When Best Intentions Back Fire

We’ve all been there – a decision made, or something said with the “best intentions”.  The results – frequently it’s the exact opposite of the original intention.  That’s the moment your brain needs to recalibrate – “Wait, that’s not what I meant” or the classic fallback “That’s not what I intended”.  It’s a difficult hole to dig ourselves out of, but with forgiving friends and family we usually find a way to keep our relationships intact. Unfortunately, when faced with a similar situation in business, the results can have a long-lasting impact with implications that can echo across the entire organization or even into the marketplace.
Facebook’s public relations challenge, in late 2018, using Cambridge Analytica is a perfect example; procuring subscriber data without explicit permission, serves as a powerful example of when “best intentions” can cast a far and wide net that was never intended or imagined at the time the agreement was made. The Facebook “best intentions” example is fairly straightforward. The news coverage makes it easy for everyone to question the logic behind the decision in retrospect.

The optimal word is “retrospect”.  If you were leading this business, would you have sacrificed the revenue opportunity and made a different decision at the time?  There are no businesses immune from coming face-to-face with these types of decisions on a regular basis.  Thankfully, most come without the media exposure. We’ve crafted some more common “good intention” examples, along with a plan that any business can leverage to avoid the unintentional consequences:

Mixing “Good Intentions” with Business Decision Making

Promoting from Within

Scenario: A company has found itself needing to back-fill a VP of Sales position and they’ve decided to promote their highest performing sales person vs. seeking an external replacement.  The employee feels both appreciated and valued by the recognition received as a result of their incredibly hard work. The company employees feel good they work for an organization that provides them a path for promotion and increased responsibility.  Both are certainly “good intentions”.
The Unintended Consequences: Although the sales person was a top performer, the skill sets applied to achieve previous individual goals don’t necessarily translate into managerial skill sets; requiring a team and company focus vs. the individualized skills used prior to the promotion.  As a result, the new VP of Sale’s managerial direction causes confusion and unintended missteps within the sales team.  The novice managerial approach ultimately effects the entire organization.   The impact is significant:
  • Sales have become erratic, and overall monthly revenue drops by a significant amount
  • Because sales have dropped, previously negotiated supplier volume commitments, begin to miss their intended goals
  • Because supplier goals are being missed, costs are increasing, and margins are decreasing
  • Because the highest performing sales person is now in management – there is no longer a reliable sales performer to help make up the unanticipated sales gaps
Key Learning: Companies are often applauded for showing employee appreciation by filling a vacant position with a current employee.  It’s a good intention conceptually – until it isn’t.

The Covert Leader

Scenario: There are times when executive management makes a business decision that meets with disapproval by another senior manager.  That manager takes it upon themselves to course correct what they perceive as a poor decision. They covertly implement an alternative solution that they deem to be a better option for the company.
The Unintended Consequences: There are now two sets of directives – the primary directive is the original direction made by senior management, the later directive also comes from a senior manager which pulls the company into two distinctly opposite directions.  Again, the business is faced with a landslide of significant impacts that take time to materialize:
  • Customer confusion
  • Internal operational confusion – what direction are we supposed to follow?
  • Accrued expenses that haven’t been budgeted
  • Missed revenue goals caused by the operational delays caused by the confusion
Key Learnings:  The senior managers that implemented alternative direction most likely had the best of intentions for the company.  The confusion caused by what was perceived as being “helpful” actually created the opposite of the intent.

The Sales "Pleaser"

Scenario:  Businesses that are dependent on maintaining ample inventory to meet demand, understand there’s always a challenge around which inventory has the greatest demand vs. which inventory has the lowest demand. How much do we need on hand? When do we need to re-order? Where do we store it? How do we distribute?  And, What’s the cost to the company for storage and distribution? The decisions made become budget forecasts predicting a fairly reliable cost of goods sold.  While it’s critical to adhere to the plan, it’s not uncommon that sales or even someone on the front line will make a special request to order and keep some items on the shelf, “just in case” a customer need should arise.  The intent is to keep the customer delighted by the company’s ability to fulfill the request in the least amount of time.  A selling tool that’s quickly leveraged when filling new orders.
The Unintended Consequences:  One exception often turns into several exceptions and the implications once again have a waterfall effect:
  • Single unit purchases are usually overlooked in the beginning but over time(typically years) the build up of various single unit items have not been properly accounted for or inventoried – adding unexpected costs, possibly the opportunity to amortize or write down of the expense, and most importantly because of natural employee attrition(those that knew the inventory was available) the “just in case” inventory, intended to be an exception, simply takes valuable space on a shelf.
  • A single unit may not take much space, but over time, single units become multiple single units which uses space allocated for primary, high-turn, inventory– more incremental costs and logistical chaos.
  • Single purchases do not benefit from volumetric discounted purchases and unbudgeted costs begin to arise
  • The single unit purchase still has a cost to the company – left unsold, the cost becomes a loss.
Key Learnings:  All businesses want to provide the best customer experience possible, but the unintended consequences snow balls over time – with one exception quickly becoming several exceptions with a steep price tag.

Strategy to Eliminate Good Intention Decision Making

Best intentions, often result in an unintended consequence, with implications that can impact the entire company operations.  Business leaders therefore need to shift the organization to an approach that first, demonstrably shows similar examples as outlined above to increase the awareness and risks around making best intent decisions. The second step is to train leadership on how to make decisions not based on “good intention” but rather a process that will generate a result supported by a vetting process that provides guidance regarding the risks and opportunities.

A Better Approach

We’ve worked with hundreds of businesses to alter the decision-making process with one goal – move leaders from tactical thinking to strategic thinking – begin with “Zero Based Thinking” - which requires a leader to have the humility to constantly re-evaluate past decisions:  Based on what I know today, would I have made the same decision?  If the answer to that question is no, that same leader needs to recognize the need to set the ego aside, “course correct” and stop the previous decision as quickly as possible.
This is the most effective triage to apply an immediate resolution to a “best intention” that’s gone awry. However, the real goal should be to reduce the risk of the leadership team making decisions that have unforeseen consequences.  This requires a more formalized managerial process:
Start:  What could we do differently?
Business leaders need to take time-out to review standard operational procedures with objectivity.  Technology changes at the speed of light, new production methods enabled by technology are just as frequently introduced, along with a variety of other opportunities that could make a business more profitable. Employees, vendors, and other external partners are all good resources which have a pulse on the market and readiness, willingness and ability to keep senior leadership informed.  The key to maximizing the options – simply ask.
Stop:  What’s not working?
It’s not unusual for any company to continue to manage an operational practice for no other reason than “it’s the way we’ve always done it”.  Routines and practices need to be constantly re-evaluated to assess the value to the organization, the business support group, or the customer. Leaders must shift into a level of acceptance - what once worked many years ago, may now be obsolete. Modifying or eliminating what’s not working ultimately adds to a company’s bottom line.
Continue:  What’s working?
Although this question may seem self-evident, it’s important to have visibility and consciousness regarding the specifics around “what’s working” and an understanding of why it’s working.  This knowledge will protect a business leader from inadvertently making a decision that compromises the effectiveness of a business process or practice.
In addition to risk aversion, every company benefits from repeating, scaling or deploying more of the initiatives that areworking to the benefit the company.
The requirements of a leader in any business comes with multiple dimensions and responsibilities.  Decision making is at the core of those responsibilities. Making decisions that are based in well-thought out support may not always have the intended impact, but using the process we’ve outlined, will result in a much quicker response to quickly pivot and re-direct with the least amount of company-wide impact. If you want to learn more about this decision-making strategy, let’s connect and discuss your unique business – Jbelford@FocalPointCoaching.com