5 Tips About Realigning Organizations I Learned by Falling Off A Horse

by cv harquail on September 20, 2010

(No, it was not “Get right back on.” Everybody knows that.)

Sustaining organizational authenticity requires continually realigning organizational identity, purpose and action.

But realigning can be harder to do than you’d think. I learned recently, after falling off a horse, that getting back into action was only the start of a longer, harder realignment process.IMG_1431.JPG

Here’s the story: Several months ago, I took a hard fall from a horse and smacked to the ground on my right hip. I climbed back on immediately and finished the course, but for many days after the fall I after was limping from my injury.

Nothing was broken, the injury wasn’t serious, but even with Pilates and stretching the pain never quite went away. When the pain started to interfere seriously with wearing high platform shoes during all-night raves, I went to a chiropractor.

I was a bit leery of the chiropractor, but I opened myself up to the possibility that readjustment by a chiropractor could be helpful. I tried to relax every time my chiropractor whacked my hip back into alignment, and I didn’t enjoy going. But the realigning eventually worked and I’m nearly back to normal.

Overall, though, getting back into alignment was more difficult than I’d expected. Here’s why:

1. It’s easier to address incremental misalignment than to wait until a big jolt makes misalignment undeniable.

The most noticeable misalignment comes from a hard, unexpected jolts. Which is too bad, since incremental misalignment would have been easier to fix.

It was obvious that I’d fallen hard, and I couldn’t deny that the fall had done some damage. But as I thought about it, I realized that I’d known for months that I’d been over-compensating for my “right-sidedness” in an attempt to stay in balance, and this over-compensation had been interfering with my riding.

I could have explicitly addressed the imbalance earlier, before I fell, but I didn’t.   Why? I didn’t want to interrupt my riding. I suspected that addressing the problem might mean backing down from the challenges I’d been working on. I didn’t want to interrupt my “performance” to re-learn and realign.

The same is true of organizations. Organizations (and their members) get plenty of warnings when they aren’t being authentic and they aren’t delivering on their promises. Missed deadlines, internal disengagement, customer disappointment, slips in our corporate reputations, missed opportunities all tell us that our organization’s sense of self and purpose are out of alignment with our organizational actions.

Yet, too often our organizations wait for a hit– a crisis (BP), a betrayal of our claimed identity (Target), a thoughtless corporate decision (MAC/Rodarte) — before we think about who we are, what matters most, and what we should be doing differently. We wait too long to address being misaligned, which only makes recovery harder.

2. It can be embarrassing to admit that misalignment is damaging your performance.

Being out of alignment means that somehow, your organization’s actions, professed purpose, and sense of self are not/no longer true to each other. One way or another, you’ve been doing something wrong for a while, and so admitting you’re out of alignment can be embarrassing.

In my case, the embarrassment was twofold. First, I had to admit that I fell off a horse. Even though this happens somewhat regularly to any rider, it still doesn’t sound like you know what you’re doing if you fall off, right? Second, I had to admit that even though this wasn’t a critical injury (I could still walk, and ride) I had to realign my ability to act with my beliefs about what I should be doing. And, I needed help.

3. You can’t let the embarrassment or skepticism get in the way of pursuing re-alignment effectively.

We don’t like to think that we can’t fix our organizations with the same people and the same systems that we already have up and running. Organizations sometimes need help– and they need to ask for it.

Organizations may also need to ask for help from new kinds of people or new kinds of systems. Maybe that means hiring consultants or listening to the HR department, maybe that means employee engagement programs and authenticity check-up systems.

4. You have to open up you mind to the process of being readjusted back into alignment.

Getting re-aligned can be scary, it might hurt, and it might be hard.

My skepticism about chiropraction? (chiropraxis?) made me a reluctant patient. For me, getting adjusted was scary. Sometimes it hurt afterward to feel stretched and pushed in different ways. But that’s what needed to be done.

Organizations may be skeptical about the need to realign and resist getting the skillful help they might need. Before organizations can get readjusted, they have to relax and open themselves up to the process. They actually have to try different things as they pursue realignment.

5. Re-alignment is an ongoing process.

One adjustment (even a big one that goes snap) doesn’t fix the problem. You have to get adjusted over, and over, and over.

Both organizations and individuals get hardened and tightened into distorted positions, coming to treat these distortions as “normal”. And, as we first start to realign, moving away from old positions and trying to adopt new positions feels awkward. And, you have to give your frame time to reestablish itself in the alignment.

Organizations often don’t think they are performing as well with the new positions or systems as they did with the older (misaligned) ones. However, once organizations put the work into realigning, performance can get a boost.

I haven’t gotten back up to the level I was at before my fall, but my balance has improved in noticeable ways. That doesn’t mean I won’t fall off again– but I probably won’t fall off for the same reasons.

There is another lesson, which I’m still in the process of figuring out. It has to do with the idea of knowing my goal or purpose, and aligning towards that purpose.

For while, I haven’t been sure whether the point of realigning was to get back to riding the way I had been, or whether the goal was to make it possible to do something different. (Maybe it is time to switch from jumping to dressage?) Maybe all I could realistically shoot for is getting back to all-night partying. I’m still thinking on this.

But reflecting helped me realize:

Organizations can’t and don’t just realign for realignment’s sake — Organizations realign so that they can pursue their purpose more effectively.

  • Alignment and authenticity are dynamic processes, not states of being that you achieve once.
  • Organizations (and people) have to keep realigning to sustain authenticity over time and across contexts.
  • Misalignment is easy to notice if you are paying attention.
  • Misalignment is nothing to be embarrassed about– instead, you should see it as an invitation to re-align your organization’s identity, purpose and actions more effectively.
  • Realigning might take help.
  • Realignment often means making serious changes in your organization’s system, and
  • Sustaining alignment requires lots of smaller adjustments and consistent attention.

You can’t just fall off and get back on and keep going. If you want to improve, you have to realign. All the time.

If your organization believes it has certain qualities and capacities, and it is dedicated to doing something, the organization needs to continue to realign so that it can be who it says it is, and achieve what it claims it wants to achieve.

See Also:
3 Questions for a “Quick and Dirty” Assessment of Your Organization’s Authenticity

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