Haystacks, Alignment and Better Results

Long before farmers and ranchers had the machinery to make today’s small rectangular or large round bales of hay, they made haystacks.  The principles farmers employed to work together and make a good haystack also apply to organizational alignment.  Strong organizational alignment in these four key areas is a matter of strategy and design and can drive better business results.

Common Objectives – Before the haying began, the boss gathered the crew and announced his plan: which field to tackle, the size, quantity and quality of the stacks expected, and how long to work before knocking off for the day.  Similarly, employees need to be clear about the company strategies and objectives, the competitive “field”, the intended amount and quality of output, and the work expected to make it happen.

Integrated Processes – There were two main processes to make a haystack: gathering the hay from the field using a tractor fitted with a hay buck loader, called bucking, and standing in the pile with a pitch fork to shape the stack.  The quality, timing, and output of these two processes needed to be integrated and synchronized.  Likewise, the core processes of a company need to be smartly designed and integrated to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.

Clear Roles & Responsibilities – Each person on the hay crew knew their role (bucking or stacking) and their responsibilities (squaring the stack, laying the edges, bucking techniques, etc.).  They also knew everyone else’s.  This enabled the crew to work together effectively and hold each other accountable for good work.

Healthy Feedback Loops – Stackers needed to communicate to the buckers (usually by shouting down from the top of the stack) how the bucker was doing, where to drop the next load, how to square the load to minimize the stacker’s work, and how to lay the hay to assure the stack quality and stability.  Healthy feedback loops in companies keep the organization aligned, continuously improving, effective and efficient.

There’s usually very little debate in companies about the value of organizational alignment and how it drives better results.  More often than not, good alignment is a question of “how”.  These four lessons from stacking hay can help companies assure better alignment and drive better results.