Aligning management teams around competitive brand strategy forms the dominant mantra coming from business schools and high priced consultants alike. Most sell strategy alignment workshops on the theory that strong alignment is a good thing. They say it, but what does the data say?
On the personality front, the received wisdom differs. Personality should align with competitive strategy overall, but any team needs complimentary personalities. If the team leader leans strongly toward the creative and innovative, some members should be detail-oriented executors. If the team leader leans strongly toward process compliance, at least some members should have the creative chops to avoid following the “tried-and-true” over a cliff. Put another way, diversity advocates decry the group-think of cloned teams, where everyone looks, thinks, and acts the same. Does that imply the more the diversity on personality the better? What does the data say?
But Who’s Counting?
Most writers and thinkers don’t measure. We did for a population of 82 senior managers from a progressive, mid-tier bank in Saudi Arabia. We measured strategy via the Competitive Strategy Profiler– a short assessment of the priority placed on four fundamental approaches to winning in the marketplace (Janz, 2014). Competitors can win customers via:
- Better Offerings | Products or services that are more powerful, accurate, novel, durable, or beautiful than available alternatives,
- Better Sales Experiences | Sales Professionals that are more credible, skillful, knowledgeable, attractive or pleasing | Offerings that are available and easy to buy | Package deals or buying incentives that increase perceived value,
- More Efficient | Competitors who transform inputs and resources into goods and services with greater efficiency can offer lower prices.
- More Prudent | Competitors who negotiate better prices for their inputs and resources can offer lower prices.
This graphic points up human competence implications for the four strategic priorities:
This graphic shows how two well known brands would likely differ on the four primary strategic priorities, based on personal experience and public data:
We measured personality using a fast WorkSTYLE Profiler that mapped scores on six dimensions of work-related personality to nine predictive personality types. The following graphic shows the names of the factors and their correlation with performance ratings over three years:
Team Alignment (on Strategy and Personality) and Performance
To test the notion that alignment between the team head and team members on their strategic priorities and personality factors had an impact performance, the sums of the absolute differences between the team head and each team member were calculated for nine teams from the population of 82 senior managers.
I expected that the greater the average head-to-member distance for a team, the worse that team’s average performance score would be on the last three years of performance ratings for team members. But I was wrong. The graphic below confirms it was the SD (or standard deviation— the variation among team member measured alignment), that correlated most with job performance:
What Does This Mean?
It means that the average level of alignment among the team’s head and the team members doesn’t have such a huge impact on team member performance. The small effect that shows up suggests that it’s better to be aligned around strategy and not so good to be aligned around personality.
But the big impact on performance occurs in teams where some members are highly aligned with the team head and some are really not. And that applies to both strategy and personality. Here is what that looks like for the best performing team with the least variation in strategic priority alignment.
Now here is the same graph for a team that was not well aligned and also did not score well on performance:
The Bottom Line
To a modest extent, it’s better to have teams with more alignment around strategy and some diversity around personality. However, when forming teams–avoiding teams with high variance between the team lead and team members on either personality or strategy would be a good thing. When strong strategic variance is found, efforts to achieve greater alignment would likely pay off well. When strong variance in personalities is found, re-shuffling the players among teams to reduce within team variance makes more sense. There is not much profit in trying to shape personality later in life. Shaping strategic priorities is a much better bet.
Grasping why it’s so important to measure vs. merely opine forms the most valuable lesson to be learned for those who have read this far. I would still be happily ignorant on the importance of scanning for teams with high lead-to-member variance had I not measured competitive strategic priorities and key personality factors. The difference between what we think and what we know can also be the difference between profit and loss; failure and survival.