What Price Buy-in? What Cost Alignment?

Months after it was “killed,” the BP gusher in the Gulf of Mexico just keeps spewing out valuable lessons for anyone in the emergency preparedness game.

On January 6, the Obama administration’s investigators found that the “accident” resulted from at least seven poor management decisions made by one of the world’s largest corporations, all of which erred on the side of making money instead of obeying Murphy’s Law.

According to the Brit newspaper theguardian, the oil-spill commission “…makes clear that drilling the Macondo well was a meticulously planned and well-designed operation – which in execution was sometimes rushed to the point of thoughtlessness.”

BP’s corporate “Values Statement” dictates a much different expectation of its managers:

“…to carry on (BP’s) business in an environmentally responsible manner, and develop cleaner energy and renewable energy sources. The group is committed to the responsible treatment of the planet’s resources and the development of sources of lower-carbon energy.

How could BP’s drilling managers perform so far out of line with not only its “meticulously planned and well-designed operation,” but also its overarching corporate “Values Statement?”

The answer is in alignment – cost alignment, organizational alignment, and values alignment.  O in BP’s case, an apparent lack thereof.

“Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals and values are in balance.”

-Brian Tracy

We’ve experienced object lessons in alignment with a clients of ours.  They asked us to help overhaul a very detailed and complex Emergency Plan that required the cooperation, review and approval of dozens of departmental executives.  While most of these managers took time out of their busy schedules to comply, a number of them could not seem to break away from their daily duties long enough for thoughtful examination or contribution to their sections of the plan.

We assumed that there had been top-level commitment to the project, as well as an organized effort to get the departmental executives to buy-in to the effort.  Unfortunately, it appears our assumptions were incorrect.  As a result, they now have a very sound Emergency Plan that is based in large part on Best Practices from similar organizations.

But we’re concerned that some of their managers may not fully understand their part in the overall Plan when they have to use it. The company had to do some remedial work before they could count on effective organizational and cost alignment.

Many of us participate in a form of alignment when we annually review and sign corporate Codes of Ethics. There are similar techniques for assuring buy-in and alignment with Emergency Plans:

·       Involvement of key stakeholders in an assessment of the situation
·       Consensus among stakeholders on challenges and goals
·       Participation by stakeholders in the generation of alternatives and action plans
·       Documented approvals of the completed plans by the stakeholders

Sometimes, these steps require the services of a disinterested facilitator to help gain consensus around the entire effort.  And occasional emergency exercises reinforce alignment by pressure-testing everyone’s understanding of the Plan.

That sounds like a lot of effort just to make sure everybody is on board.  But given the millions of dollars of losses and the damage to organizational reputation that can result from haphazard execution, securing buy-in and organizational and cost alignment beforehand is an investment well worth making.

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