual concrete change happening. I can completely understand why it's really important to start looking at square boxes that way, so that we start to understand in general, this is how a person would interpret the information we're sending, the kind of model that we're building.

So would you then build some sort of ideal shared mental model of what you're trying to create as an organization, and align your communications according to that, or is this more a thing that's 'important contextual information to keep in the back of your mind', but do as you would? 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Well, that's, I think is really the key point, and this is where I come to what you could call reverse communications or something like that.

Where the other thing that is just a proven fact, a piece of scientific research is that people need to make sense of things on their own terms, because everyone's different, we cannot assume that words and messages and language or signals will hit home the way they are intended. It just doesn't happen.

So somebody might not realize that their kitchen in their mental model should actually be an open plan. There's all sorts of ways of people interpreting things differently. So, no matter how hard you try to push a message down from the top, A: it's not likely to be received in the way that you think it will be received.

And B it's probably not going to be that relevant because it has to be communicated in such a generic way. So the way to approach communications then is to start with, and it appears to be unfeasible, but it's not, to start with having people understand things in their own way and working from their perspective.

So it's really bringing the employee experience and turning it around to their point of view, which involves having people align on their own terms. You cannot make people align. You cannot tell them to align through a series of messages. They have to do that in their own ways. And it can only happen in language.

So this old fashioned notion of dialogue, everyone thought was far too outdated, because you just can't scale it up, from a psychology point of view, from social sciences, that's ridiculous because you got to have people talking about it. It doesn't take very long. You've got to have people talking about it and asking questions and understanding each other at a level that's relevant to them, which normally the team level, because they share goals, to have them discussing what the strategy is and what it means to them.

And what's affecting their team and how they're going to deliver together in a dialogue that works with trained facilitators. So alignment, you cannot just keep going with that top down based messaging alone, that's a very useful wallpaper, but the real conversation has to happen.

And we know these days how it has to happen. So it's totally doable. 

Jonathan Davies: So I think that's a really interesting way of looking at it because in all of the research that I've done over the past year into how can we make Internal Communications evolve, we've created a step by step model on it, let's say, and obviously Internal Comms is a lot more complicated than step one: do this, step two: do that. But you know what I mean, just to create some common ground, then we start with the alignment stage, but then we move on to the engagement stage, which I think you and I previously agreed that if you do it that way, then you've got something common to engage about.

And then we move on to the activation stage. We've also delineated that alignment is very much top down oriented, engagement, very much bottom up, activation, very much peer to peer. I still think all of those are correct, but what you're making me see now, and that's really interesting is that yes, alignment may.

Well an Internal Comms point of view may consist of a lot of tactics that come from the top down, but you should start with figuring out what it is that people actually want first. So what is their level of understanding now? So you establish it bottom up and then communicate it top down, tailored towards what's happening there.

Am I right in saying this?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Yes, but I suppose you might say 'ah, okay, well, we've had that already.' That's called the employee voice, it's just about feedback. You know, you do that with the employee survey. I would really argue that unless you're in real time with employees about having that dialogue with them rather than imposing a series of bias questions, asking them for information about it, and then not doing anything with the results but trying to use that to inform the communication strategy, is sort of missing the key crucial nuances that make it all work. And what really makes it all work is to have the data about how people are perceiving their environment, organized so that you can see where the alignment gaps are. We can do this today, of course. You have to see where the alignment gaps are, identify those which are often invisible and have them dealt with at a local level, remove all of the paraphernalia and overview, of broad scale information and a lot of the content that would be in the traditional employee communication mix top-down. Remove the employee survey, which I don't think is relevant so much these days, because you can use the cost of that to kind of fund these much more relevant exercises and have people discussing and closing the gaps by understanding where they are specifically at that point, at that level.

So that you're really able to have that dialogue that helps people adapt their mental models, so they become compatible. But when you do that, you have people hearing other people's perceptions and becoming more ready to accept views that weren't their own. So often the problem is that people will have a disagreement and they just don't want to agree because they don't agree.

But if the team comes first and if they've heard an opening up to other people's perceptions and they recognize that there is a rationale behind a decision that they might not have made by themselves, they're much, much more likely to accept it. So all of this works when people come together and see a way of thinking about things that gives them more preparedness to go forward, then they wouldn't have done. And therefore you're updating mental models and bringing them to a better shared reality, a better common understanding about not just what is the strategy, but how are we going to deliver together? How are we going to implement that strategy? 

