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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Attaining Alignment Is Putting Horse Before the Cart

Sometimes, leaders can focus too much on engaging employees in their work and not enough on an even bigger and more important pursuit: making sure your organization understands the work they're engaged in.

In other words, not only must chiefs of companies and other organizations strive to create compelling and significant ways for employees to become and stay engaged in their work, to the benefit of the brand, the company and themselves.

Leaders also must make sure that everyone is aligned around common values and goals so that, in their "engagement," they're all striving more effectively for the same good purposes.

Such alignment of objectives, goals, strategies, purpose, mission and values can greatly enhance and improve an organization. With it, you get harmony, speed and other competitive advantages. And successful alignment creates hugely beneficial synergies with successful engagement.

Hilton Worldwide CEO Christopher J. Nassetta is one leader who has understood and grasped the power of alignment, and he has used it to draw the hotelier's 300,000 employees worldwide more effectively around the company's values and goals.

"We had a lot of segments of the company that operated very independently" when he joined Hilton five years ago, Nassetta told the New York Times in a recent interview. "We had massive amounts of duplication and fragmentation. We needed alignment.

"We needed people to understand who we were, what we stood for and the key priorities for the company. And we needed them, once they understood that, to get their oars in the water and head in a common direction."

For instance, Hilton employees had widely varying answers to the question of what the company's strategic priorities were. "I stopped counting when I got to 30 different values statements," Nassetta said.

So he launched Hilton on a crusade to define and communicate the company's primary values and to align all of its operations and employees around them. A small team formulated the final statement and then worked it into an acronym to make it catchy and easily memorable for everyone at the company.

They ended up with "HILTON": H for hospitality, I for integrity, L for leadership, T for teamwork, O for ownership and N for now.

"To reinforce [this], we are constantly referring to the letters -- in newsletters, in town halls -- almost to the point where we are driving people crazy. But it works."

And in the process of using devices like these to drive internal alignment, Nassetta believes that he is working toward his ultimate calling as a corporate leader.

"The trick is having intense alignment around mission, values and the key strategic priorities," he said. "My job as CEO, simply stated, is to create the right culture, set the tone, the high-level strategy."

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