Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Avoiding Impossible Trade-offs

Alignment is the art of minimizing friction in a system and making it easy to achieve the desired outcome. Do you want employees to participate in your 401k matching plan? Auto-enroll them. Your system is now aligned with your desired outcome, and you are more likely to achieve it.

Misalignment creates friction, misunderstanding, and problems in the system. If your back hurts, you go to a chiropractor. A misaligned spine causes pain. Alignment of that spine reduces or eliminates that pain.

Are you aligned for success? Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has identified some of the misalignments we are often faced by at work or at home.

  • Think strategically and invest in the future – but keep the numbers up.
  • Be entrepreneurial and take risks – but don’t cost the business anything by failing.
  • Continue to do everything you’re currently doing even better – and spend more time communicating with employees, serving on teams, and launching new projects.
  • Know every detail of your business – but delegate more responsibility to others.
  • Become passionately dedicated to “visions” and fanatically committed to carrying them out – but be flexible, responsive, and able to change direction quickly.
  • Speak up, be a leader, set the direction – but be participative, listen well, cooperate.
  • Throw yourself wholeheartedly into the entrepreneurial game and the long hours it takes – and stay fit.
  • Succeed, succeed, succeed – and raise terrific children.

You cannot be a people-pleaser. You cannot keep everyone happy all the time. Set priorities, objectives, and key results for your life and your career. Align your actions with your desired outcomes. Someone will always disagree with what you’re doing, or share a pithy saying explaining why you should do the opposite.

If you are aligned, you will be successful by your definition of success. Don’t set yourself up for failure, and don’t set your teams up for failure.

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