Bringing It All Together with Annual Initiatives in Align
Written by: Joey Muething, Align Product Manager
Strategy Without Execution is Hallucination – Thomas Edison
“Where’s The Continuity?”
A lot of people come to Align looking for a product to help solve a disconnect their team has between long-term planning and short-term execution. They’re looking for tools to guide them through the interplay between strategy and tactics in their business.
Here are some common refrains:
- “I’m just a field technician. I’m given all these tasks and responsibilities, day in and day out. Is my hard work being noticed by management? Am I playing any part in our larger strategy?”
- “Come to think of it, what is our strategy? We had that planning session last quarter, but I don’t remember what the outcomes were.”
- “We had a great planning session last quarter. There was energy in the room, we were knocking down big strategic problems and developing action plans to go solve them. I left feeling motivated. Now it’s a month later, and I feel like we lost the momentum. The meetings I’m in don’t even mention our planning initiatives any more; we’re just back to daily tasks and busy work. What happened?”
- “Our strategy sessions feel standalone and disconnected from what came before. It feels like every quarter we meet, we’re building out our initiatives from scratch and ignoring the long-term goals we set before. We did a lot of work in the previous quarter against our last set of initiatives, but we’re not building off that momentum and deciding what to keep doing this quarter. Where’s the continuity?”
Cycles of Planning and Execution in Align
Align allows you to create a concise, structured summary of your company’s strategic plan. It’s fully transparent to your whole team, allowing you to start all the way up at “What is our core mission?”. You can then start breaking down that vision into 3-5 year objectives and metrics, which are then further subdivided into 1 Year focuses, and then all the way down to quarterly or monthly priorities. All of this information can then be exported into a simple “One Page Strategic Plan” (OPSP). The creation, and then refinement, of this long-term strategy serves as the centerpoint of quarterly strategic planning for many of our users.
Once the strategy and vision is nailed down, Align then lets you shift to focusing on how your team should be executing against that long-term plan over the next few weeks or months. Priorities can be crafted, given clear success criteria and then broken out further amongst different contributors. The full Priority view is available to all team members, from the CEO to each frontline employee.
Finally, just as important, is being able to clearly analyze the intersection between the strategy and the execution. We provide an Initiatives Dashboard, that breaks down the Initiatives the company is currently focusing on by all the Priorities individual contributors are currently executing on to drive that long-term goal forward. You can also look back in time to previously-completed contributing work, as well as work planned in the future. This full timeline makes for a much smoother transition into planning next quarter’s tactics, by clearly seeing what was recently worked on and allowing an opportunity to celebrate key contributors.
This relationship and feedback loop between 1) longer-term, sometimes subjective, usually aspirational initiatives; and 2) shorter-term, objectively measured and sharply focused priorities should feel very familiar to anyone attuned to the objectives and key results that make up the goal-setting tool of OKRs. Our visual breakdown of individual Priorities and how they contribute to larger Initiatives support the kind of simultaneous top-down, bottom-up and even sideways collaboration and transparency in teams that OKRs promote.
The Growth Flywheel
Those original problem statements from prospects are the kinds of fundamental growth challenges that Align was built to solve. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch our teams of users achieve the kind of momentum that comes with being able to move fluidly between strategy and tactical execution as a group. The alignment and transparency it takes to develop this kind of group discipline is at the core of our product.
It can be a long process; the path through skepticism, hesitant adoption, realization and then full embrace of radical transparency and alignment can take a few quarter’s worth of planning-execution-replanning. Align gives you the tools necessary to provide that sense of continuity over time. As a team ourselves, we’ve experienced growth roadblocks and pain points you see quoted at the beginning of this post. I’ve heard some of these quotes partially uttered ourselves early on while developing Align. We’re very sympathetic to these growth problems, we experience them ourselves. So it feels really good when we’re able to see other teams grow through them using our product. In fact, here’s our own company “Core Purpose”, a section one of the Strategic documents you can prepare in Align:
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