Just a few weeks after returning to the company he founded, Steve Jobs addressed Apple’s managers and executives in an internal meeting. On the relaxed morning in 1997, Jobs laid out a foundation of the company’s new direction and marketing model: “Think Different.” The contents of his address dealt more than just a campaign; Jobs laid out an entire new plan for the company, and it affected everyone and every product Apple sold.
Jobs was asking himself: does this organization line up with its long-held core values? While he doesn’t outright say it, Jobs was strategically aligning his company. Strategic business alignment refers to the process of bringing all the players and teams within an organization inline to work towards a collective goal. The success of an organization hinges on the ability to bring in the divisions and the staff members into a cohesive union.
In a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review called “A Simple Way to Test Your Company’s Strategic Alignment,” writers Jonathan Trevor, an Oxford Business School Professor, and Barry Varcoe, the Global Head of Group Services in Group Operations and Technology at Zurich Insurance Group, offer a simple test that would lead to honest conversations about the effectiveness of your organization’s strategy. When your organization is working towards a goal, ask yourself these two questions:
1. How well does your business strategy support the fulfillment of your company’s purpose?
When we talk about ‘purpose,’ we are talking about what your company is trying to achieve, and when we talk about ‘strategy we are talking about how we get to that point. When Steve Jobs was addressing his staff, he talked about returning to core values, which is the core of “Think Different.” Jobs saw Apple’s purpose as ‘changing the world’ and the strategy whereby they would “change the world” was to simplify the product line and do one thing really well.
2. How well does your organization support the achievement of your business strategy?
When we talk about “Organization,” we are talking about all the players and stakeholders and systems involved in implementing your strategy. “To maintain strategic alignment, a company’s people, culture, structure and processes have to flex and change as the strategy itself shifts,” says Trevor and Varcoe. “The symptoms of poor alignment are often obvious, especially to those who work in the company, but also to customers who do not experience the service they expect from a company’s branding and advertising.”
When Jobs addressed his team, he also let his team know about some hard decisions he had to make. Over the years, the organization had come to the point where their product line was way too complex — even to the point where Jobs admitted he couldn’t understand. In the process of refining Apple’s product line he had to cut some projects that many of his team members were working on.
We know, at least for Apple, that creating and maintaining this new strategic alignment generated success for the company. Apple entered new territory and started to turn out a whole new set of amazing products in a time when Microsoft and Windows were turning up the heat. While not every company needs to be, or should be, the next Apple, we can learn a few things from Steve’s vision and the questions Trevor and Varcoe ask.