What is Alignment and Why it Matters—Jonathon Hensley, CEO, Emerge

You may have heard the word ‘alignment’ used in various business settings, but have you thought about what it actually means? And, why does being aligned matter to your organization? 

Our guest today is Jonathon Hensley, and he shares with us how to define alignment at four different levels, including the individual, a team, an organization, and the marketplace.


Understand the importance of building a community around the value you create, NOT just the product. 


Jonathon Hensley is co-founder and CEO of Emerge, a digital product consulting firm that works with companies to improve operational agility and customer experience. For more than two decades, Jonathon has helped startups, Fortune 100 brands, technology leaders, large regional health networks, non-profit organizations, and more, transform their businesses by turning strategy, user needs, and new technologies into valuable digital products and services.

Jonathon writes and speaks about his experiences and insights from his career, and regularly hosts in-depth interviews with business leaders and industry insiders. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two boys. 

Originally from Silicon Valley, Jonathon got into the digital product space inspired by the incredible people developing new technologies all around him and the possibilities they unlocked. This fueled his curiosity to understand how technology transforms the ways in which people live and work. Today that curiosity continues to drive him, as he works to help businesses harness technology. His work focuses on alignment, helping leaders define the value they want to create in a succinct and tangible way; where to focus, why, and what it will take to achieve that outcome. His favorite part is going beyond the idea but reimagining how you bring together people, data, and processes so that a client can succeed. 


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Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:01):

Welcome to the Multiply Your Success podcast, where each week, we help growth-minded entrepreneurs and franchise leaders take the next step in their expansion journey. I’m your host, Tom DuFore, CEO of Big Sky franchise Team, and as we open today, I’m wondering if you have heard the use of the word alignment in various business settings. Have you thought about what it actually means and why does being aligned matter to your organization? Well, our guest today is Jonathon Hensley and he shares with us how to define alignment at four different levels, including the individual, a team, an organization, and the marketplace.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:41):

It’s a fantastic interview. Now, Jonathon is the co-founder and CEO of Emerge, a digital product consulting firm that works with companies to improve operational agility and customer experience. For more than two decades, he’s helped startups, Fortune 100 brands, technology leaders, large regional health networks, nonprofits and more transform their business by turning strategy, user needs, and technologies into valuable digital products and services. He also recently released his book called Alignment: Overcoming Internal Sabotage and Digital Product Failure. So let’s go ahead and jump into my interview with Jon Hensley.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (01:22):

My name is Jonathon Hensley. I’m the CEO and one of two founders of Emerge, which is a digital product and consulting firm. We work with Fortune 100 brands as well as startup organizations to help them deliver great products and services to the market.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:38):

Very interesting. Well, one of the reasons I was interested in having you on the show is to talk about this idea of alignment, and so it’s a word that gets used often and in various settings. So I’d love for you just to talk about what it is and why it’s so important.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (01:57):

Yeah. So I think alignment is this incredible, powerful tool that is really one of the most critical skills that any entrepreneur or leader needs to really understand in order to really help them drive growth and effective long-term success in the market, and when we look at alignment, we look at it in four dimensions. The first one is understanding individual alignment, which really is understanding how we contribute, how our work matters, and how we make an impact in what we do, and today, when you’re looking to attract and retain top talent, they’re really looking to understand the purpose of their role within your organization.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (02:38):

And it’s really important for leaders to be able to clearly communicate and help them understand how they’re going to make a difference and contribute to your vision for the company, and how that work will make a difference for the customers and the people that you serve, and so that’s really a critical element of alignment. The second one is team alignment, and it’s how do we come together in bringing our unique expertise and disciplines and life experiences together to effectively solve problems or to achieve a shared goal together, and so what we’re really looking at is how do we align this wonderful makeup of all of these different people to achieve extraordinary things.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (03:16):

