Have you ever spearheaded a major initiative at work, one that you knew to be rational and in line with company strategy, only to find your efforts unexpectedly derailed by an out-of-left-field dissenting opinion? Then you know first-hand the critical importance of internal alignment.
Absent internal alignment, the stakeholders invested in your project have nothing to go by except personal opinion. And when multiple stakeholders with competing interests and varying backgrounds, skill sets, and points of view are all operating from a place of personal opinion, you set a project up for failure—or at least serious delay.
All significant projects should begin with an alignment phase of work, culminating in a formal alignment document that all key players are required to sign off on before proceeding to strategy and execution.
This achieves two things. First, it gives all stakeholders a voice in the process, and if stakeholders feel heard and see their opinions reflected in the alignment document, they are more likely to stay in accordance down the road. Second, the alignment document itself serves as an irrefutable North Star to keep stakeholders on course and redirect them in cases of divergence.
Kick off with a no-holds-barred project team conversation.
Before you even think about putting a project plan in place, make a point of getting key tactical players in one room for a lengthy conversation around goals, frustrations, opportunities, vision, resources, challenges, and opportunities as they relate to the project at hand. Go into the meeting with well-thought-out, open-ended questions designed to get people talking. Give people room to speak honestly, and you’ll walk away with a sense of where stakeholders’ mindsets converge and where they are potentially in conflict.
Loop in other stakeholders.
Following your project team meeting, consider conducting one-on-one or focus group interviews with representatives from any other stakeholder groups your project will ultimately need buy-in from (e.g., the board of directors, leadership team, staff, or member-consumers). Depending on the number of people you want to include, you could also opt to distribute an online survey for efficiency.
Create an alignment document.
Once you have gathered the opinions of key players and stakeholders, you will be in a place to extract consensus, which you should capture in an alignment brief. The components of an alignment brief vary from project to project, but generally speaking, a branding project alignment brief might include:
- A description of the assignment or challenge
- Project objectives
- Brand positioning, organizing idea, and/or single message to convey
- Audience profile and insights
- Desired response or call to action
- Key messages and/or themes
- Voice and tone
- A definition of success
- Important dates
Developing an alignment document won’t positively guarantee perfect unanimity, but it is the single best way to mitigate our human impulse for discord. Because in the end, it’s hard to disagree with rational strategy.