Workforce Disruption Management

How employee alignment makes lean business work

6 min read

Efficiency is taking center stage for today’s businesses. More and more are looking for ways to trim costs and make do with a smaller, more streamlined workforce.

Even so, leaner operations and more streamlined staffing can cause many challenges for your workforce. There’s no cure-all for every issue—but strong employer-employee alignment can go a long way to a solution.

In a nutshell, alignment means mutual understanding of goals and expectations. In the workplace, it means employers and employees both know what one another expects, and both sides understand whether they’re on the same page.

As your workforce shrinks, alignment becomes even more crucial to success. Let’s explore why alignment is so important and how you can use its power to minimize a lean workforce’s growing pains.

Why leaner businesses need alignment more than ever

Streamlined workforces are more efficient but also more vulnerable to various challenges—especially at the beginning, as downsizing brings upheaval to the employer-employee relationship.

Here’s what happens when your workforce slims down and why alignment is part of the solution.

  • Efficiency and focus become more vital. With a streamlined workforce, you can’t afford to let your team drift off target. Alignment reduces friction and keeps everyone focused on the same goals, so you can avoid wasting time and resources.
  • Stress, burnout, and disengagement can spread. Your remaining team members may feel the strain of higher workloads, shifting schedules, reduced support, and more. It’s easier to manage such challenges when you understand their expectations, and they understand yours.
  • Essential team members may leave. In a changing work environment, some people in vital roles may seek opportunities elsewhere. Such departures hit harder when you have less personnel to spare. Better alignment on goals and expectations can help you stay ahead of these risks.
  • Internal communication and relationships may fray. A downsizing workforce means teams are often restructured. Relationships can be disrupted, and messages lost in the shuffle. Businesses can limit these difficulties by ensuring a strong baseline understanding between management and employees.
  • Teams and individuals need to adapt more quickly. Shifting roles and responsibilities, for example, can leave people struggling to keep up with many changes at once. With better alignment, employees know how to focus their efforts, while executives and managers better understand how well their people are handling the transition.

All else being equal, your workforce’s productivity depends on how well it handles these challenges. So do its work quality and ability to innovate.

Under these circumstances, it’s vital to ensure you and your team are on the same page. A proactive approach is crucial, as internal alignment grows harder to achieve as these problems escalate. Once misalignment snowballs, getting everyone back on the same page becomes a heavy lift.

Creating an alignment infrastructure

What’s the secret to creating employer-employee alignment, especially when your team is striving to get leaner and more efficient?

Above all, systemic feedback holds the key. It’s the only way to ensure everyone understands each other and knows if they’re meeting their end of the bargain.

On one end, this feedback loop leads from you to your employees. Through clear communication and training, you can make sure your people get the big picture and know what’s expected of them. Regular check-ins and periodic reviews, among other tools, help staff members gauge if their performance aligns with the company’s aims.

In a leaner workforce, such feedback skyrockets in importance.

Team members may need more explicit guidance as they juggle more roles, responsibilities, and expectations. New management structures and work processes make it hard for them to figure out the answers on the fly.

Nonetheless, significant hurdles could keep you from hitting that sweet spot of alignment.

  • Dwindling resources: In streamlining, organizations may cut corners on activities needed to ensure alignment. For example, leaders may slash budgets for training. Regular check-ins might fall by the wayside because managers are spread too thin.
  • Failure to hear your employees: Your employees may understand you, but that doesn’t mean you get them. And unless you listen closely, you’ll struggle to know whether your expectations align with theirs.

Alignment in a lean workforce may thus require more, not less, investment in some areas.

While trimming the fat, you may want to focus on training and tools that keep employees reading from the right playbook.

The other key is putting your ear to the ground and tuning in to what employees are thinking. The problem? Many companies haven’t laid the necessary groundwork, so they miss key signs of misalignment with their workforce.

Stay in sync with continuous employee feedback

Many organizations assess “employee engagement” through surveys and information gathering by managers.

But these tools don’t ensure alignment between you and your staff. And the leaner you get, the less adequate they become.

  • Even the best supervisors struggle to know everything that’s happening with their people, and employees often don’t voice what they really think. Even if managers spot a problem, it’s challenging to gather those insights and convert them into action. All these problems grow tougher with more work to go around and fewer hands on deck.
  • Typical engagement surveys are only taken periodically, and their results are difficult to analyze quickly or translate into effective action. Because surveys so rarely lead to real change, employees have little incentive to provide straightforward answers. Such tools don’t meet a lean company’s need for efficient decision-making and quick adaptation.

What should employers prioritize instead? Develop a proactive process to gather continuous feedback from employees and understand how closely your work environment aligns with their expectations.

Such a strategy follows these key principles:

  • Gather feedback early and often so you’re always working off fresh information rather than last quarter’s news.
  • Make it easy for employees to report on their status quickly and easily, without the need to answer surveys.
  • Track a consistent set of variables that tell you how people feel about core facets of their work experience (such as workloads, work-life balance, or the quality of their relationships at work).
  • Convert these data into real-time insights and alerts about potential misalignment, whether you’re looking at a single person or an entire team.
  • Use this information to guide managerial check-ins, investigate potential signs of trouble, and take actions that put everyone on the same page.

Equipped with such a process, you can do more than react after the fact to alignment challenges. You can take a proactive stance and head off many problems that can arise with a more streamlined workforce—from high burnout and turnover to inefficient communication, strained relationships, and more.

Lean, aligned, and unbreakable

Getting lean poses many challenges to your relationship with employees. It also affects your workforce’s internal cohesion, communication, and more. By taking proactive steps to get everyone on the same page, you can resolve potential problems faster and emerge stronger than ever.

If misalignment spreads, the effects can be difficult to reverse and can have an especially negative impact on a smaller team with fewer resources. The time to act is now, whether you’re already trimming back or just contemplating a change.

Among other things, your organization will need a technical solution that simplifies your efforts to gather and act on employee feedback—so your decision-makers don’t get bogged down with new responsibilities they can ill afford to take on. The right solution can be less costly than you expect and will more than pay for itself if you achieve better alignment across your workforce.

Just as important, your organization needs a strategic commitment to prioritizing alignment. It’s essential to instill alignment as a core value from the leadership level down—and back this commitment with policies and processes that transform good intentions into action.

Wondering how to stay on the same page as your lean workforce? Ask about Work Climate at