“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” ~ Margaret J. Wheatley
The Law of Unintended Consequences
A short time ago I was working with a team of senior leaders. We were discussing the overall purpose of the organization and the bottom-line goal that was driving the organization forward. In most companies these are things like profit margin, revenue, sales targets, production goal, etc.. This is a manufacturing group and the target was centered around production output.
As they worked through the discussion it became quite evident that 3 things were happening:
- The groups were not communicating well amongst themselves. Especially when it came to discussing the unintended consequences of how an action in one department was negatively impacting productivity in another department. This impaired their overall ability to make good business decisions because they were blind to the impact their choices had on others.
- They failed to help individual contributors see how the decisions in their department was negatively impacting the overall targets. They couldn’t see how their decisions reduced the bottom line which eventually led to reduction in bonuses, future salary increases, etc..
- The locus of control (the ability to control ones work) was being carried at the senior leadership level instead of at the level of execution where it matters most and where it has its greatest impact on the results
The Not-So Uncommon Common
These challenges are not uncommon, in fact you could find some version or derivative of any of version of the above listed challenges in most companies, to one degree or another.
In most companies while the goal of the organization may be widely known, what is not widely known is how actions taken in one department unintentionally impact other areas of the business. The other key concern is whether or not the employee’s understand just how important their work (and decisions) impact the overall company goals.
These situations arise when leaders and their people are unaware of the The Law of Unintended Consequences.
So how can we overcome these issues?
3 Actions To Overcome The Law of Unintended Consequences:
- Focus on Going Forward – Most meetings are updates about what already happened. Be sure to discuss what you’re team is doing going forward so people know what to expect and which areas will be affected by your teams’ actions. If you want to have a meeting to discuss what you’ve already done – send an email – you probably don’t need to regurgitate the past…it has past.
- Connect Your People To The Overall Goal – Help your folks understand how everything they do (or don’t do) has a cost associated with it. Choosing to work on a Project X means they can’t work on Project Y. Teach them to maximize their time in relationship to how their actions and decisions positively impact the overall company goal for the highest return-on-investment. Be sure to help them see how they benefit when the team achieve the goals. In other words…WIIFT (What’s In It For Them).
- Place the Locus of Control Where It Belongs – There is plenty of research that shows when people have a say in how their work is done they take more responsibility for their work and they achieve more. This is an area where leaders who micro-manage shoot themselves in the foot. The unintentional consequences of micro-managers are that the message they send to their people is I don’t trust you and you really have a say in how you do your job. When this happens it’s just a matter of time before people disengage, talent is driven away, and the bottom line is eroded by these unintended and sometimes hidden consequences.
3 Questions To Ask Yourself:
In the end, organizations that help their people understand how their actions impact others and how they can positively help the team achieve their goals, succeed far more often than those who don’t.
Which leads me to 3 questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is the Law of Unintended Consequences negatively impacting your business?
- How do you know this to be true?
- Now that you know… what is the next action you need to take?
Until next time…