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August 08, 2005
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Front End Alignment

While visiting my favorite local family-owned auto repair shop recently, the HR Doctor considered the front-end alignment offer posted on the wall. Making sure that wheels, tires and the auto body to which they all connect is in proper alignment is extremely important. If the alignment is not correct, the result will be added stress on key parts, poor performance from the car and an increased risk of breakdown or catastrophic accidents resulting in more costly repairs in the future.

By now I am sure you have guessed that this is not an article about Ocello’s Automotive Center, but about the fact that the same risks are present in any modern government or business organization. If the behavior of the "parts" of the organization is not proper, all of the risks and potential for organizational failure are also present.

A recent HR Doctor article describes the importance of core values ("HR to the Core"). The HR Doctor’s book Don’t Walk by Something Wrong! is full of information about the strategic role that parts of an organization, including HR, budget, payroll, law enforcement, public works and, in fact, every organizational component, plays in achieving the strategic vision of the leaders.

Without the strategic view, an organization will simply be doing an imitation of Diogenes, searching through the world looking for an honest person.

Even if an organization has a mission statement, a vision statement, core values and posters everywhere in the corridors, more is still needed. The agency’s actual day-to-day behavior has to align with these strategic directions in order for it to morph into an effective successful, energized organization.

Making sure this alignment is proper regularly checked, and periodically adjusted is an essential function for every leader. Certainly elected and appointed officials and executives have that role. But, the same behaviors of leadership can be expected and should be expected of the first line supervisor in charge of a crew of two or three workers in the field or clerks in the office. Every employee is an ambassador of the organization’s values and its leadership direction.

An organization where employees whine and complain, perhaps not recognizing how great they have it in a world of defined benefit pensions, health insurance and job stability, is not an organization properly aligned with productive and positive goals. Managers, directors, county administrators and city managers may be appointed to their offices, and have a badge and a larger paycheck, but they commit malpractice and they are not truly leaders if they aren’t modeling properly the behaviors consistent with public service excellence. These include R-E-S-P-E-C-T, a compelling urgency to follow through and deliver on commitments, open and honest communication, and other critical variables usually outlined in an organization’s core values.

Performing a front-end alignment on the organization begins with ensuring that the strategic direction is clear and exciting. The elected officials and the top managers need to come together and commit to behaviors that are positive and consistent with the vision of the organization. Every employee must understand that their behaviors can make the clients or members of the public pleasantly and consistently surprised at the quality and caring of services provided.

This is definitely true of internal clients for organizations such as HR, the garage or the budget office as well. These service providers must also insure that employee behavior is consistent with the organization’s values and vision.

Employees who ignore customers or are rude, short tempered or appear to be in a coma at work are undermining the success of the organization. More importantly, supervisors and managers who exhibit these same dysfunctional behaviors are not only sabotaging the success of the organization, but are producing attitudes in others which will harm the organization even after a particular "Godzilla Manager" has left.

It’s a joy to be part of an organization or to receive service from one where values are clear and compelling and where the employees - the musicians in the orchestra - are using the same sheet music and are in tune with one another and with the direction of the conductor leader. Ironically, the best leaders are actually servants. As the great Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor and cellist, Benjamin Zander said, the power of a conductor is really derived from how well that individual empowers or enables the musicians to express themselves with passion and joy.

A great HR leader, a great leader in the world and locally, has a similar view to Ben Zander’s. Performing a front-end alignment regularly is one of the most powerful management actions we can take.

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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