My husband’s grandparents emigrated from Finland to a small farm near Chisholm. Northern Minnesota was rugged country in those days. Timber wolves and bears were plentiful; they found domestic livestock easy prey.
To protect their animals, everyone carried a rifle when they left the house. My husband’s five uncles were skilled shooters; they passed that ability on to their young nephew. Pheasants and grouse were often bagged on the afternoon walk to round up the cows for the evening milking.
One afternoon, my husband was sent to get the cows alone. As the cows were walking ahead, he saw a large bird fly through the trees. He took careful aim and shot. The bird was down. He’d never seen a bird like this before, but he proudly carried it home and handed it to his grandmother to cook.
Katri Laitala (who spoke no English) looked at her grandson (who spoke no Finnish) and looked at the bird. She turned to her oldest son and asked, “Why’d he bring me this chicken hawk?” Her 10-year-old grandson didn’t know chicken hawks were stringy, tough and flavorless. He was proudly showing off his shooting prowess.
This is an example of an unintended consequence. The same thing happens in business. We want to do the right thing, but sometimes we get the opposite of what we wanted.
Some examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences:
Using all your best employees to work on every important project
You may be burning out those employees while neglecting to encourage and develop equally talented but untested staff. Under-utilized staff may become resentful and leave. If your best employees leave for better opportunities you’re left high and dry.
Being too nice with staff
Employees don’t benefit from a boss who is “one of them”. Being too nice means things aren’t being said that should be said. The boss may be avoiding confronting a performance issue or conflict. Good employees lose respect, poor performers never improve.
Doing everything for people
We’re compassionate. We want to help people. When we do things for people instead of delegating, we create dependency. They may not appreciate our interference because we deny them an opportunity to overcome a challenge and learn a new skill on their own.
Our good intentions may result in unexpected consequences. But don’t let that prevent you from doing what should be done. Even if you end up with a chicken hawk for lunch, you and someone else will learn valuable skills that will last a lifetime.
The road is easier together,