What Happens When Leadership is Not in Alignment Around Strategy?

In the fall of 2020, Kaas Tailored hosted a series of Zoom calls unpacking our Daily Management System (DMS). Each month we focused on a different element of our DMS starting with strategy, then discussing daily huddles, then talking about Visual Management Systems (VMS), and ending with Leader Standard Work. In this post, Jeff Kaas talks about what happens when the leadership team is not aligned around strategy.

How do you know you are not aligned? 

The question is: what happens if Jeff, me, who owns the responsibility of president, and Ken, the general manager, and the section leaders are not aligned on strategy? It means the entire company is running in different directions, and we are not making “music,” we are just making noise. If you have ever had the unfortunate experience of hearing a poorly balanced ensemble try to make music, it is not for lack of effort, but if they are not playing together as a team, and no one is enjoying it. When we are not aligned, I fully expect really crappy music. And that is exactly what has been happening at our organization over the past year – it took until the COVID era to get our leadership team aligned on this principle. The effect was poorly played, disjointed music!

How do you find out you are not aligned? 

I was asked to come into the PPE lines to help solve a productivity problem. Instead of solving the problem, my whole body squirmed because of what I observed our production team do to build units of PPE. I told Ken that I would not help until I was able to observe them building PPE in flow. At that moment, it became very clear that my belief in one-piece flow was at a different level of conviction inside my body than in Ken’s body, and I was unable to explain it adequately. I think we have mentioned this before, but we had a massive fight because, at some point, I realized, “Oh, you do not believe this; you are actually arguing with me about gravity.” It was a gift of a moment because the two of us realized, “We have absolutely different strategies. We have different beliefs.” I am saying, “Please do this,” and you are actually telling everybody now, “Ignore him, do something different.” I am exaggerating a little bit on the way it was communicated, but the reality was actually worse.

If your leaders cannot agree in writing, “This is where we are trying to go, and these are the beliefs that drive that behavior,”  then we can not do what we are doing. Now the blessing of having a daily huddle is instead of finding out a week, month, or quarter later that we are not aligned, we are finding out every day, literally every day, we are not aligned. This allows us to make more timely decisions.

How do you get realigned as an organization? 

As an organization, we have already decided that I own certain things, and Ken owns other things. It makes it much easier for us to have that conversation. There is a tool we use called a decision funnel. We start at a very high level and ask: “What are your beliefs? What is your goal? What are the conditions? Then what is the actual thing you are going to do?” You might call it a solution. If there is dissonance on the belief level, there will be a high level of conflict and irreconcilable differences. If there is disagreement on some of the solutions but alignment on the beliefs, goal, and conditions, there is much less conflict since we agree on the inputs of the decision.

I will give you an example of this. We believe that the principles that we learned from Toyota are like gravity. If we fight them, and your organization does not know that those are principles, then you will be debating things that are kind of silly because they are already known truths. So this is a super, super important part. This is where the power of coaching leaders and pairing with them to teach the principles. However, how we apply the principles will look different from team to team based on their specific context.

Leaders need to align on principles

As a leader, if you have more authority, then the damage that you can do is higher. So as leaders within an organization, we need to make sure that we have the same principles. At Kaas, what you no longer hear us fighting about is, “we shorten the lead time by implementing standard work and doing flow.” No one on the leadership team has any objection to that goal. But the frustration we had was getting to that spot as a team. I cannot imagine being in a place where someone says, “I am not sure if flow is the right way to do it.” 

If you would like to learn more about how to implement a Daily Management System within your organization or more about Kaizen and Continuous Improvement, consider signing up for a Kaas Tailored Waste Tour