Goal Alignment Models
James Harvey who can be contacted at www.clomedia.com
Alignment: It’s the term that describes the continuous process
of mobilizing enterprise resources to execute company objectives.
For several years, organizations have grappled with how to align
their most critical enterprise resource—the workforce. Thus far,
most organizations have charged the human resources department
with building an alignment strategy. Although HR is an important
stakeholder, the development and execution of optimal workforce
alignment will never occur without equal participation of the
corporate strategy and learning organizations.
an ideal state, all employees understand the company’s strategy
and objectives, as well as how their contribution helps the
company meet its objectives. Like most theoretical definitions,
applying the practice in the real business world is much more
complicated and elusive. And the larger the organization, the more
complex the problem.
organizations understand the correlations between employee
engagement and business results. Successful companies are able to
articulate company strategies and objectives to their workforce
clearly, and the workforce is able to internalize and
operationalize those objectives to deliver results.
companies have successfully adopted alignment practices, while
many have employed the practice with marginal benefits. As with
most new business practices, it’s important to learn from early
Look Back at Alignment
the economic downturn of the early 2000s, businesses rapidly
shifted from growth mode into preservation mode. Business leaders
focused on identifying mission-critical tactics to meet near-term
financial targets as well as ensure enterprise resources were
mobilized for execution. During this time, many large
organizations looked to their performance management process as a
way to mobilize employee work activities around these
some organizations invoked the practice of cascading goals,
whereby employees linked their individual goals to higher-level
organizational or manager goals. Cascading goals is a somewhat
primitive form of making higher-level management goals more
operational. However, the practice rarely involved a rigorous and
disciplined look at organizational or employee capabilities. For
early adopters, the cascading goals practice provided employees
with some insight into how they enabled organizational success.
However, most early adopters did not recognize the full potential
of alignment because their alignment process was rarely
transformed from an administrative goal-setting process into a
business management tool. Furthermore, the lack of rigorous
capabilities analysis and development planning meant organizations
were addressing the “ what” but not the “how.”
Consequently, managers and employees found cascading goals
informative, but only visited their goal plans a few times per
these early adopters failed to realize is the critical role of the
learning organization. Defining “what” the workforce should be
driving toward does not enable the workforce to achieve those
goals. Leading organizations today involve the learning
organization in the business planning process, develop learning in
support of the business plan and cascading goals, and leverage the
capabilities of their LMS to assign learning to individuals to
ensure they understand “how” to achieve their goals.
the Business Plan
organizations to operationalize the company business plan through
the workforce, employee performance management and developmental
planning must incur a shift in perception and practice. The
process must be transformed from an administrative goal-setting
process into a business management tool.
the lines of business to take ownership of employee performance
management, as well as learning and development, requires a
business process that is a value-added extension of operations
management. The process must be a natural extension of the
business planning and budgeting process. Additionally, the
practice must not only address the planning of performance, but
also must address the critical employee development required to
execute the plan. CLOs need to help the business understand how it
can enable the business plan through greater ownership of the
performance review process.
this type of business process requires close interaction of three
administrative-support functions: corporate strategy, HR and the
learning organization. Unfortunately, in most large organizations,
the business planning function is not well connected to either HR
or the learning organization. In fact, where independent corporate
business planning groups exist, they are most closely aligned with
the finance department. More surprisingly, HR and learning
organizations are often not well coordinated either.
for organizations to operationalize their business plans, these
disparate functions must work together to build a performance
management process that is an operations management tool.
each operational business unit must take ownership of employee
performance management. To engage operational business units, the
performance management process and supporting L&D tools must
reflect the existing business planning, operational budgeting and
measurement processes already adopted by the business. Each major
operational business unit must view employee performance
management as an extension of its existing operational management
and reporting function.
are three primary groups that support the lines of business in
performance management. First, many large organizations have a
corporate strategy or business planning group, which provides
expertise in strategy and objective definition, as well as
business performance measurement. Corporate strategy should be the
paramount partner in standardizing the process of breaking down
organizational objectives into more discrete projects, initiatives
and tactics. Additionally, the corporate strategy is often
critical in defining the reporting metrics that measure progress
and predict potential success.
the learning department provides expertise in developing
strategies to ensure the right workforce capabilities are in
place. The learning department should analyze critical skills
required by key job roles, projects or initiatives, and ensure
learning strategies are in place to develop the critical skills.
HR provides expertise in the principles of goal-setting as well as
feedback, coaching and assessment. Human resources should
standardize these practices across major lines of business to
ensure fairness and consistent guidelines, as well as design the
the most optimal results, organizations should attempt to align
their business-planning period (e.g., fiscal year) with their
employee performance and developmental planning periods.
Reconciling these two periods can be costly, especially if
companies use anniversary review cycles. However, aligning these
two reporting periods will provide a concentrated focus on
executing the new organizational objectives at the beginning of
the year. By creating a focused alignment period at the beginning
of the year, organizations can shorten the time required to
operationalize business objectives, optimize cross-departmental
resource planning for projects and initiatives, and increase the
time and effort the workforce spends working on those objectives.
Insight & Control
often, alignment benefits are described as for employees only.
