In his latest article for Harvard Business Review, Jonathan Trevor, Associate Professor of Management Practice at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, advises companies who are struggling with strategic alignment to adopt a management practice he terms ‘enterprise leadership.’

Is Anyone In Your Company Paying Attention to Strategic Alignment?” asks Professor Trevor, observing that the varying aspects of a company’s value chain are often managed by different people.  He explains: ‘All too often, individual leaders seek – indeed are incentivized – to protect and optimise their domains, and find themselves locked in energy-sapping turf wars.’ These conflicts cause the components of a company to become misaligned against its purpose. 

To help companies solve this problem, he asks leaders to consider the following questions: 

•    Who at the enterprise level in your company is responsible for ensuring it is as strategically aligned as possible?

•    How is your company’s leadership making informed decisions about the arrangement of your company as a complex system of many moving and interconnected parts all aimed at fulfilling one overarching purpose?

•    What frameworks and information do your leaders require to ask good questions, have better conversations, and make robust strategic and organisational choices?

•    What capabilities do your enterprise-level leaders require to be effective at aligning your company to ensure it is fit for its purpose?

You might assume the CEO or Chairman is best placed to deal with strategic alignment, but Professor Trevor believes the job is too complex for a leader already concerned with many facets of an organisation. Instead, enterprise leaders should be appointed.

‘The function of enterprise leadership is to make strategic interventions to ensure a company’s most important components are impeccably aligned,’ he said. This includes its business strategy; organisational capabilities; resources and management systems, as defined in an earlier HBR article. These elements form the value chain through which companies perform their purpose, but Professor Trevor reminds readers that a chain is ‘only as strong as its weakest link.’

To forge a robust value chain, enterprise leaders must first create a vision of what strategic alignment should look like at their company, and be able to communicate that vision to both internal and external stakeholders. Secondly, enterprise leaders must ensure each link in the value chain is complementary to the next, and reassess them regularly to ensure this remains consistent as time goes by.

Professor Trevor states that the role of enterprise leader is generally assigned to senior executives, but in some cases – such as Japanese multinational Ricoh – dedicated design teams are appointed. 

He concludes: ‘Regardless of for whom it is a responsibility, enterprise leadership is essential to designing and managing ever more complex companies as highly capable systems…the best companies are the best aligned, and only by design.’