Jonathan Davies: So here's an interesting part because you're really very much emphasizing two way communications here.

It's about dialogue. This is not about sending things and then expecting people to be aligned, which, even if we try to explain what alignment is and we would touch upon that, it's pretty clear by now, right? It goes very far beyond that. So, then you touched upon before on the word of scalability.

So how do we scale that kind dialogue because I imagine that it's very easy for an organization of maybe 50 to 200 people to have those pieces of dialogue with their teammates, but what happens when we're talking about a 5,000 or a 10,000 person organization across various different time zones where it's not the same person, having the dialogue with these people all the time.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: So there's a number of different ways to do it, of course. And it does depend on leaders being very ready to be responsible for understanding how the strategic frame affects their team. So, you know, leaders need to bring to this conversation as much clarity as they can, and it is the leadership's responsibility to bring the relevance between the strategic frame and the role of the team in delivering to that each team. But I would say that it's very difficult for a leader to take an objective view and to be a facilitator of alignment conversations because they're in it themselves. They have a power position. People are unlikely to open up if there's any kind of political sensitivities going on.

So what we're talking about in terms of scaling is, let's just bear that in mind, and then start at the top. Imagine you've got 20 senior leadership teams. Across a large organization. You can start with aligning those teams one by one, and these exercises can take a day, maximum. So with technology today, with the right alignment tools, you can get a leadership team, you can identify where the alignment gaps between them are. You can have a trained facilitator, put them in a space to look at those gaps on paper, in data, in a constructive safe way, and have them come out of that, with a much more shared reality. Sure, you're not going to solve every problem, but you want to take the 80 20 rule, the significance alignment gaps, and go a long way towards resolving those. That has huge value because you're mitigating against the risk of misalignment, which can be hugely costly when you amplify the way that people are making decisions and taking actions in ways that conflict across the organization.

So if you take those top teams first, that's fine. There are other ways to identify how every team in the organization relates, using technology, how every team in the organization relates to top team priorities, i.e the strategy, and the outlying teams that don't seem to be clicking in for whatever reason.

The outlying teams can go through an alignment process that takes a day. So you could align that huge organization with a team of either internally trained facilitators, because there's plenty of OD learning, HR comms, practitioners, all of whom have potential to become great alignment facilitators, and.

The role of communications, therefore becomes much more facilitative, they don't own the communication, they're facilitating it. The people who have to do the communications, the people in the teams and the leaders participating so that they understand together 'what is the problem' and 'what do they think.'

I mean, nothing's perfect, of course you're relying for effectiveness and for effective delivery, you're relying on a strategy and an organizational enablement situation that actually makes that attractive and possible. Supposing there are parts of that, that leaders cannot see, that's where you can also use the process to bring that to life, bring that to the forefront, feed that back to leaders so that in the end, there is an effective circle of communications that is directly related to strategy implementation and the traditional communications is important because it's about painting the broader context, amplifying what this exercise is all about, talking about where we are strategically now and where we could be going or where we are going in the future and building that brand and belonging, that organizations like the ABC, are or talking about, because communications does build clarity, confidence, community, but in today's complex world and today's diverse world it's not just a media based, one way discussion. You have to have that effective circle. And I would say that the alignment exercises for this are as important, if not more important than the traditional existing comms that do play an important role, but just need to be supplemented because the world has changed and we need to have people making sense of things in their own way, talking to their teams and aligning with them about how they'll deliver. So this really delivers results as opposed to delivering some kind of awareness or a score and engagement survey that may or may not be true. 

Jonathan Davies: That's a very excellent point. And I hope that everyone listening to this takes note of how we should be dealing with alignment, because that's exactly, in my view, that's exactly the way, I'm 100% in agreement with you.

I find it interesting that, well, first off, when you talk about creating alignment that you start with maybe a team of 20 top level leadership, doesn't need to be your C level immediately, it could be a level below that say directorship, or whatever fits in your organization structure to anyone listening, that's great because essentially what you're trying to do is you're trying to create a snowball effect, right? You've got this small group and through that group you try to communicate onwards and create a snowball effect. Now, traditionally speaking, Internal Comms is relatively effective in communicating to leadership when it comes to the higher levels of the organization, there have been fewer problems with that, then when it comes to line management. So how do you prevent that broken phone happening? By the time that it goes from directors to say managers and from managers directly to line managers, there can be a broken phone in that.

