How to Achieve Perfect Alignment According to Elon Musk

Monday, September 10, 2018
Fatou Darboe
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Image credit: ThinkGrowth

During dinner, Dharmesh Shah (Founder and CTO of HubSpot) and Elon Musk had a conversation about growing and scaling a business.

During that conversation, Musk said, "Every person in your company is a vector. Your progress is determined by the sum of all vectors."

Dharmesh took Musk’s advice to heart and shared it with his team at HubSpot, where it’s now a part of the main vocabulary at the popular CRM company.

Let’s say you’re on a boat, and nine out of ten of your employees are rowing east and one is rowing west, the group as a whole is inevitably going to slow down.

Essentially, Musk believes you have to question the formula and effectiveness of your team’s productivity and how they will impact the progress of your business.

Spoken from a true business magnate and engineer’s mind, Musk believes you should align people in your team as you would a vector in an equation.

Dharmesh Breaks it Down

To understand what Musk was saying, we first need to remember what a vector is.

A vector is a quantity that has magnitude and direction, specifically to ascertain the position of one point in space to another.

You can think of people on any team as vectors. People as vectors have both magnitude and direction, and when people work in the same direction, their quantities are added together to create the sum of all vectors.

When people have any degree of deviation, the different deviations subtract from the maximum amount of productivity.

“Every Person in Your Company is a Vector”

Dharmesh Shah gives the following example: If you have someone in your company with a 9/10 on the impact meter; and they are committed and knowledgeable, then they’re one of your best people.


Image credit: ThinkGrowth

However, that impact score doesn’t make them a vector just yet. The impact score represents only the magnitude (strength and power) but shows no direction score, as we don’t know which direction the person is moving within the company. Therefore, the impact of an employee represents a scalar, not a vector.

An employee only becomes a vector when both magnitude and direction is known.


Image credit: ThinkGrowth

Add Up All Your Vectors

You can add two or more vectors together and get a resulting vector based on the sum of the magnitude of each vector and its direction.

So if you considered each person in the company as a vector, you can add them up, get the sum of all vectors to get a new resulting vector. That new vector represents the direction and momentum your company is moving in.

If you add up all the vectors (assuming that every person is a vector) then you will know much progress your company could make.

In other words, a vector sum is the sum of all your vectors’ (employees’) efforts. In essence, it means how all of your employees’ productivity efforts come together and what it means for your organization.

Shah provides three scenarios, which use four hypothetical team members to demonstrate optimal alignment.

Null Vector = Null Progress

Assume that two of your people are going in the same direction, but the other two are going in the opposite direction.

In this particular case, the sum of all four vectors is a null vector. A null vector has no magnitude or direction. So the company would be making no progress.

Image credit: ThinkGrowth

The null scenario is when everyone is working at the same productivity level, but half the team is working in the direction of your goals while the other half is working the opposite direction.

So despite the four being high-impact and competent people, the result would still be zero. The efforts of your team as a whole would be null and void. Their efforts essentially cancel each other out and there is no progress in that period.

So if you have the perfect people and they’re perfectly misaligned, you will have zero progress as an organization.

While the null scenario is not a typical scenario, merely hypothetical in most cases, it doesn’t mean it never happens. To avoid null, work on clear communication of goals, roles and priorities.

Sub-Optimal Progress

The sub-optimal is more common and usually involves most people going in the same, correct, direction while one out of the four is going the opposite direction.

However, the sum of all vectors is not the maximum. While it is better than the null scenario, it’s not optimal.

Image credit: ThinkGrowth

While not as drastic as the null scenario, the sub-optimal scenario lowers the overall sum of your team productivity and happens to be the most common scenario of business productivity.

Optimal Alignment According to Elon Musk

Optimal alignment is clearly the optimal scenario. Meaning everyone is moving in the right direction towards a unified goal. That is how you have the most impact and progress as a company.

Image credit: ThinkGrowth

To get a resulting vector, you need to add up all vectors to achieve the vector sum (which is the maximum impact employees are having on the company’s productivity).

Achieve the maximum vector sum and waste nothing. Zero inefficiencies and zero pulling in the opposite direction.

As demonstrated, a maximum vector sum occurs when all vectors are aligned.  

Thus, achieve perfect alignment with employees who share near-perfect inter-office communication, 100 percent employee buy-in and clear and concise company goals.