And that requires continuous alignment and effort in really making sure that we’re working towards the same things in the same way effectively. The third one is organization alignment, and this really comes down to understanding the through line of your organization, the why behind the business, how do you organize the vision that you have for the company and the impact in your goals that you want to create with the resources that you have available to you, making sure that your teams have all of the necessary structure, resources, and processes necessary to be successful and to achieve the critical outcomes that you’ve set forth, and the last one is market alignment.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (04:01):

How do you align with market and do you understand where you create value in that marketplace, and I think value creation is something that is just like alignment is talked about extensively, but sometimes is not as well understood as it needs to be and we think that value comes from pricing strategies or it comes from maybe from how we brand ourselves and position ourselves in the market, less of how it actually is created from the essence and intention of the company that drives the decision making and the autonomy necessarily to drive rapid accelerated performance and growth.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (04:38):

I love how thorough that was and talking about really almost, as you described, this growing or scaling up from the individual, team, organization to broader market or community maybe that you’re serving in general, including your suppliers to the actual customer and all this for this value creation as an organization. One thing that I think is interesting that I’d just love for you to share maybe some quick info or overview, at least a question that pops into my mind is when I think of an individual alignment coordinating with my team, I guess where I’m going is the higher up you go and the farther apart from the individual to this market and value creation alignment, it can be a pretty big gap. So how do you start to create that alignment within from the individual to that market and then that in between with team and organization, as you’ve described? So maybe talk a little bit of some how-tos on that.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (05:34):

Well, I think a fun one to start with is market alignment. I think there’s a lot of conversation, especially if you’re starting a business or maybe you’ve hit a certain threshold in your business where you’ve identified who is that ideal customer that you want to work with, and when we think about aligning with that customer, they’re essentially hiring you for a reason, whatever your product or your service for a particular reason to solve a problem or to fill a need, and I think it’s really important to understand what is the impact of solving that need. So I’ll use Amazon because probably most people are familiar with Amazon at this point or use their service, but everything that they do is really focused around solving a problem of convenience.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (06:24):

They give you a central place to find products and services that you’re interested in. The way that they bundle things like with Amazon Prime, the way that they give you and support logistics, they’re really trying to solve for convenience in your life. It’s a lens for decision making. If you understand where the value of that convenience is for your customer and then you start to think about how you organize your resources in your organization, you start to think about how you build teams to fulfill and solve problems of convenience. Individuals can then start to look at, well, how do I make a difference? So let’s say I’m working in a distribution center. How could I have that through line of understanding of how I make an impact? Well, maybe what I realize is that I’m solving for convenience.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (07:11):

I’ve got a family with small kids who are strapped for time, potentially money, they need quality products at a good, fair price. There’s not time to run around all across town to 10 different places to get what you need, and as somebody in the fulfillment, you’re impacting their ability to make it possible to bring that convenience to their lives, which means maybe mom and dad have more quality time to be with their kids. There’s a little bit of an extra opportunity to make that income that supports their family, and so there’s many ways to look at that, but that’s just one example of how you can create a through line that is incredibly powerful when you think about building an organization on culture that drives growth and performance.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (07:58):

Again, I use Amazon just because everybody’s familiar with it, but it’s just as applicable when you’re a small business and maybe you have a team that’s just your first couple of hires. It’s no less important when you’re getting started, and some might argue because the culture is a culture of the entrepreneur or the founder, it’s even more important to have that line of sight because you need everybody to be able to wear multiple hats and you have to do more with less because you don’t have the resources of a big company that you can shift around and you don’t have those redundancies, and so having that clear line of sight becomes an incredible growth driver for early stage companies.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (08:39):

And I think too, in my experience in working with entrepreneurs and small business leaders, especially in that very early on startup phase, very often, it may be an unspoken alignment, but the smaller the company is, the closer you are to that founder and their vision, and so it may not be communicated as much, but they get it and then as the company grows, without that being properly articulated, you really start to see this misalignment come out of it. So let’s talk about that phase. Now, let’s say you’re an organization that’s growing. We speak with and work with high growing, high growth, small businesses that are growing or franchise companies, and so as they grow, misalignment is bound to happen, I think for any organization as they grow. So what are some ways that you’ve seen or found to be effective in helping realign things or maybe bring things back to alignment?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (09:30):

