In his book Great Business Teams, consultant Howard M. Guttman discusses five steps to greatness. The first phase involves two critical tasks: getting an organization horizontal and aligning teams properly. In this excerpt, Paul Michaels, CEO of Mars Inc., the world's largest candy company, which is rarely written about, discusses the path to proper alignment.
Moving the organizational mountain in a radically different, horizontal direction is not easy, regardless of benefit. Fear of change and widespread initiative fatigue make the status quo very seductive. When Paul Michaels became president of Mars Inc. in 2004, he knew that the company needed to achieve far greater growth and financial return. But he faced internal organizational challenges every bit as daunting as those he faced in the marketplace. The top team at Mars was siloed and replete with unspoken agendas. Members did not see the benefit of working as a team; they were only concerned with the success of their own region. There was some infighting, but mostly people just left one another alone. Michaels believed that the high-performance, horizontal model represented the best bet for the future. To drive his vision though his organization, he first created a "burning platform" for the change, which centered on business issues; he then shrewdly hooked his vision into Mars' core values. (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
He explains: "Mars has five guiding principles, one of which is efficiency, and high-performing teams are by far the most efficient way of operating ... By using this process, teams quickly begin having authentic conversations, in real time: dealing with issues and not dancing around them. You see the impact quickly; people either step up or opt out. It becomes very evident where your issues are, who your players are, what you need to do to change the shape of the business. This model can speed up progress in these areas by years."
Michaels had been creating great business teams within a horizontal organizational setting for years. His colleagues were well aware that in previous positions at Mars he had moved brand teams [e.g., Snickers, M&Ms] and the Americas team to the high-performance, horizontal model. He had willingly given those teams more responsibility and power, so his new team knew he was coming from a place of respect for company values--and a solid track record of results. Past experience had taught Michaels that functional thinking and hidden agendas are classic behaviors exhibited by nonhigh-performing teams. More than a "burning platform" was needed to counter-act old habits and the natural tendency toward standpattism. Michaels' solution was to take his team through an "alignment"--an essential step in the transformation process to great business teams.
This is where the leader-visionary evolves into the leader-architect. Alignment is one of those buzz words that come loaded with baggage. To some it conjures up a mechanistic world: alignment is what mechanics do to an automobile when the steering is out of whack. But alignment also evokes images of living organisms, as when a chiropractor aligns the body, readjusting the skeletal system to restore it to better balance and integration. The alignment of teams and organizations has more to do with the human side of the term than with its mechanistic counterpart.