Aligning interests

My childhood home has two bathrooms upstairs, one in the hallway for everyone. And one in the master bedroom. They shared common water lines. If Mom was taking a shower in the master bedroom and I didn’t hear the water running, I’d hear about it when I flushed the toilet in the hallway bathroom.

We shared a common interest, needing to use cold water. Mom needed it to keep the shower water balanced. I needed it to flush the toilet. When I was aware of water running I would go downstairs or wait. I would adapt to our common interest and make things better for both of us. Except of course when I had recently been grounded.

Professionally speaking we often have common interests we’re unaware of. Sometimes we do things that cause mutual strife that could be avoided. It’s best if we can identify these common interests, so we align our actions to maximize the outcome for everyone.

For example, we all want to please our customers. But that doesn’t always mean we work in the most productive manner to manifest that reality. Take for example handing off responsibility. We have a role to play, perhaps we’re an expert in a subject. We do our part and then we dump a load of work on someone else’s desk. They have to pick up where we left off to complete the puzzle. And deliver value to the customer.

With fast food, it’s not uncommon for one person to cook the food. While someone else takes orders and delivers food to customers.

The person cooking rarely sees the customer. They don’t take their order and they don’t have to deliver the result. If there’s a mistake, they may not even be aware of it. If the customer is upset, the person delivering the food may not convey that information. They may instead convey an expletive to the customer, depending on how the customer reacts.

If the cook made a mistake, perhaps the server simply refunded the customer and tossed the food out. Or the server may place a new order. The cook remains unaware. I’ve watched this happen when a cook made a mistake. I’ve watched them make a second mistake too. That’s when I asked for my money back.

When the cook is shielded from feedback and responsibility to deliver food, they can wind up unaware of their own performance. They may even assume they do good work.

Certainly both the cook and server want to please their customer. But what happens when a new server is hired that isn’t aware they need to check the order. Perhaps they assume the cook will do that. While the cook assumes they will check the result with the customer’s request.

And that’s how you end up in a situation where a business can repeatedly make the same mistake and not learn from it. Because although they have common interests, employees may not be aligning their actions.

Unfortunately, it’ll take a high frequency of mistakes before anyone is likely to do anything about it. Only then will they discover nobody is checking the order. Together, they may find a way to improve.

To align interests, requires mutually acknowledging interests and working together to ensure they’re realized. It requires shared responsibility too. If a customer is upset, everyone needs to hear about it. Otherwise, you reduce the likelihood of correcting the problem. It requires a problem to be everyone’s problem.

Perspective helps too. Perspective requires the cook to occasionally deliver an order, and a server to occasionally help out in the kitchen.

This applies to innovation too. All too often individuals or small groups are aware of paths to substantial improvement. But they fail to include the interests of those around them. Those they depend upon to make it a success. Perhaps they aren’t aware of their shortsightedness. Perhaps they bicker that nobody else cares. In reality, people probably care.

What interests do you share with those you work with? Where may those interests be misaligned? Where might this be a bigger problem than you care to stomach? What can you do to take corrective action?