How to Align all Your Vectors, According to Dharmesh

The scenarios above highlight aligning employees with company goals so everyone heads in the right direction. However, according to Dharmesh, other vectors that need to be aligned:

  • Align people with company goals

  • Align individual teams with company goals

  • Align company goals with customer’s goals

 

Image credit: SparkToro

The relationship between company and customer should be at the core of every internal endeavor, yet it’s a relationship that quite a lot of companies get wrong: yes, teams may be working together in the same direction but are they solving the right problem?

Solving internal goals, rather than the goals of your customers, means employees lose sight of the customer’s wants and needs.

Thus, another reason why aligning the vectors (goals and all) is essential.

The Importance of Setting Goals

The first step towards aligning vectors is to clearly define organizational goals so that everyone in your company understands them.

Think of it like running a marathon: the goal is to cross the finish line. But if the route or location of the finish line is not marked or communicated to the team, then some may go in the wrong direction or even arrive at the finish line.

In fact, some may not even know that they are running a marathon, much less what the intended goal is to finish.

This point is essential whether you have two employees or 10,000. Clear and concise communication is essential to a productive and successful company.

Be on The Same Page

To set a direction for your organization, you need to understand where you’re at currently and how you want to grow from there in the future.

Similarly, if you want everyone to work towards the same goal, then you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. The simplest way to achieve this? Strive for transparency within your company.

Streamline Communication

To achieve the aligned vector sum, everyone on your team needs to understand your company’s goals and purposefully. It requires streamlined communication throughout your company to make sure that everyone knows what is going on, including their role within the company.

There are several ways for you to achieve that, including relying on technology.

Using Technology to Achieve Alignment

Achieving perfect alignment is easier said than done. You need to formulate your idea, communicate it and stick to it – meaning there needs to be clear communication between your employees and communication between their roles. Technology plays a big part in that.

For many companies, emerging technologies are becoming the most efficient way to manage a business. It’s a known fact technology is crucial to the success of many companies today. Therefore, it’s important to consider the right software for your company.

For example, using streamlined CRM systems can put your entire team on the same page.

With the right CRM system, analytics become more intuitive since every team member is referencing from the same data bank, instead of a messy or incomplete source.

Communication becomes clearer. The entire library of data is accessible with one or a few clicks of a mouse, meaning less time spent on confusing emails or vapid instant messages trying to find the right files or information.

With the right software, productivity increases because it enables teams to stay on task instead of stopping every so often to ask questions.

However, even if you set goals and use technology to help your company achieve perfect alignment, you may still miss the mark.

In fact, achieving perfect alignment could be an impossible mission, according to Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz.

Is There No Such Thing as Perfect Alignment?

According to Rand Fishkin, 100% alignment does not exist. Not even for a person like Elon Musk. Why? Because we are human: we are inherently imperfect. Our emotions and biases steer us off course most of the time.

Therefore, it is practically unfeasible for people to keep their efforts perfectly in tandem on a project with any degree of complexity.

The good news is that this means we can all benefit from greater alignment.

Fishkin agrees with Dharmesh’s vectors but found some missing elements from his own experiences, mainly concerned with team consensus and unity on some fundamental questions:

  • Why are we on this team together?

  • We could work in many different places, on various projects. Why this one? Why now? Am I here for the same reasons you are?

  • For whom are we building this?

  • There are a plethora of potential customers/consumers. Do we agree on who will (or should) benefit from this? Are we in agreement on who’s most important to support and whose needs are less crucial?

  • What are we creating?

According to Fishkin, there are also highly specific details to essential questions that require consensus:

  • Do we share a belief in what the best outcome of our efforts is?

  • Do we have shared respect, trust, and empathy for one another?

We should work towards alignment, but what matters most is striving for near-perfect alignment.

Fishkin’s questions reveal the possibility that greater alignment is easier in smaller groups. Additionally, accepting that there is no such thing as perfect alignment makes us more comfortable with disagreement, which is key for innovation and progress.

Overall, according to Fishkin, perfect vector alignment is impossible in an organization: there is just no way to get all your employees to go in one direction. It defies human nature and can stifle critical aspects of successful workers, like creativity.

Line Up Your Troops

Ensuring that everyone in your organization is competent and also working towards the same goal is essential, according to Elon Musk. Aligning all your vectors is indeed an excellent method to measure your company’s productivity.

While you may be more on Fishkin’s side – where there is no such thing as perfect vector alignment – striving for perfection is still essential.  

Harnessing the principle of perfect alignment is something every team should work towards: if people are passionate about their work in the same way that they are excited about other significant parts of their lives, then making an impact as an organization comes easily.

 
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