Bolt-on Alignment

Tools for Getting your Organization Moving in the Same Direction

No matter how well your team is humming along, teams tend to come out of alignment. For example when people on teams have different views about what is the most important thing, they are working against each other, even a slight variation can create big problems.

What do you do: Send an email? Call an all-hands-on-deck meeting? Get the leadership more involved?


Look inward at the answers to key questions that allow people to align their efforts.


With what I like to call “bolt-on alignment tools.”

Bolt-on alignment tools allow you to focus on a specific aspect of improving your business.

Know Your Bolt-Ons

Let’s look at examples in each business area. Remember, no single solution works best for all businesses. The best tools walk you through a process that gives you the answers, custom fit for your organization.


Bolt-ons at the core level cover topics like developing your company’s core values, purpose, culture, and vision. They enhance the invisible alignment points that ideally pulsate throughout your business by influencing big and small decisions at every level.

One of the best bolt-on tools at the core level is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. Sinek goes deep into defining a purpose. This resonates with many people—especially generation Xers and millennials—and ties into many of today’s workplace trends. However, it doesn’t resonate with everyone. This illustrates the beauty of bolt-ons: you can use the one that resonates with you and your team.


A big part of survival is strategy. There are numerous strategic frameworks that start with the big picture (e.g., competitive advantage, value proposition, and market position) and drill down to function-level strategy (e.g., marketing, sales, product development, and innovation). Don’t get overwhelmed by them.

The book The Inside Advantage, by Robert Bloom, lays out one of the best bolt-on survival question frameworks out there. Bloom boils down survival questions to these four:

  1. WHO is the core customer (most likely to buy your product or service in the quantity required for optimal profit)?
  2. WHAT is the uncommon offering that your business will own and leverage?
  3. HOW is the persuasive strategy that will convince your core customer to buy your uncommon offering versus all competitive offerings?
  4. OWN IT!—What are the series of imaginative acts that will celebrate your uncommon offering and make it well known to your core customer?



Bolt-ons in the HumanPower category focus on the process of recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining the best talent to work as effective teams. HumanPower is a rapidly expanding area for bolt-on tools.

One effective HumanPower bolt-on tool is Topgrading by Dr. Bradford D. Smart. This book prescribes a structured interview and hiring process to dramatically improve your company’s hiring success rate.

Dr. Smart’s concept addresses key questions associated with HumanPower.


The feedback level is wide and complex. It encompasses entire departments (e.g., accounting, IT, quality, and R&D) and software or platforms (CRM, ERP, etc.), and the number of bolt-ons at the feedback level corresponds to its complexity.

An example of a widely used bolt-on tool at this level is the SMART objectives system, first used in 1981 by George T. Doran. The SMART formula states that your objectives should be

  • Specific: target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable: quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable: specify who will do it.
  • Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related: specify when the result(s) can be achieved.



FrontLine bolt-ons focus on tactics and techniques for getting things done and delivering what the customer is buying. Strong processes are essential tools for consistent delivery on the FrontLines.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande, is a clear, easy bolt-on that lays out statistical evidence of how different processes, from surgery to commercial flight, benefit from using a checklist. Gawande breaks down the simple key steps for creating useful tools that help your frontlines make the right decisions, and remind them to verify things are done completely before moving on.

You will be tempted to start at the FrontLines since this is where misalignment manifests and fires rage, but by starting at the Core and addressing the questions of the other levels first will make it easy to align the FrontLines.

Finding the Right Tool for You

The above is just a selection of bolt-on tools you can use to get everyone in your organization moving in the same direction. The universe of bolt-ons is constantly expanding, and I regularly update the ones in my “toolbox.” I keep my Bolt-on Alignment Tools handy.

You can use my suggestions to start a list of your own!

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