(1) We plan operations, change, leadership, anything, with intended consequences in mind. These are often translated into KPIs, milestones, and ‘deliverables’. This language is so contaminated that I always try to stir the conversation towards a plain English ‘so what do you want to see by March?, what do we want to see by mid summer?, what do we want to see before Christmas?. Most people relate better to live events and personal calendars. People remember Christmas not Key Performance Indicator 4.1.1
(2) Too excessive focus on the intended, often the only thing that people are going to be judged for, makes us blind to see the unintended, good or bad. In my previous corporate life I was penalized (ok, just a bit) for underspending at the end of the year. I ran a Cost Centre (read, R&D) so I was supposed to come in ‘on budget’ (read expend it all), not under. That would irritate the accountants enormously. The absurdity is still nagging me. The unintended may be very good, for example, having built a communications bridge with division X as a result of a joint project. ‘Building a bridge’ may not have ever been in the KPIs. So you may not be rewarded!
(3) The extended consequences go well beyond the expected (declared) and unintended. In our Viral Change programmes, the focus may be ‘transformation’, for example, with specific aims. But, after a while, the fact that this has required peer-to-peer work, has taught the organization to generate spontaneous peer-to-peer networks now dealing with a plethora of things not in the original Viral Change™ shopping list. Very often, pride is one of those ‘extended consequences’, even if we never said we were aiming at that. In my world, the extended consequences have often the greatest impact.
These three sisters, intended, unintended and extended, always travel together. But often people are partially blind, focused as they may haven been asked to be on a ‘measurable’ and pre-ordered wish list. We are not managerially well educated to welcome the unplanned, the emergent, the unexpected. We respond with either panic or ignorance. It’s a crisis or an anecdote.