We can use history as a guide in understanding how to align organizations and drive change. The Civil War period, for instance, provides many examples of how leaders mobilized differently in order to achieve results. Take for example the case of General Ulysses S. Grant.
After three bloody years, public support for the Civil War and the Lincoln administration in particular was waning. Lincoln needed a general that would fight to end the war. Grant achieved a reputation as a fighter by winning victories against his Confederate foes in the West. Lincoln recognized this in Grant and appointed him General in Chief of all Union Armies in 1864, three years after the beginning of hostilities. Grant seized this opportunity, revised the Union strategy for winning the war, and tweaked his operations to execute quickly and decisively.
Grant understood that the key to bringing the Civil War to an end was not the occupation of Confederate territory or the capture of Richmond, Virginia— the Confederate capital— but rather the complete destruction of all Rebel armies in the field. Unlike his predecessors, Grant realized that as long as the South could organize an army and fight on the field of battle, the Confederate States of America could and would endure. Grant was also aware that during the first three years of the Civil War (1861-1863) the operations between the Union armies in the East and the Union armies in the West were never properly coordinated. Union generals were pursuing different aims and objectives. The lack of coordination meant the Union was unable to fully exploit its military capability because the armies in the East and West were in effect operating in silos. Grant needed to re-deploy his forces differently.
Grant’s new strategy required a coordinated effort to annihilate the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Robert E. Lee and General Joseph E. Johnston, respectively. His first step was to align the Union armies in the East (Army of the Potomac, Army of the James, Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley) under his command and coordinate operations with General William T. Sherman, whom he appointed commander of the Union armies in the West (Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Cumberland, Army of the Ohio). Once his leadership team was in place and onboard with the strategic direction, Grant went after Lee, and Sherman pursued Johnston. The coordinated effort led to the ruin of both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee and the eventual surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox and the surrender of Johnston’s army near Durham’s Station, North Carolina.
Grant assumed his command mid-stream, mid-initiative, like so many leaders do. However, he was not locked into the notion of continuing the war as it had been waged to date. When we apply Grant’s actions to the Organizational Alignment Framework, we see that he paid special attention to his stakeholders’ needs (President Lincoln, Lincoln’s cabinet, leaders in the Union Army, and citizens of the United States). He then evaluated whether the current strategy to satisfy those needs was sufficient, and changed the strategy accordingly. He then reconfigured his leadership team, brought his leaders in line with his vision, changed his organizational structure to drive the strategy, and assigned the right talent on each stated objective. He very adeptly determined how to make sure the pieces and parts of his war strategy were working together in concert, in alignment. The result, of course, is that the new coordinated effort brought the war to a close within two years of his taking command, satisfying his stakeholders’ needs and expectations. Grant’s actions are a perfect example of aligning an organization to get better, different results.