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POPin Blog

Turning a Vision into Organizational Alignment

The two central forces that shape a business are its strategy and culture. The strategy defines what needs to be done, and the culture defines how things get done. In other words, what we say is strategy, and what we do is culture To stay ahead of the market competition, companies should strike a balance between their strategy and culture, which depends heavily on organizational alignment. Real alignment connects strategy to culture by setting meaningful goals and creating a shared sense of purpose for everyone. Companies that achieve real alignment develop a stronger sense about what actions are needed at any given time (strategy), and how to get their people moving in the same direction (culture). One study by McKinsey found that when employees are excited about the direction of their company, their profit margin is twice as likely to exceed the industry median, according to Thierry Nautin, a McKinsey Principal, writing in The Lean Management Enterprise. Connecting the sequence from vision to strategy is the key to achieving successful alignment. Strong organizations support their employees’ work lives by helping people make progress in meaningful job roles. Weaker organizations talk a good game but they fail to deliver on their lofty goals, creating cynicism and damaging morale. Defining the company vision is the hardest part because it must be general enough to be understood by all, yet specific enough to differentiate the company from its rivals. A vision should be also durable enough to remain relevant over time, yet flexible enough to be modified under changing circumstances. And ideally, it should embrace noble values while still seeming achievable to everyone. Most importantly, the vision story must appeal to five distinct audiences at the same time: individual employees, their teams, their customers, the organization, and society at large. Many types of messages can succeed under such a broad umbrella. Some visions promote cost savings or greater efficiencies, while others emphasize sales growth and increased market share. The point here is that leaders need to determine the best message for their organizational goals, and then roll that message out in such a way that people find the strategy both attainable and inspiring. A vision helps to articulate tangible goals for how an organization can make a successful change or transformation. Communicating that vision requires bringing the highest level strategy down to the actual reality of people’s daily work lives. This chain of communication starts with a CEO or leader who provides a compelling transformation story that clearly explains the need for change while offering a motivational outlook for the future. The story must then be cascaded down throughout the layers of management, with the message being tailored to each audience’s regular duties at each layer. Not only does this message chain help each person understands their assignment in the context of the larger strategy. It also creates a sense of bottom-up credibility that ties everyone into the strategy, rather than feeling like a top-down command from management. Again, leaders need to strike a subtle balance between strategy and culture in order to drive successful alignment. When an organization can articulate the changes as a way of helping people solve the problems that they collectively face already, it creates broad-based buy-in that everyone is in this together and that each person’s efforts will help benefit all. Such a strategy then becomes authentic to people, and such authenticity will result in successful alignment.