Aligning Goals With the Alignment Canvas

There is no denying that organizations in which all teams and individuals are perfectly aligned, are set up for success. When everyone is moving in the same direction great things happen. Getting everyone on the same page can be challenging though. The Alignment Canvas was developed with exactly that in mind: how do we make everyone move in the same direction?

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The Canvas

The Alignment Canvas

The purpose of the Alignment Canvas is twofold. First, it will help you and your fellow team members define qualitative and quantitative goals for a specific period. By following the steps, you will shape, align and solidify your goals. Next, a completed Canvas can be discussed with other teams and stakeholders to show and review goals and expectations. A set of Canvasses serve as a tool to check if everyone is moving in the same direction and reveal when they are not.

It takes some effort, but, in our experience, we found that filling out the Canvas with an entire team (up to 10 people) is very valuable. Especially for teams who are not used to talking about what they want to achieve. Filling out the Canvas together stimulates team members to think and talk about their shared purpose and translate that into their daily work. The process of jointly filling out the Canvas already improves alignment between team members.

The Alignment Canvas and OKRs

For those of you who are familiar with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) looking at the Alignment Canvas, you might wonder how the Canvas relates to this goal-setting framework. It’s not a matter of one versus the other. The Alignment Canvas builds on top of OKRs. The OKR method is a very effective method for setting goals, but is lacking in the alignment area.

Alignment in OKRs is supposed to happen through cascading: from senior management all the way down through the organization hierarchy (and up again). However, in practice, cascading of OKRs is not something that works equally well in all organizations. It often leads to a substantial lead time before the last team is able to craft their OKRs; effectively impacting the organization’s agility. The Alignment Canvas, and the accompanying successive discussions, can be a welcoming addition to help reduce lead time to make all OKRs add up to reach company goals.

One step at a time

The Canvas consists of seven steps:

  1. Ambition
  2. Objectives
  3. Beneficiaries
  4. Allies
  5. Key Results
  6. Tactics
  7. Health Indicators
The Alignment Canvas Flow

The Canvas is set up in such a way that, by following all the steps sequentially, you will work from thinking strategically, by defining an Ambition, all the way down to operational activities. It is important to go over all steps one at a time. Make sure you fully complete a step before you move on to the next one. After finishing each step, go over the already finished steps and check if the completed steps together still form a coherent set.

Let’s go over each step one-by-one.

1. Ambition

The first step of the Canvas is to define a spot on the horizon. What is the ultimate goal of your team? When is their work done?

Ambition is a vivid, inspiring description of the desired end-state – vision if you like – of what a team is working towards in the mid-term or long-term future; it is intended to serve as a guide. When deciding on actions to take, the ambition of a team can help identify the most promising ones.

The Ambition consists of one or two sentences that clearly define the purpose of a team

2. Objectives

Once you defined the longer-term ambition for the team it is time to look at the nearer future.

The Objectives describe the short-term, intermediate, goals the team wants to reach on its way to its ambition. Objectives should be ambitious, inspiring sentences. They describe what you would like to achieve in the foreseeable future. Don’t try to make them measurable just yet, Key Results will cover this. Oh, and try to limit the number of Objectives. Three to four Objectives are more than enough for most teams. For the sake of focus, less is more.

3. Beneficiaries

Before you start making your Objectives measurable by defining Key Results, see how your current set of goals contribute to the greater good of the organization. The aim of the Alignment Canvas is to come up with an aligned plan, so let’s kick off the greater alignment process by identifying stakeholders.

Look around you, what other groups or individuals are working in the organization that your Objectives support? Are you contributing to the Objectives or Ambition of the organization directly? Are there any Objectives from other teams that you are actively contributing to? Write down, per team or person, who they are and how you will support them.

If you have a hard time coming up with defining how your goals are contributing there can be typically two causes. Either you are the first one defining tangible goals in your organization  (kudos to you, you trailblazer!) and you just don’t know yet what others around you are pursuing. Or you just realized your Objectives are not in line with what the people around you are aiming for. If the latter is the case: go back to previous steps and revisit those. This is a clear sign you are on a dead-end track.

One word of warning: be reluctant to add hierarchical beneficiaries. Just because the team manager’s (or the team manager’s manager’s) job is on the line if you do a bad job does not mean that they are a beneficiary in the sense as it’s meant here. This section is about identifying all the other people and groups in the organization that will be positively impacted if your team reaches its goals. Only when your goals directly contribute to explicit Ambitions and Objectives of people higher up in the hierarchy should they be listed here.

4. Allies

So, we know how you are going to help make the bigger picture happen. But who can help in your Ambition? Do the same as in the previous step, just the other way around. List everyone and all groups that you expect to support your team.

What groups or individuals in the organization do you think should support you in pursuing your Objectives? Per supported group or individual, write down who they are and how they help you reach your goals?

Ideally, there should be some overlap between Beneficiaries and Allies. After all, in a perfectly aligned organization, partnerships should be synergetic.

5. Key Results

As you are descending the Canvas, the level of detail is getting higher. The Key Result section is meant to quantify the Objectives to give numerical meaning to the goals of the team.

What metrics do you have, or can you instantiate, that can indicate if you are successful in reaching your Objectives? What do you need to gauge to determine if you are getting closer to your goal? Make sure metrics are truly measurable. Don’t pick metrics that rely on gut feeling, are open for interpretation or that cannot be realistically measured.

For each Objective, pick some (preferably 3 to 5) metrics that best communicate progress on it. For every one of these metrics, make sure you know what their current value is and what target value you are aiming for. These are your Key Results.

Key Results are quantitative. They describe the measurable end-state you would like to achieve.

6. Tactics

When you are confident about what you are about to achieve and how you think your aspirations line up with the rest of the organization, it’s time to define how you are planning to reach your Objectives. As you know, goals without a plan are just a wishes. Tactics will be the basis for your plan. They describe the actions you are going to take, and projects you are going to start which you believe will help you reach your Objectives.

For each objective, identify all the possible Tactics you plan on doing. Make an effort to prioritize them. In other words, list all the Tactics and order them on the assumed positive impact on your Key Results.

The resulting list will show you the things you are going to start when the planning phase is over and actual work needs to be done.

Please note: the list of Tactics don’t include all the things you have to do regardless of your plans. Almost all jobs come with mandatory tasks for a variety of reasons. Unless you strongly believe these tasks will help you in your pursuit, don’t list them here.

7. Health Indicators

Given everything you want to do and achieve, what is at stake when you are going after your Objectives? If you are like many people, your goals and targets are challenging. This means some pressure needs to be applied here and there to achieve them. Where are you going to apply pressure and what is at stake? List them here.

Health Indicators are the risks you are facing when successful in your aspiration. These indicators list those things you want to keep a close eye on because you don’t want them to change too much. At least, not in the wrong direction.

Now what?

If you made it till here and filled in a Canvas in the process: congratulations! You just finished a major part of aligning your goals with those of the rest of the organization: getting insight in your own. For many teams this is already very valuable.

To get the most out of your effort, it is time to start checking if your team is heading in the same direction as other teams are. This is the time to print the Canvas, share it on your corporate intranet and publish it on Reddit. Okay, maybe not the latter, but make sure it’s out there and seen by your colleagues. Discuss it with as many co-workers and other teams as possible, especially those that play a role in your goals. Use the feedback received to revise your Canvas and create a new iteration. Again, discuss it and continue these steps until your plans are clear and aligned.