How do you prevent that? 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Well, I think this is where these nuances that I'm talking about really come to the fore because if you're taking a data driven process that identifies alignment gaps, every alignment report for a team will contain data about what they need to talk about, and the processing of alignment, you can scribe what's happening as a result.

So there's a kind of data capture of workshop inputs, and workshop outputs, or dialogue inputs, whatever you want to call it, that can be tracked up and down these teams to see: well, do they all fit? What did this team conclude that then didn't fit with that. And there's a huge coordination role there for the communicator to look at that data and say, okay, well, if that's what this team is saying, then this needs to come back and this continuous process needs to be managed so that it's not just 'let's communicate the strategy.'

It's 'let's start the strategy conversation process' in ways that are really tight. So it's about data about measurability, about repeatability, about feedback, about having things presented in ways that deal with the way that our human brains work. So I think it's the nuances, because I think Internal Comms has tried a lot of this before and at various points in time, and some great work has been done, but we are in a new world now. The remote world means that misalignment is far more prevalent because people cannot have those side conversations to check their assumptions. They cannot read people's body language in a way that enables them to come to conclusions that help them make sense of what's going on. And people are much, much more likely, not to address their concerns or frustrations or complaints or assumptions in a remote setting. So we're in a totally different world now. And I think the lessons that we've learned from the past and everything that we know about how we can use data, can be put to real use today by really talking about alignment in a complex, diverse world.

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, exactly. So I think, and I hope I'm not oversimplifying what you're saying, but for example, a way that I would start working with mapping all of this out is essentially create a chart of how communication flows across your company. So if you are looking to create that snowball effect, start with the first sample that you're heavily aligning essentially yourself, let that roll on to the next layer, to the next layer, and to the next layer.

And then, when we've mapped it out like that, at the very least we'll be able to identify where gaps are in specific parts of the organization, rather than looking at 'Oh my God, we've got an alignment gap somewhere' because that's what happens with general surveys now. Whether you do your Gallup Q12 or your standard employee engagement survey, that actually talks more about alignment than engagement, those surveys are great, but they've become so general that when you get the results back, yes, you are aware 'okay, we have an issue' but you can't pinpoint where that issue is, which part of the organization can I fix or tweak to combat that issue? The only thing that you'll really know is the topic.

So the topic of misalignment could be 'Corona made us change our business strategy so much because we were a retail company before and now we're shifting to e-commerce.' Okay, there's misalignment around that, but which teams specifically are misaligned, you can't see that from the survey. So that communication flow would help.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: I mean, we worked on multiple team projects and the organization was hugely advanced, flat organization, all working virtually, in innovation, multiple nationalities, working internationally, lots of different countries, and what we found from an aggregated report of all of the team results, was that the same themes were there.

People complaining about overwork. There was a lot of 'us' and 'them' between managers and employees, people unclear about the strategic direction, which is a theme that we find hugely comes out of all of the work that we've done so far in 2020, with the remote working, what always comes at the bottom scores is clarity on direction and remit.

So having looked at all of these reports, it's not for us, by the way, as communicators to decide what's wrong with the team, it's still about using their data and acting more as facilitators and process owners, where we have such an insight into the world of communication that we can facilitate that.

So, we've got all of these teams together. There was a kind of conference, and it came out that this understanding of the definition of the word self-managed was differently understood in different parts. So the leadership team didn't want to provide direction to the teams because the teams were supposed to be self managed.

And the teams themselves were confused about what their priorities were. So they were having to work on everything and they felt overworked and resented being in that situation and this could have continued for months and months and had already lasted for months, but until they became aware that if we just meet in a non-status way to discuss priorities between leaders and teams, because of the different views that we've got about what's important at that time, then at least everyone will have their expectations managed.

The teams will be able to prioritize knowing that the overwork will then start to disappear as people are able to let go of things at a certain point in time and focus on others. And the relationship between the leadership team and the teams would improve, all because of the central misalignment issue around the definition of self managed teams.

