Imagine this scenario (maybe you don’t even have to imagine as this can resonate with your reality): You, alongside your co-founder, built a company from scratch a few years ago. You have successfully managed to navigate challenges, change, and disagreement, and today you own a company with over 100 people. But recently, you have noticed that progress seems to be slowing down.
Where do you go from here? How do you keep bringing A-star results?
This situation is similar to what Hubspot co-founders - Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah - faced a few years ago. Over a conversation with Elon Musk, they realized what the solution might be, as Musk revealed to them one of his leadership strategies:
Every person in your company is a vector. Your progress is determined by the sum of all vectors. Elon Musk
This approach is known as Aligning Vectors, and in this article, we will explore the concept and how you can implement it in your team/organization.
Start by seeing everyone’s contributions as a vector
A vector is a mathematical term that has been described in physics as a quantity that has both magnitude and direction. It is commonly represented by an arrow connecting an initial point A to a point B.
To perceive employees as a vector implies two things:
- They need to have magnitude, meaning you should consider their impact, commitment and visible effort.
- They also need to have a direction, which tells you if the way they are moving themselves is the same as you with your team and the company.
The sum of all vectors is your team’s momentum
Your team is literally the sum of all its parts.
When you sum everyone up as vectors, you get a new one representing the direction and momentum your company is moving in. And there are three types of new vectors that might result from that sum:
- The Null Vector: When half of the team is pulling in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction. In this case, despite their magnitude, the company would be making zero progress.
- The Sub-Optimal Vector: When the majority of the team is pulling in the right direction but there’s one or few that are pulling in other directions. In this case the sum of the vector is not yet optimal for great progress.
- Aligned Vectors: When everyone is moving in the same direction, they’re all aligned and the company is then set for great impact and progress.
Building maximum alignment in your company involves much more than simply aligning your people. You need to align:
- Your employees and leaders with the company’s goals. Ask, reflect and make sure everyone agrees with “What are we creating?”.
- Your teams with the company’s goals. Foster consensus on the questions “Why are we on this team together? Do we have shared respect and trust for one another?”.
- The company’s goal with the needs of the customer. This point is often forgotten or overlooked. You should ensure everyone is on the same page regarding “For whom and why are we building this?”.
Typically, the smaller the teams, the easier the alignment. Despite that, to make this process smoother, embrace imperfect alignment and disagreement. Also, ask questions instead of making assumptions about how each person feels and perceives their work, goals and role at the company.
Keep in mind that even without new people or extra funding, you can maximize the organization’s progress. The key is aligning the vectors. As Dharmesh Shah mentions “The team that gets 80% of the decisions right, but is 100% aligned will beat the team that gets 100% of the decisions right, but is only 80% aligned”.
3 Steps you can take as a leader to foster alignment
Achieving 100% alignment can feel like work of the Gods or a utopia – we get it. But as a leader, you should aim to achieve the greatest alignment possible. To help you with this, here are 3 easy steps you can implement:
- Clearly define or revisit the company’s goals. Guarantee everyone understands what the expectations are.
- Set the direction. Understand what your current position is and how you want to grow from there. Be transparent and invite everyone on board.
- Make communication effortless. Make sure everyone is up to date on what is going on and what their role is in the process. Consider resorting to digital platforms to make communication more agile.
How to check for impact and progress using aligning vectors
If you wish to assess if the projects your teams are currently developing are on the path to optimal progress and impact, ask these questions:
- Is the magnitude of investment in this project sufficient for what we want to accomplish? – If the answer is no, then you have a magnitude problem.
- Are the people and related projects aligned with this project (and vice-versa)? – if not, you are dealing with a directional problem.
These inquiries are extremely helpful, especially for underperforming projects. Once you determine the nature of the issues - considering the vectors approach - you can create an action plan to resolve them.
You can even take Musk’s strategy a step further and base your decisions on looking at everything as vectors that need to be aligned – this could be content (e.g. marketing campaigns) that your team is producing, the partnerships your company is building, etc.
Seeing everyone (and perhaps ultimately everything) as vectors is a bold yet clear perspective that can help you navigate a period of slower progress in your company. To go far, you need to make sure everything is set for success. For Elon Musk, Aligned Vectors is what you should be aiming for.
Make sure you align your employees and leaders to the company’s goals, each team to the company’s goals, and the company’s goals to the needs of the clients.
Foster the greatest alignment possible by:
- Clearly defining or revisiting the company’s goals
- Setting the direction and momentum
- Making communication effortless – consider using a digital platform
Remember to prioritize asking questions instead of making assumptions. This could go a long way especially when you are looking to assess if the projects your teams are currently developing are on the path to success.