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enterprise alignment

The Secret Sauce of Autonomy...is Alignment

On how "speed of play" depends on the happy marriage of autonomy and alignment.

by Rich Price

Speed and agility in business necessitates "field-level decision-making" versus "war room decision-making."

In highly centralized organizations, the "war room" is where plans are made — determining the actions that people in the field should complete in order to achieve a set of goals. In this scenario, there is high alignment and very low autonomy. As George Stalk explains in "Anatomy of a Disruptor," the result is "rigidity and degrading of responsiveness." 

For modern organizations that move with pace and precision, the goal is to enable effective and efficient "field-level decision making." But in granting (or unleashing) greater autonomy, an organization runs the risk of also creating the conditions for chaos.

The secret sauce of productive autonomy is alignment. The recipe for that secret sauce is:

Clarity — create clear goals and a clearly articulated and commonly understood "why." What are we striving for and why? But also how are we progressing and what are the evolving set of conditions to which we must adjust?

Coordination — enable a fluid exchange of information, context and a high-level of awareness about what people are focused on. What is today's key outcome for myself and for those around me?

These two ingredients enable something the military calls "Mission Command." As General Martin E. Dempsey (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs)" explains, in "Mission Command, the commander [a leader at any level] must understand the problem, envision the end state and visualize the nature and design of the operation."  When achieved "these practices result in decentralized formal decision-making throughout the [organization], leading implicitly to the opportunity to gain advantageous operational tempo over adversaries." In other words...high alignment enables high autonomy which provides the competitive edge.

High autonomy also has the added impact of producing our third C, Conviction. Autonomy feeds a sense of ownership, that individual actions are contributing to the mission, and that engagement with the mission helps maintain energy and effort and, critically, a sense of personal fulfillment.

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