Keeping leadership teams aligned on growth goals and priorities has become a lot harder. 

The pace of competition, virtual work, and geographically dispersed teams all create friction.

I recently spoke to Gary Fortier, Chief Executive Officer at Ready Education, about creating leadership alignment to drive rapid growth even as the company acquired five companies in three years.

M&A can feel very financially driven, like it is all about cashflows and financial metrics,” says Gary. “But at the end of the day, success starts with building a shared vision and sense of purpose across a leadership team. Hitting your numbers is the output, not the input. The input is people able to work together effectively to make decisions and make adjustments.”

READY Education helps higher education institutions connect the campus experience to deliver the right information and resources to each student at the right time. Its mobile first experience maximizes student engagement and leverages data to pinpoint student risk and increase student success.

Under Gary’s leadership, Ready has grown from being a niche provider to being a market leader for student engagement solutions, globally serving more than 700 campuses and 7 million students.

Gary shared with me his key practices for building an aligned leadership team. 

Practice 1: Qualify for Vision Alignment 📖 

For Gary, leadership alignment all starts with qualifying for a sense of common purpose.

“You have to test for culture and vision alignment early in the process,” says Gary. “Whether a leadership team member comes through a recruiting process or company acquisition, they need to be excited about and committed to the problems you as a company are trying to solve.”

As a first level filter on mission alignment, Gary suggests focusing on a commitment to the  sector(s) your company works in. For Ready Education, the question is: “Is the leader committed to higher education or are they just as happy working with car dealerships?”

A second, more nuanced type of mission alignment is commitment to the problems your company solves — “Do they see the same problems? Do they agree on the solutions?  

Practice 2: Operate Around Best In Class 🔑

Our very first operating principle is to always strive for best-in-class,” Gary notes. “If two people are doing the same role, and one of those people has a better approach to elevating their team, then they will get the role. It does not matter if they came from Ready or not.”

The merger of several companies has given Ready access to a wealth of talent at the senior leadership and first-line leadership levels. It has allowed key roles to be filled by individuals who are great at revenue generation, operations, technology, product, leadership.

In putting the right players in the right role, Gary focuses first  on whether the leader “wants to do the role” and second on who has the better approach to consistent and repeatable execution.

A “best in class” focus can cause friction. Several people may do a role, but only one advances.  As Gary says, “if your company culture is built on a learning mentality, getting to ‘best in class’ is a lot easier. If I am curious and want to do it better, then I will want to learn from my peers.”

Practice 3: Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition 🎯

Gary’s third practice for alignment is “simple and consistent messaging from everyone in leadership, so there is no confusion about what we are trying to accomplish.”

“I always say,” Gary continues “if as a leader you are sick of saying something, you have probably said it half as much as you need to. It takes stamina to say the same thing over and over. People need to hear things 8 to 12 times to absorb and change behaviors.” 

The key for Gary is to have a consistent direction of travel around your mission and core values.  Tactics always change and adjust, but mission and values need to stay largely constant.

Markets and market competition have gotten a lot more turbulent in recent years. Strong growth requires leadership aligned around a shared mission and purpose, committing to best in class operations, and having the endurance to reinforce a consistent direction of travel.

Watch some of the conversation here: