Nov 292011

For several years now, so many pundits, experts, and concerned citizens of the IT world have prattled on about IT alignment with the business. So much so that whenever you hear any phrase that starts with “IT must be aligned with the business,” you already know what’s coming next.


What we often don’t talk about — and really should — is how each employee has (or has not) aligned him or herself with their own skills and interests and their current role. I contend it is here that most organizations struggle at every level, from the top executives on down. Which is worse: misaligned people or misaligned IT organizations? Is there a difference? When I talk to people about this, here are the usual push backs I get that end up getting this line of inquiry tossed aside:

  • It isn’t that big of a deal. The larger organizational misalignments outweigh the type of personal alignment you are talking about.
  • It’s so endemic and part of the human condition that it isn’t worth the effort to tackle. You won’t make much of a difference here in a large organization.
  • It’s each person’s individual responsibility to sort this out. Management will select whomever looks best aligned.
  • It’s much too hard to tackle this. It borders on counseling and might best be left to the realm of personal coaches, therapists, and the like.
  • I feel very uncomfortable talking about personal alignment with my staff. It’s much too touchy-feely for me and is probably risky.
  • Heck, I am not sure why I am in my current position, but I need my job so I fake it. I’m not sure I could help others.

In coaching IT people over the years, I have seen all sorts of misalignments between bag A (personal skills, personal ambition and passion, level of effort) and bag B (current work role, future role I would like, my role in society and in this company overall). My sense is that these misalignments are endemic in all work places and are part of the human condition. I also know and have seen, however, that when a personally aligned team is aligned well in the organization, big things happen. These individuals and these teams tend to share a common attribute: a whole lot of heart. They are capable of giving more — much, much more.

When someone knows well what they are legitimately good at and what they can truly excel at, and when they are deeply passionate about all of this, watch out: anything can happen. These individuals work better and faster, produce better results, and, better still, because of their confidence, tend to work well with others. These people are often the glue that holds the place together. As others around them spin a bit out of control in misalignment or, worse, bust apart like a sliced golf ball, they tend to be a calming influence. These aligned people are intrinsically motivated and, like a gyroscope, stand on their own, more easily absorbing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes.

When someone is personally misaligned, management frequently has to spend an inordinate amount of time talking to and reassuring that individual. Over time, individuals like this actually become dependent on others to provide these assurances. If an organization has a high-performing but personally misaligned employee in its midst, everyone knows it. It usually isn’t pleasant to be around these people. And, most likely, all of us, at one time or another, have been that person.

The ills of personal misalignment are manifold. People who are misaligned can more easily be taken advantage of and led astray by others. Personal misalignment reduces individual productivity and limits what new knowledge an individual can absorb. Without a strong sense of personal identity with the role and subject at hand, people will fail to learn deeply enough what is needed to get them to the next level. This misalignment can be a cause of stress that harms one’s health and shortens lifespans.

Humans are notorious for miswanting. Miswanting is wanting something that, upon possession, the person no longer feels satisfied. “Mad in pursuit and in possession,” wrote Shakespeare. While some of this miswanting may be due to our normal and beneficial penchant for the new and our tiredness of the old, some of this miswanting may be due to personal misalignment. Our intuition and emotion craves what our (or someone else’s) intellect says we shouldn’t. For IT people, a common form of miswanting and misalignment is “I want to be a manager,” when their skills are anything but a manager’s at that point in time. Perhaps the second most common phrase I hear is, “I don’t want to be a leader/manager because I want to keep my marketable technical skills,” when this person may actually have very strong leadership potential.

In their zest for advancement, in whatever direction, younger employees tend not to examine deeply where their excellence lies. The more ambitious this drive for miswanting, the less likely the person is to listen to others. Even worse, the more ambitious this person is in this misalignment, the more likely the person is to improve just a few skills in the wanted direction — just enough to get promoted and do more damage but not enough to truly excel. For these people, I can only recommend one thing that will identify not only the source of the problem but also where the solution lies: a mirror. One has little chance of truly excelling unless motivation, skill, and ambitions are all well aligned with a role.


  5 Responses to “A Whole Lot of Heart: Properly Aligned Employees and Teams”

  1. Excellent post about an over-looked area. Thank you for reminding us all of the importance of individual alignment and how the power of one can be amplified within teams and organizations.

  2. You can’t align Business and IT (or anything) when people are not aligned in their role. Period. If you focus upon how every employee contributes towards the organizational goals and results, and how each individual collaborates with others in the organization, business – IT alignment will improve automatically.

    Thanks Vince for ones again making this clear!

  3. Excellent post.

    In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield compares what he calls the Hierarchical Orientation with the Territorial Orientation. In most corporations we’re overly focused on the former through which status is measured in terms of Titles, Size of Staff, Size of Office, etc. Unfortunately, none of these things has much to do with our expertise or the quality of work that we do.

    In contrast. success as defined through a Territorial Orientation can only be earned through hard work; no one can give it to you or take it away. If you’re great at what you do, it’s its own reward. Especially in IT, where technical mastery certainly has its place, I feel that we need to balance these two orientations so that both are viewed as valid ways of contributing to the organization.

  4. Very enlightening.

  5. Have more hope! It is not a symptom of the human condition, despite being endemic… It is a pathology of the way we organise and manage, which is fundamentally INhuman.

    Compare to the roles people play in voluntary community organisations. The only times there is serious misalingment here is when ‘management’ approaches have incroached on the community.

    We have a lot to learn from these organisations about personal alignment, and how we can use different MOs, paradigms for coordination and governance. In the past, command-and-control management was required because of the expense of networked and flexible communication and coordination. Now that technology is making these cheaper, we have the opportunity for large scale coordination that is more responsive to individual alignment.

    We just need to change our mindsets to fit the new possibilities. (Unfortunately – that’s the hard part. But at least it’s possible!)

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