Yeah, absolutely, Tom. I think, well, just to touch on something that I think is so important you’re saying is that as you’re growing, misalignment naturally happens. When you’re small, like you said, it maybe is even unspoken, and as you grow and you have processes and systems that get put in place, more and more people, maybe layers of management are being implemented, you start to have this layers of communication become innately just more complex, and that’s just natural. There’s nothing that you’re doing wrong when that happens. It’s just the way it works when you have a more complex system at place. So one of the things that I think is really key that I’ve seen.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (10:10):

And not only in my own experience, but a couple of years ago, I wrote a book on this topic and interviewed hundreds of business leaders from all over the world at high performance companies that have been successful, not just once, but multiple times in their career driving high growth, and they do a couple of little small things differently, but they do them consistently at every scale, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Google or if you’re, again, in that startup mode, but they do this really well, and so one of it is being really, really clear on their strategy, their intention, and so as you’re growing or you’re trying to find that fit for growth, things are adjusting all the time and that’s fine.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (10:57):

But getting back to this point of value creation, what’s the vision, what are you trying to achieve, being very clear on the problem you solve and how you solve it differently and that value that creates for your user is incredibly important because that can start to get diluted as you scale and that can become very problematic, and so we think that we’re addressing more and more of our customer’s needs and wants, but we’re actually diluting the core offering that’s driving the growth to begin with. So we have to be very intentional about that and make sure that we don’t fall into a misalignment there, and so that’s one area. Another area that’s really common is as a business is growing, the owner or original founders tend to get more and more distance between them and the end customer.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (11:49):

So they have this subject matter expertise, they’re an authority, they’ve created this business, they’ve taken all this amazing risk to build something from the ground up, but over time, they become more and more disconnected from that customer and that starts to create misalignment and they’re going off of their gut, their instincts, their experience, and it’s incredibly valuable, but you can’t lose that connection and that alignment with the end customer, and so one of the things that I’ve seen is some of the incredible, whether you’re a retail business or services business, is doing things like if you have an executive or a management team and you’re at that size, are you working the floor of your retail center a couple of times a year?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (12:35):

Are you still interacting with customers? What’s the feedback loop to not lose the connection that is so critical to ensuring that your strategic thinking, the way that you’re organizing your resources, the way that you’re collaborating with your team to solve problems is informed by the boots on the ground impact of your customers and their needs and not just what their needs are, what are they feeling? What are the experiences that they’re dealing with when they’re interacting with your organization? When that becomes fragmented, you’ve got incredible unnecessary hurdles to continue to drive that growth over time, and if depending on what’s driving the scale of your business, that can be extremely problematic because it makes it difficult to replicate the value across markets as you expand.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (13:23):

So that would be another one. The third one I’ll touch on because there’s a bunch, we have about 30 that we’ve identified, but there’s not enough time for that in one show, is one thing that consistently we learned that great leaders do is they do something called building a common language and a shared understanding. So what happens very easily is when I say customer and you say customer, your customer is different than my customer because we have two different businesses. So really making sure that we have a shared understanding of what we talk about and verifying that we’re seeing and thinking of things the same way. Just a quick anecdote on that, I was working with a company, they’re a large manufacturing company.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (14:09):

And we were helping them bring into alignment a whole new series of products. Well, we started interviewing all the different leaders across the company and we ended up with nine different definitions of who the customer was, and it’s pretty hard to make decisions and create that autonomy without creating a bunch of rework, extra cost, and slowing down the entire process if we’re not thinking about the customer the same way, but it was really understandable why it happened. Finance is looking at their customer as the person who pays the bill. Sales is looking at the end customer of whose the buyer is.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (14:45):

