Consensus versus alignment: is there a difference? Does it matter? Where does it apply in your customer experience work?
Back in 2015, I asked a similar question about buy-in and commitment – and, importantly, why knowing the difference matters. Ultimately, you’re seeking commitment, not just buy-in. And yet, there’s a greater opportunity to get not just commitment, but alignment and commitment.
So why is the “consensus (or agreement) versus alignment” conversation important? Let’s start with some definitions, and go from there.
Consensus is a general agreement or unanimity or group solidarity in sentiment and belief, according to Merriam-Webster. Alignment, on the other hand, is the act of aligning or the state of being aligned, which is to be in or come into precise adjustment or correct relative position.
So we’re talking about agreement versus precise adjustment. What these definitions fail to address is how you achieve consensus versus how you achieve alignment. I’m reminded of a post I wrote about leadership books to read in 2019 and beyond, in which I cited Miles Kierson and his book, The Transformational Power of Executive Team Alignment, which I still pull off the shelf and refer to regularly:
There are a lot of factors that contribute to a leadership team’s success, but none as important as team alignment. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: Calling most executive groups teams would be a stretch of imagination since by definition a team is a group of people who are working on some common end together. Ouch. As you probably already know, executive team alignment is critical to the success of any transformation or strategic implementation. Miles defines alignment as a relationship to decisions whereby you own them completely. It is also a commitment to have a decision work. And it’s a choice. Each individual on the executive team must choose to be aligned.
How do they choose to be (or become) aligned? They talk it out. They discuss the pros and cons. They share their opinions, likes, dislikes, challenges, opportunities, etc. Everyone has a chance to weigh in. But here’s what happens in the end, once it’s all out on the table: they choose to align. Not everyone may agree; there will still be differences. But they ultimately fall in line with the decision. They’ve been heard, and they support the final decision. There’s no meeting after the meeting. There’s no badmouthing the decision. The decision made in the room is the decision that gets supported and carried out going forward. That’s the power of alignment.
Reaching general agreement or consensus usually comes with a caveat, if it comes at all: they “agree to disagree.” The thorough and detailed conversations haven’t been had. And if they’ve been had, the outcome lands on “I agree to disagree” or “I give up/in,” which often leads to that meeting after the meeting and bad-mouthing of the final decision. There’s no coming together for the common cause. That is completely opposite of how alignment works.
I like how Jeff Bezos thinks about it: “disagree and commit.” Here’s what the outcome looks like: “You know what? I really disagree with this, but you have more ground truth than I do. We’re going to do it your way. And I promise I will never tell you I told you so.” That’s alignment.
In business and especially in our customer experience work, we seek alignment – from both executives and employees. Executives must all be on the same page; there must be a unified approach and commitment to the work that lies ahead. At the same time, we’ve got to bring employees along, as well, and ensure that everyone is on board to do the work. For employees, this best happens when they are involved in decisions rather than having the outcomes of the decisions forced on them.
Why is this important? It’s a lot easier to get things done when everyone has had a chance to weigh in and, ultimately, chooses to align. Commitment could be piecemeal (some are committed; some aren’t), and consensus has its shortcomings, for sure. Alignment means everyone has weighed in, has been heard, and has chosen to be in it together. They are all invested in the final decision. That removes any uncertainties about how the outcome will be achieved.
Building a visionary company requires 1% vision and 99% alignment. –Jim Collins and Jerry Porra
Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.