Alignment doesn’t need Agreement

When I talk about the importance of alignment and several frameworks to create it, I often hear questions regarding what those are for and what the goal of the invitee/creator should be when walking key stakeholders through an alignment process.

When I then explain that, at the very end, it’s all about getting commitment/buy-in, a typical response is something like that: “Ok, so, I need to convince everybody to agree with my point of view.” And this way of thinking often leads to the initial rejection of an alignment process, because people then don’t see any chance at all, to get individual stakeholders to agree with them on the process ahead.

That’s why I wanted to use underline the importance of not confusing alignment with an agreement. The way more important part of alignment is commitment. And it’s way easier to get the commitment from your stakeholders, then making them agree.
I stole a nice phrase from the most recent shareholder letter Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos just recently published and which I’ll cite blow in a minute: disagree and commit.

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
This isn’t one way.
If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.



This example perfectly outlines a position a manager should take when working together with an empowered team: It’s fair to have a different opinion in your mind and articulate it.
But when your team of experts then chooses a different path to pursue anyways, you must have their back as if they’d follow your suggestion in the very same way.

So, coming back to the difference between aiming for agreement and commitment in an alignment process, a proper comparison is also to take bets, close the process and back them 100% compared to endless rounds of discussions to get harmonizing everybody’s opinions for the sake of it.
If you’re facing the latter one frequently during internal discussions, it’s also a very fundamental cultural issue within your company. Focus on consensus instead of embracing conflicting opinions.