Just align it! The challenge of trading strategy and go with the flow

The past years, we have been showered with various baffling terms and buzzwords for describing changes in our dynamic and non-predictable world. One of these hyped, but highly important and applicable terms, is alignment.

Petra Nilsson-Andersen, Senior Adviser, The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency, Digdir

For most change-makers, alignment is not perceived as a status to achieve, but a continuous path of collaboration1. To align your activities means to secure that dependencies are connected, and that you adapt to continuous change.

Alignment activities are carried out in different contexts. It could also be considered as a principle in relation to the work process, organization or how to reach innovation objectives. Thus, “to align” activities are crucial for all levels of society, in governments, for organizations, or businesses.

Perhaps the most recognized context for operating with an alignment approach is in autonomous cross-functional teams applying OKR-methodology2, or when product-based delivery teams use agile principles during digitalization work.

Continuous change

In companies, working agile also means creating a culture of continuous change, and to sense and explore important drivers for company transformation. As companies sense new emerging opportunities, their strategic directions need to align with an altered business environment. Thus, for organizations working agile means staying dynamic and adjusting plans whenever needed.

All organizations benefit from staying on track and convening their forces to deliver both value and revenue. But how important is strategic resilience, and why should we leave the strategic path and wander out into uncharted territory?

Responding to unmet user needs and sensing new white spaces requires organizations to stand on their toes and align with the steady flow of new societal preconditions and challenges. To just align with existing strategy could mean missing out on new opportunities. Still, a complete lack of alignment with strategy could deliver unsatisfactory outcomes. So, there is a great need for trading parts of the strategy and balancing the different paths – to stay on track or to go with the flow.

For governments, and policy development, alignment is increasingly important.

Governments must be more responsive to change and adapt to challenges, or else they will become insignificant and contribute to reduction of a trust-based society.

It could be that the role of national strategies has been reduced and that it must be reinvented in order to secure a continuous alignment with the contexts in which they are operating. If governments could strongly emphasize the ambition and purpose of strategies and be very clear on the visions showing the way, the implementation of strategies could be more open for alignment with occurring activities and new needs.

AI and other disruptive technologies

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and the many aspects of emerging, disruptive technologies illustrate the challenges of working with strategy, where policy and regulatory guidance can’t keep up with the fast-evolving development in the field of AI.

Furthermore, when national digital strategies are developed, they must communicate a steady course for the work to be done, while at the same time open up for alignment and a dynamic implementation. This is particularly important for digital strategies, as they involve many interrelated policy domains.

New governance models and methodologies, including more experimentation, are needed. Moreover, the need to ensure more agile governance flows from the European Commission’s directives and regulations to the national level, strengthens this need for strategies where different stakeholders are allowed
to share their different insights and experiences and fine tune their contributions for improved alignment.

All things considered, alignment helps to ensure that a national digital strategy is up to date, that it includes the effects of societal change and legal and ethical challenges, and that new emerging technologies are introduced at the right time.

Alignment helps us creating a better fit between the inner and outer context – so let us keep on aligning!

1 Gartner definition, February 2022.
2 OKR: Objectives and Key Results.

Alignment and crossfunctional teams

The alignment concept is relevant both for innovation and transformation processes and innovation policy thinking.

Complex organizations need to divide their tasks on different organizational units and/or projects. This often leads to the development of cultural and institutional silos, where it becomes hard to communicate and collaborate across units. The development of tribal languages and different local practices makes this even harder.

There may be a lack of accountability, unclear governance as well as dysfunctional power-struggles.

A cross-functional team is a workgroup made up of employees from different functional areas within an organization or collaborating organizations that collaborate to reach a specific goal. This kind of collaboration and colearning is to help the organization or organizations align their different concepts, needs, challenges and goals.

Foto Sharply Done