This year, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the country’s lowest levels of unemployment since the 1960s. With more people in work, the labor market is more competitive, and hiring is harder.
In such a climate, understanding what attracts workers to a role, and what keeps them there, is more important than ever. Based on research we recently carried out with Slack, we identified alignment as one of the biggest factors driving employee morale, and something that can directly improve a business’ bottom line.
We defined an aligned worker as one who agreed with the statement “I feel aligned with my company’s vision, values, and operating principles”. Unaligned workers were defined as those who disagreed with this statement.
We found the top management and culture challenges felt by businesses worldwide were building a good culture, and retaining staff. Making this a reality can only happen when workers feel they’re pulling in the same direction.
Aligned workers are far more likely to rate their company as “excellent” or “good” across a number of metrics, particularly productivity and workplace culture. Aligned workers are also much more likely to understand what they need to do in their role to be successful, and to feel empowered to make strategic decisions. It’s telling, too, that they feel more optimistic about the overall growth of the company.
It begs the question, then, of which kind of companies are most likely to foster these attitudes. Most workers, in all industries, feel aligned to the companies they work for. But Manufacturing and Tech companies have the most success, whereas sectors like Healthcare, nonprofit and government have the highest rates of unalignment.
There’s a sweet spot with company size in getting to alignment. Again, businesses of all sizes have the vast majority of their workers on board with the company strategy. But mid-market and enterprise companies are particularly effective, while businesses of 1-20 employees and large enterprises – the smallest and the biggest respectively – have a bit of ground to make up.
From our research, we identified practical steps that businesses can take to ensure alignment across their entire structure. Face-to-face meetings increase alignment, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a certain point. Based on a comparison between a number of meetings in a day and the alignment felt by workers, 3-4 meetings seems to be the magic number. Less than that and employees don’t feel as engaged with company strategy. But if there are more then fatigue sets in, dragging back any feelings of alignment.
On an executive level, communication is all-important. Sharing updates from the top on targets on a monthly, or even quarterly basis is something useful to initiate. How updates are shared makes a difference as well. Companies that use emails or blogs to update employees get less alignment than those that use collaboration tools to share what’s going on.
Collaboration tools beat out the Video or in-person meetings. They offer a compromise between the scale of email and the intimacy of meetings. But, pursuing this needs careful management of the “alignment paradox”; while collaboration software increases alignment, it has to be used in such a way to avoid excessive multitasking, increasing distraction, and ultimately, losing productivity.
Alignment isn’t just a short-term response to historically high levels of employment; it’s also a way to overcome old problems of poor top-down communications. It’s a vital concept for any business, and the steps we have outlined here show how frequent updates, using the right tools, is a good step to achieving it.