Although improving employee engagement has its benefits, the
business value is often not apparent to executives and business
leaders. Therefore, the alignment process should provide business
leaders with clear benefits. Executive benefits often focus on
insights and reports to understand how the workforce is
operationalizing business strategies and objectives. Additionally,
managers should have the ability to distribute performance and
development goals quickly, as well as correct misaligned work
activities. For large organizations, this usually requires
automated learning and performance management systems.
an example of executive insight, one major auto manufacturer
recently implemented an automated objectives alignment process.
Shortly after the initial employee goal-setting period, the CIO
found that one organizational objective had few employee goals
aligned to it, while all other organizational objectives had high
numbers of employee goals aligned to them. The CIO quickly
realized that without correction, his organization was unlikely to
accomplish the organizational objective.
being given the goal of driving a large commercial truck from
, within three days. However, you don’t have a speedometer, gas
gauge or navigational tool. Furthermore, you have never driven a
large commercial truck. You understand that the destination is
, but do you really have the information and tools to be
is analogous to simple forms of alignment that only communicate
organizational objectives but do not provide critical supporting
information or tools, such as progress metrics or learning and
development strategies. Alignment strategies should look beyond
simply providing descriptions of organizational objectives. They
should also analyze the information that is necessary for the
workforce to meet those objectives.
example, one financial services company provides television
screens in the employee cafeteria that display critical
information on company and business unit objectives, industry news
and competitor news. This type of practice disseminates important
information about company progress and provokes discussions among
employees regarding the state of the business.
increasing market adoption of objective alignment, two
alignment-models have emerged: people-centric and
people-centric alignment model was the first to emerge, often
promoted by performance management software vendors. In this
top-down model, goals are set first by the CEO. Subsequently, the
CEO’s direct reports set their own performance goals, each of
which is linked to one or more goals on the CEO’s plan. This
process repeats itself (cascades) down the entire management
hierarchy until each individual contributor defines goals that are
linked to his or her supervisor’s goals.
large organizations, the people-centric model poses multiple
limitations. First, the people-centric model is a top-down
approach and often takes too long to achieve alignment. Direct
reports are often dependent on the completion of their
supervisor’s goals before they can begin building their own goal
plan. In the case of executives who often have quantitative goals
and metrics, their goal plans are often delayed until the
completion of the operational budgeting process, which can often
last well into the first quarter of the new fiscal year. The
second problem with the people-centric model is workforce
mobility. In large organizations, employee transition occurs with
high frequency, leading to higher administrative efforts to
de-link and re-link goal plans. Finally, the people-centric model
builds success orientation toward people, who can often leave the
organization, instead of more permanent teams or organizations.
under the organization-centric model, objectives are defined first
for the company. Subsequently, the company objectives are broken
down across the organizational hierarchy. Cascading is only
required until employees understand how their contribution can
support their organization’s objectives, and in turn their
company’s broader mission. For most organizations, cascading
down three to four levels sufficiently describes objectives and
tactics. Once organizational objectives are cascaded, employees
build goal plans that are linked to their organization’s
organization-centric model has some advantages for large
organizations. First, the model parallels the business-planning
and budgeting processes that most organizations already practice.
Second, organizations are less fluid and mobile than people,
thereby reducing the administrative effort required to de-link and
re-link goals resulting from employee mobility. Third, success
orientation is toward the organization, not individuals who might
leave the company or change roles within it. Finally, measurement
systems are usually designed around organizations, which
facilitates tracking and communicating objective progress and
results back to the workforce.
organizations do not need to start from scratch, because they
often have tools and processes upon which to build. Though it
might not be standardized across the company, most organizations
employ some form of business planning and operational budgeting.
Additionally, goal setting, learning and development plans and
periodic reviews are not foreign concepts to most employees and
the organization begins to define its alignment strategy, it’s
important to consider a multi-year road map. Organizations should
pilot new alignment practices, rather than implement them at once
throughout the enterprise. When looking for an ideal pilot group,
it’s important to consider both organizational culture and
worker segments. Some organizations are more accustomed to
rigorous goal-setting processes than others. Additionally, some
worker segments are more accustomed to formal goal-setting
practices, as well as quantitative goals and measurement. Often,
it’s easier to implement the practice within a group that
requires less change management.
they begin to understand the importance of focusing on both the
“how” and the “what” of workforce alignment, more
organizations are beginning to put the performance review and
learning business processes under a single leader. Expect to see
the concept of “goals” or “objectives” introduced into
LMSs over the coming years. LMSs of the future will allow
organizations to link learning to business, departmental or
the organizations most successfully adopting alignment practices
have leveraged pilots to iron out process issues as well as to
introduce change that is sensitive to the needs of each major
business unit. When done well, effective change is introduced in a
way that is not intrusive to business operations.
leveraging the workforce to operationalize and execute the company
business plan is not an easy undertaking. However, there are key
principles that define successful adoption of alignment practices.
Corporate strategy, learning and HR must work closely with the
lines of business to design a process that is an extension of
existing operations-management practices. Organizations that bring
these various functions together will be able to transform the
performance management practice into a business management tool.
by permission of the editor of Management Issues