But the buyer and the person who’s paying the bill is totally different. Another group is looking at whose using the product, which is that’s the end customer. That’s a totally different group. Another area is focused on channel distribution, and so that’s an entirely different customer. So it becomes really misaligned or fragmented really easily while everybody’s working with the best of intentions and working really, really hard, if we don’t control that and that structure, and so leaders have a responsibility in high performance companies to make sure that that common language and an understanding of those things is built into the culture and is continuously being maintained.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:27):

Wow, that’s great advice, and by the way, just as a quick plug here, how can someone get a copy of your book to get the other 27 items you mentioned here to complete the 30?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (15:39):

Well, we don’t highlight them all in the book, but we do a pretty good job, I think, but they can check out the book either at Amazon, it’s called Alignment: Overcoming Internal Sabotage and Product Failure. It’s also available on the Apple Store.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:53):

Well, Jon, this is a great time just to make a transition here in the show where we ask every guest the same four questions before they go, and the first question we ask is have you had a miss or two in your journey in your career and something you learned from it?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (16:06):

Well, I’ve had plenty of misses over my career. I think one of the most difficult things is when you’re in a starting up is maintaining focus, and what I mean is that is focus in your offering, and I certainly made that mistake. We had great customers asking us to do 10 different things and we wanted to be that one stop for all of them, and it started to dilute our service offering, our ability to maintain our competitive edge early on, and as soon as we realized that and we brought that critical focus to our expertise, that was really one of the critical elements to helping us not only overcome the challenges we had created for ourselves, but actually drive our own growth.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (16:51):

Great. And how about a make or two? You’ve shared some here throughout the interview of some things that have gone well, but is there another highlight or two you’d like to share?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (17:00):

Well, I think that one of the big breakthroughs for me is that there is so much amazing information out there and about sales strategy or planning and all of these different things, and I think that really, one of the most valuable lessons that I learned early on that I thought was a huge win is the power of great mentorship. I think it can be really difficult when you’re starting off to know where to go for that kind of mentorship and reach out and keep that connection.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (17:31):

But I think that perspective of having great mentors is invaluable. I still have mentors today. I need that sounding board. They bring perspective new ideas and insights to what I do, and it’s amazing how powerful that is and I think it’s important to recognize the value in that relationship and the value you can give back as a mentee or provide that mentorship to others as you pass it along, and so I would say that’s one of the things that’s been really top of mind for me in the last year.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (18:02):

It’s very fitting you mentioned that as I’m a big believer in mentors as well. I actually have on my to-do list today to reach out to a couple folks that I value as mentors to run a few things by. So that is a great reminder for me to make sure I get that done today. Let’s talk about a multiplier or two. The name of the show is Multiply Your Success. Have you used a multiplier to help grow yourself or your companies as you’ve grown?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (18:26):

Absolutely. I think the multiplier is that we focus so much on… Well, the one that I love the most, I’ll put it that way, there’s a few, but one of the ones that I think to be is the most successful is understand that when you’re building a business, the importance of, today especially, of building community around a product or service offering that you have, and you’re building that not around the actual product because the product will come and go, but around the value you create. So I’ll give you an example. I think when you look at companies like Volvo, Volvo sells safety.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (19:02):

They’ve been making cars for decades, they make great cars, but the technology in the cars is changing all the time. Next thing will be heads up displays or whatever they come up with next, but at the end of the day, they sell safety first and they know that that is the primary value driver to connect with that audience, and if you really want to find the multiplier, understand the value you create for them psychologically as much as you do functionally for your audience. If you can answer that question with confidence and your customers are telling you you’ve hit it, you have an absolute home run in your business and that is a huge advantage over the marketplace and you can easily differentiate, and it makes so many other areas of the business so much easier when you understand that value and that connection is there with your customers.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (19:52):

