6 Steps to Align your Business: Lessons From a 1,000-Mile Bike Tour
By Jessica Leauanae, Learning Program Manager at Workfront | Adapted from the Leap Dallas 2019 Presentation: "Who Do You Serve? How Good Leaders Align Stakeholder Interest"
A year ago I participated in my first-ever bicycle tour — the Tour De Provo Peloton. It was a 90-day race to see how many miles a rider could cover over that time. Some days I rode for 4- or 5-hour stretches, drenched in sweat, legs aching, and fueling my body on gel packs, Cliff bars, and Gatorade. Sounds grueling right?
Funny thing ... this tour was held in a spin room inside my local recreation center. We were riding stationary bikes. Riders logged in for a minimum number of spin classes as a group and recorded their miles. We could also ride outside of class time and log those miles too. The leaderboard was updated each week with the top 10 riders and their mileage, along with prizes and awards riders earned at different milestones.
Most weeks, I maintained the 4th and 5th place spot. But no matter how many hours I rode, the top 3 women riders were always 300-400 miles ahead of me. One day, after class, out of sheer frustration I complained, “This is useless! It doesn’t matter how hard I ride, I will never catch up to these ladies!”
A more seasoned rider, who probably had noticed my lack of experience, looked over at me and asked, “Is this the only way you get your miles (meaning spin class)? You need to get out and do a century ride down the canyon. We go as a riding club every Saturday. You should join us. You'll catch up in no time and with much less effort.”
I had no idea what a century ride was but, not wanting to expose my rookie mistake, I went home and Googled it.
Lessons in “Pelotoning”
Century rides are 100-mile rides that you take alone or with a group. The group of riders is known as a peloton. The peloton allows riders to take advantage of their strengths and each other’s energy to reduce drag during a race. A peloton often has been compared to birds flying in formation—there is an underlying current that seems to flow beneath them, allowing them to move synchronously in alignment without bumping into one another.
This club rode as a peloton every Saturday. They would transport their bikes up our local canyon and ride downhill, on a paved path, into the valley and around a lake, easily covering more than 100 miles. The descent allowed them to coast downhill majority of during the ride. More distance covered, less effort, shorter time, beautiful scenery. Who wouldn’t rather do that than sit in a hot, smelly room, littered with granola bar wrappers and water bottles, with music blaring while staring at a computer screen clocking the miles.
In retrospect, I was riding nowhere fast. Literally.
How often do we feel that way in business? We have our tasks, our projects, and our goals, and we put the pedal to the metal. But at the end of the day, we feel like we are just burning rubber. We don’t know if our efforts moved the needle. We don’t know if we are headed in the right direction. And, at times, we may feel at odds with others in our organization.
Unfortunately, this scenario is more common than not. In a survey conducted by Forbes only 65% of organizations have an agreed-upon strategy. Two-thirds of senior managers can’t name their firms’ top priorities. Only 14% of employees understand their organization’s strategy, and less than 10% of organizations can successfully execute on that strategy.
Studies show that one main reason for the gap between strategy and execution is the lack of business alignment across stakeholders. Strong alignment allows business to define, collaborate, and calibrate on extraordinary goals. There is a clear, well-defined roadmap for executing a strategy and even more important, there is buy-in and support amongst the key stakeholders.
Take a minute to ask yourself:
- Do you know your stakeholder’s goals and objectives?
- Do you know your stakeholder’s strategy?
- Do you know how stakeholder’s plan to execute on this strategy?
If your answer is yes, great job! This article will give you steps to have regular check-ups to see how well you are staying aligned with your stakeholder’s goals and objectives. If you answered no, we’ve got some work to do and this article will help you conduct a stakeholder analysis to see where you can align.
Like a peloton, alignment is the undercurrent that allows businesses to move synchronously and dynamically through rapidly changing industries. When stakeholders are aligned, businesses are more agile and can adapt to and respond to change across the organization. Processes become streamlined. And the added transparency allows for more informed decision making.
Aligned businesses experience less waste and less efficiency “leaks”—points in the business where we are working hard but getting nowhere fast.
So how do we align, realign, and maintain alignment? Let’s explore this concept in 6 steps that have been proven by Workfront customers.
Step 1: Start with your mindset: Past, future, present thinking.
Start with mindset. The human brain has a tendency to think in chronological and sequential order. We think about time in terms of past, present, and future. We do this in an effort to mitigate risk.
We tend to look to our past to learn lessons and then cater solutions to fixing things that happened in the past to reduce future risk. What we should do is take a glance at our past so we can see where we were in reference to where we stand today in our present.
The key point here is to “glance” at our past but focus on our present. From our present, then we define where we want to be in the future.
That subtle shift to focusing on the present moves us into a progress-oriented mindset. That progress mindset is what allows us to build a roadmap from where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow.
Step 2: Know your stakeholders. Who are they?
Don’t just define them. Know them and form a relationship with them. You’ll find the time invested in getting to know who they are will pay big dividends down the road when challenges arise and you have to make difficult decisions. Knowing who they are helps you understand the WHY of their need or want. Be proactive!
Generally, there are three main stakeholders in business:
- Shareholders fund the work you do;
- Employees do the work; and
- Customers are impacted by the work.
Take a minute and jot down what you know about these 3 stakeholders at your organization. Describe them, what are they like. Who are they?
Step 3: What is your present state?
Take a moment to write down what each constituent group says about your company today.
Step 4: Self reflect.
Take a step back and look at your answers. Do you see commonalities among the stakeholders? Where is there overlap? Go ahead and highlight the themes.
Step 5: What is the desired future state?
Focusing mostly on the areas of overlap you discovered in Step 3, write down the things you’d like your shareholders, employees, and customers to say 3-5 years from now. Do you want them to say you didn’t understand or respond to their needs? Or do you want them to say you paid attention? Try to be specific with what you want the desired future state to look like.
Step 6: Summarize your findings into a service statement.
A service statement is a great way to capture the desires of your three stakeholders. It can be used to check how well aligned you are as you progress toward your goals.
Take your notes and following the format below, fill in the blanks:
- When we accomplish our work, our shareholders will say _____________________.
- Our employees will say _______________________________________________.
- And our customers will say ____________________________________________.
Workfront has developed a service statement that reads:
“When we create a category called modern work management and bring the operational system of record to market, our shareholders will say that we are reliable in creating a return for them, our employees will say that Workfront was one of their favorite career experiences, and our customers will say that we were genuinely interested in their success.”
By the time my Tour de Provo Peloton was over, I was still in 4th place and still 600 miles behind the 3rd place rider. I wish I could say I had taken the other rider’s expert advice, joined a true peloton, and experienced a century ride from the top of Provo Canyon down to Utah Lake before the tour was over, but I didn’t. However, I was able to develop an overall riding goal in the form of a service statement that has helped me maintain balance and improve.
Staying aligned to your key stakeholders goals and objectives is not a one-time event. It requires consistent evaluation of where you are and if you are still aligned. Use your service statement as your guide. Are there changes or pivots you need to take to stay aligned? You have the 6 steps to help you get realigned. Try it with your teams and the people you lead. The 6 step analysis will give you insight into where you can tighten up and improve as you progress along your business journey. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride!
Photo by Coen van den Broek on Unsplash