That's exactly the kind of thing that happens in organizations all the time. And so I think as communicators, it's important to realize that we don't have to try so hard to solve everyone's problems because we're not responsible for their communication role. We're just responsible for helping people understand and interact together in a way that will advance the business.

Jonathan Davies: I see this very much how HR business partners act within an organization where you're not responsible for people being productive. Of course you facilitate them in having all the tools that they need to do their job and understanding all parts of their work, yes, but you're there to advise the organization on how they can capitalize most on their most important asset, which are their people. I see the evolution of Internal Comms going very much in that same direction where we're talking more about an Internal Communications business partner than somebody who's supposed to take care of all Internal Communications and just keep sending out newsletters on behalf of the CEO.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: But it is counterintuitive. I mean, every other discipline has a responsibility to own and control the outcomes of a certain topic. And if you're facilitating, you're not controlling the content outcomes at all, because people will interpret things. And if you really want people to own what they're doing and take responsibility for it, and innovate, you can't have somebody at the side saying, you know, this is what you need to be thinking.

Jonathan Davies: Yes, absolutely, I 100% agree with you and I think that's also why it's important to point out what are the business outcomes that Internal Communications can actually effect. So one of the things that I found is the main benefits to business when we look at, what kind of business outcome does this effect, the main benefit to increasing alignments might indirectly be profit, yes indirectly might be anything else, but the main benefit is increasing employee productivity, simply put because when people are aligned, they understand what they need to do better there's less wasted work and that's the opposite of productivity. It's not being unproductive, it's doing a whole lot of wasted work. Exactly in the example that you just mentioned, where you have a team that's essentially self managing and they don't know how to prioritize anymore because top management doesn't want to manage them. Then when we look at the engagement it is very much about keeping your people bord.

So that's very much about reducing attrition within your company. And then when we look at activation, the end goal there is to help people reach their full potential. And that's about marking out 'okay we've got the overall employee lifetime value in our company, X percent of that employee lifetime value can be attributed to our highest performing people, which are essentially our activated people'.

Now we've got those free business outcomes, right? Then we can actually, which by the way, C-level cares very much about, then we can start steering. We are essentially a partner. We are in an advisory position, but we advise specifically on how to affect those three outcomes and we own how we can affect it, but you don't do it by yourself, because for example, retention is not something that you can affect by Internal Communications alone.

That is also up to 'how well does my manager treat me?' And that is also up to 'how well does HR think I should be compensated', and all of those other things, but by taking the advisory position and focusing on those three things, you're essentially able to advise an organization much better and let's face it, it's exactly what you said, the main part of alignment really comes from language, understanding how to communicate well,building a shared mental model through it. I went on a rant, but how do you feel about that?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: Well, there's a few things in there. And I think it's difficult sometimes to talk to leaders about the value of alignment, unless you really spell out the problem of misalignment.

And the reason for that is that the outcome of alignment is better shared mental models. And a lot of leaders are like, 'what is that?' But obviously better shared mental models lead to better coordinated decisions and actions, which saves a whole lot of time, but spelling out the problem of misalignment is, you know, you could easily talk to leaders about ‘what does misalignment look like’? Well, progress is slow and difficult. People are saying yes, but the action is no, decisions and actions don't line up, people seem frustrated and unmotivated. People can't put their finger on what the problems are. Morale is suffering. All of this is impacting effectiveness and performance. So I think if you've got a leader that gets that, you know, you're nearly there.

If you've got a leader that needs, to have everything connect to the bottom line, you're not going to be able to do that directly, because there's so many other things that come in the way of alignment to mental models that lead to effective decisions and actions, you know, there's a very, very difficult connection to make, but I think it does make more sense recently.

And let's look at engagement in this picture as well, because I would say if you take alignment first, as a process, let's look at it just as a process. And you've always got that data for leaders as well to say, look, how many people think 'this' when actually we're trying to say 'that', look how many people are interpreting the strategy this way, or that way.

Look at the behaviors that people are rating themselves against because there's a lot of learning behaviors that relate to the alignment process that can be measured as well. But if you look at alignment first and take that as a starting point, you're much more likely to get into engagement where people are buying into the energy and motivation that's creating and putting in, whether you want to call it discretionary effort or whether you want to just call it interest and attention.