That’s a great point you make there. Well, the final question we ask every guest, Jon, is what does success mean to you?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (20:01):

It’s changed over the years, but today, I would say that success for me is seeing my clients win. I’m at a place in my own career where I’m lucky enough where success for me is about making an impact. So when we look at Emerge as an example, our next milestone for success is how do we change the way 10 million people live and work, and leveraging the products that we help design and deliver for companies, and so that’s really about how do we make an impact, and so today, that’s what success looks like. It’s about how do we get to making a difference for those 10 million users. That’s how we measure success.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:37):

Before we go here, Jon, is there anything you’re maybe hoping to share or get across that you haven’t had a chance to yet?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (20:43):

Tom, I think this has been great. I could deep dive into so many areas just because I get excited about this stuff, as hopefully people can hear in my voice. I will say one little caveat that maybe one other lesson learned both the hard way, and I see this happen all the time at the biggest companies and at the smallest. There are so many frameworks out these days of do it this way, do it that way, fill in the blanks, don’t get trapped by that stuff. They’re great guides, but they’re not quick fixes to a lack of strategy.

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (21:15):

And really understanding the difference between strategy and planning and what goals are can be transformative as you’re coming up with a new idea of building a business and especially when you’re looking at scaling and bringing on and building out that team. So those differentiations are really key and unfortunately, the information out there is muddy and it goes in 50 different directions and it’s really hard to sort through. So I encourage anybody listening to really make sure to dig into that so you have that advantage because it’s a big one.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:48):

What’s the best way for someone to get in touch with you or your company if they’re interested in connecting or learning more?

Jonathon Hensley, Emerge (21:54):

Yeah. The great way to do it is to come visit emergeinteractive.com. We’ve got tons of free resources. You can reach out to me directly from the site. Also, I encourage anybody listening to reach out and connect with me over LinkedIn. We offer also free customer lifetime value consulting sessions if the listeners are interested, so we can help them really understand how they can lock some of that value creation in their product and service offering.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (22:23):

Jonathon, thank you so much for a fantastic interview, and let’s go ahead and jump into today’s three key takeaways. So takeaway number one is when Jonathon defined alignment for us, and he described it as powerful tool for entrepreneurs and leaders and he said there are four dimensions to alignment. Number one is individual alignment, which is how our work matters and contributes. Two is team alignment and how do you bring all of these backgrounds and skills together to achieve a goal in a team. Number three is organizational and how is the business organized and aligned with goals, vision, and resources and processes, and number four is market alignment and asking where do you and does your organization create value within the marketplace?

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:08):

Take away number two is when he defined and gave greater clarity around market alignment, and he asked several questions. I thought they were great to help you define market alignment. Number one, who is the ideal customer you want to align with? Two, what is the impact of solving the need of the client? Three, where is the value for the customer, and four, how do you build teams? Takeaway number three is when he talked about right before we left the interview, he said there are many, many frameworks out there on how to run and operate your business. I’m familiar with many of them as well, and he said make sure you use these frameworks as guides to help you, but don’t get trapped and confused to think that these are quick fixes because they’re not.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:54):

There really is no quick fix, but using them as a guides, I thought that was a great takeaway, and now it’s time for today’s win-win. So today’s win-win is when Jonathon talked about the multiplier and he said his multiplier that he shared was understand the importance of building a community around the value you create and not just the product, and I thought it was a great example how he described Volvo as one where they build around this idea of safety and he said understand the value you create for your customers psychologically as well as what your product does for them functionally and that functional value.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:44):

So what is that psychological value? What are you helping your customers with in their mind? What mindset shift, changing that, and then how can you work with that as your product and service line changes over time? So that’s the episode today, folks. Thanks for tuning in. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast and give us a review, and remember, if you or anyone you know might be ready to franchise their business or take their franchise company to the next level, please connect with us at bigskyfranchiseteam.com. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to having you back next week.

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