Alignment Is About Keeping Everyone on the Same Page
"Communicate, communicate, communicate. You build strategy from the top down, and you execute it from the bottom up."
Stephanie Parson, vice president, IT strategy and methods, Walt Disney World Co.
Disney's Parson found out the hard way that one should never take management buy-in for granted. When Parson first came to the entertainment and resort company in late 2000, she began an aggressive effort to help IT and business units, for the first time, sit down together to map strategy goals for the company. Parson and her team spent months meeting one-on-one with key business leaders to start the difficult conversations required at the consensus-driven Disney to get alignment off the ground. But then, on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and attendance at WDW plummetedand hasn't fully recovered, triggering layoffs and stiff budget cuts, most of which remain in effect. Besides losing some of her staff, Parson's bid for more money for continued alignment consulting work is now on hold.
Looking back, Parson said at the conference, her initiative to create IT-business strategy at Disney, using the help of the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative, might not have been cut had she and her IT team won better buy-in from higher-ups. "We thought we had buy-in, but we never went to check and recheck and recheck again, and that hurt us," she said. Added Kathy Brittain White, executive vice president and CIO of Cardinal Health Inc., "Don't expect to go in and make one senior management presentation and think that if people nod their heads, they've got it. You've got to keep working at it. Communication is an intense process. You start with a group of converts and you just continue to move on out to get it into the very tentacles of the organization."
And don't underestimate the difficulty of changing employee behavior, said Boise's Goudge. At first, Goudge said, he didn't want to do any formal change management training at all, and turned down a request that Boise pay $1 million for change management consultants when working to install and develop the new CRM system, "which would revolutionize things at the company, change things considerably," he said. "I said, 'No way. I know how our company acts; I'll just go out and give a speech or two and they'll follow me like crazy, and there will be no problem.' But I was a fool," Goudge told conference participants. "We tried doing that, and it collapsed. We didn't get the training out to the people quickly enough or well enough. Change is hard stuff to sell."
But don't overdo it, either. Let business and IT leaders forge teams according to their own management styles. Said Yellow Corp. CEO Zollars: "I never took much stock in Outward Bound, the 'Let's climb a mountain together and sing Kumbaya' types of efforts to build teams and facilitate strategic conversations. It's not real. People don't have time. You've got to build teams by making everyone see what their job is in terms of the business goal. You don't have to like the guy sitting next to you or know what kind of dirt bike he rides. You do have to know what his role is in the overall strategy so that you and he can work together to do a better job."
Last but not least: Passion. It's not enough to make your own message clear. "IT needs to be sitting across the table from the business people, hearing about the business the company has on the line if technology can't helpor can," Goudge said. "It gets the blood flowing, it gets the heart pumping, you hear what business leaders are saying."