But engagement is a natural byproduct I think of the alignment process. So why try and start with engagement where people are in a misaligned environment. You've got to find those tangible connections on what we are doing and how we are collaborating together in the relevant context of each individual in order to get them to think 'oh, I can engage in this'.

You know, it really comes, I think in that order. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, I think, as my mum would put it, get your house in order before you invite the guests in, which I guess is to say establish some common ground first and then facilitate engagement around that common ground, that shared mental model, essentially, and then let that engagement that's not coming from you, create an evolution in that shared mental model and then realign and so on and so forth. It's much more a cyclical process than it is: we'll do this first and then we're going to create some engagement around it and then we're going to evaluate results and that's it.

Because that's not how it works. 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: So our training program takes eight hours on alignment facilitation, and I think there were a lot of Internal Communications, like I said, HR, OD practitioners, who get the story, who are ready to understand how to work the process of alignment in a way that can really add value to what they're trying to achieve together, which is about people and performance.

I've often said that I think that separating out these disciplines into different areas with different objectives, probably they have ultimately the alight aligned goals, but they are all in the people and performance space, just coming from a different place. And what comes out of an alignment process is a whole load of evidence for needs around communication and change and learning that these people need to collaborate on.

So I would put alignment under the remit of anyone who has a role in people in performance, and then have them collaborate on how do we deal with the common challenges that are being evidenced in the alignment process, when we're getting all of this direct feedback, rather than from somebody who's fairly removed, thinking: actually, I see this as the problem when we need to go and tackle it this way. How do you know who needs what solutions really, you've got to have it come from employees. So there's a whole load of things that come out of the alignment process, especially if you've got a data driven alignment identification process, and you're capturing what's happening in the workshops and it’s telling you what your strategy needs to be from a people performance perspective and there's ton of insights there on what does the company need to be doing tomorrow to win in the market that employees can see that other leaders cannot see.

So there's a lot of value to be gained for less investment from this whole thing. And, you know, the alignment process, the actual work of a facilitator is looking at how people can get involved in healthy challenges. How can they get involved in appreciative inquiry?

How can they separate off and become very focused at identifying what they need to talk about and address specifically, and what they do not? And having people work that out for themselves, it's a very interesting process. And I think there's nothing more interesting for a team or for a leader to see a report on how all of their different perspectives compare on a piece of paper, because then you get to: is what I'm thinking the same as everybody else is thinking, is the way I have perceived the world, is that what actually people are putting down here on paper. So, you know, it's not a silver bullet and it's not anything that's necessarily new, but putting the word alignment to it and focusing on that, through looking at everything through that lens of specifically with all of these nuances that I'm talking about, I think does make a huge step change into what value communications can add today.

Jonathan Davies: I completely agree. And I think that's a beautiful note to close things on, because if we're going to fix internal comms and throw it into the future, because it's almost 2021, we're focusing very much on how we can make this discipline evolve. I think that we need to also align ourselves to the employee experience and that really does start with alignment.

So let's fix that area first. Let's remove those misunderstandings, that is just the boring top-down, CEO newsletter and that's it I've created alignment, because that's not how it works. It's more subtle, there's more nuance, it's more complex. It's also a lot more fun because there's a lot of data in there.

There's a lot of chance to map things out and there's a lot of chance to optimize, make small tweaks and create something better than what was there before. So on that note, Lindsey, thank you very much for your time here. That was an amazing conversation and I would love to have you back in the future.

And the last thing I'm going to ask you is, I'm sure there are a lot of people that are wondering, oh Lindsey has some really interesting things to say, I'd like to poke and prod her and ask her some more about that. How can people get in touch with you? 

Lindsay Uittenbogaard: So our alignment process and our alignment tool is available at mirror mirror and the URL is mirrormirrorhub.com you can also type in mirror mirror alignment into Google and you get straight there. We'd love to hear from anybody who's interested in getting involved. I'd love to speak to you again in the future, Jonathan, thank you very much for having me. 

Jonathan Davies: It was amazing. Thank you so much. 

Thank you. and we'll be back for another episode in two weeks time, so definitely stay tuned. 

 

Author:

Emilie Lomas

Date:

Thu, Oct 15, '20

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