Value Alignment – It’s All About the Ladder

When I think about Value Alignment I am often reminded of the observations that Steven Covey makes in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; specifically, around Habit Two: Start with the End in Mind. Value is all about starting with (and keeping!) the end in mind as project objectives are established, as decisions are made and as work is executed. Dr. Covey uses the analogy of climbing a ladder to make the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. He says that moving up the ladder quickly with a minimum of wasted energy is efficiency, but ensuring that the ladder is leaning against the right wall is effectiveness.

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In my previous newsletter I discussed the three foundational elements that comprise Value Alignment: Individual, Strategic and Commercial Alignment. So if I equate Dr Covey’s analogy to these elements, Individual Alignment is the vehicle to efficiently climbing the ladder, Strategic Alignment is about ensuring that the ladder is leaning against the right wall and Commercial Alignment is about the leadership to ensure that everyone is using the same ladder.

If individual, strategic and commercial alignment make up part of the foundation on which we intend to build delivery excellence, then there are three levels that form the structure that we are building:

  • Collaboration – this creates the ground floor on which the other levels are constructed.
  • Improvement – creating a mindset of improvement and then applying that mindset through collaborative processes is where significant performance gains begin to appear.
  • Reliability – the ability to reliably execute the activities that are planned each and every day, to reliably achieve the strategic objectives that have been established, and to meet those objectives within an acceptable commercial framework can only come when you have reached the upper level – relying on a collaborative environment to continuously improve delivery performance.

Like any structure, the upper levels rely on those below for foundational support; however, they also all work together to withstand the dynamic forces that invariably act upon the structure as a whole.

Returning to our ladder, Dr Covey makes the point that management is a focus on efficiently climbing the ladder whereas leadership is properly selecting and positioning the ladder. He goes on to quote the words of Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis to further this distinction: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” He makes the point that leadership (the “first creation”) must precede management (the “second creation”) for any organisation to effectively meet its business aspirations.

This is an important distinction when we begin to look at how Value Alignment can transform the performance on our capital projects. The figure below is one that I use to highlight the central idea and key activities at each intersection of the value spectrum with the levels of performance development. Although expanding on these key ideas is beyond the scope of this newsletter, there is an important observation to be made on the “flow of leadership.” The white arrows show how leadership flows differently at each performance level to influence the management activities in the other areas of value.

Value Alignment - Leadership

At the lower level, leadership shaped through commercial alignment flows to influence the management of strategic and individual alignment activities to establish a collaborative environment. At this level, establishing commercial common ground is the first creation that sets the stage for effective strategic and individual collaboration.

At the improvement level of performance focus, leadership emanates from the strategic to shape the management of commercial activities and the work of individuals. The creation of opportunities enables a management focus on making intelligent investment decisions in the interest of achieving an overall commercial return. It also is the starting point for tapping into the collective thinking of the team to identify and operationalise inspiration to generate innovation.

Finally, as we reach the reliability level of performance, leadership is coming from the collective influence of individual alignment – the “edge of the organisation”. As work begins to reliably “flow”, management focus can shift to directing that flow to the highest priority strategic objectives and establishing expectations for business outcomes that are at the exceptional end of the performance spectrum.

Efficiency and effectiveness are a symbiotic pair of performance imperatives that are firmly grounded in our leadership of Value Alignment or, put another way, it’s all about using the right ladder in the right way.

Questions for consideration:

  • When you look at “the ladder”, do you think about how quickly you can get to the top, where the ladder is placed, or can we all get up this same ladder?
  • Are you trapped in a management paradigm that focuses on progress and misses the opportunity to bring authentic leadership that creates effectiveness?
  • Do you shift the focus of your leadership to achieve ever-higher levels of performance?
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