The Law of Unintended Consequences (pt. 1 of 2)

grand-canyon-flood-2.jpgLast week, the US government literally opened the flood gates of the Glen Canyon dam.  The hopes are the manmade flood will carry rich sedimentary residue to nourish the Grand Canyon area, improving the fish habitat in the river and rebuilding beaches.  This was necessitated due to the fact that 98% of the sediment carried by the Colorado River has been lost since the dam opened in 1963. 

Too often, we can find ourselves in the same situation.  Things within our organizations, ministries or businesses that were created for beneficial purposes come back on us with unintended consequences.  And the real danger is that we can spend precious time and resources simply chasing our tails trying to mitigate the effects of our previous actions only to cause further consequences with which we again have to cope. 

Here are a few ways to handle unintended consequences:

  1. Be quick to identify impact – Sensitivity to the current state of your organization is critical if you are to minimize any negative effects.  Some, such as finance or attendance, may be easier to identify and read.  Others may not.  This could include morale of staff, productivity, volunteer activity, or even a change of vibe.  We must keep the pulse.  The sooner we identify, the sooner we can rectify.  (Didn’t mean to go all “Johnny Cochrane” on you…)
  2. Acknowledge the issue – This may sound obvious, but too often, everyone will know there is a problem, but no one is willing to address it openly.  It becomes the 500 lb. gorilla in the room.  As the leader, it is up to you to confront the issue within your team and set a tone to bring about change.
  3. Develop a plan and put it into action – As a child of the 80’s, I learned an important lesson from GI Joe.  They said, “Now you know…  And knowing is half the battle.”  Once you have acknowledged the issue, develop a plan based on the feedback you have received.  But a plan is only as good as it’s execution. 
  4. Address the issues in the light of your values and traditions – I’ve heard it said that the seven most dangerous words any organization can say is “We’ve never done it that way before.”  It is important to understand the impact of your actions against the backdrop of your values and traditions.  On one hand, they can provide the necessary boundaries for your actions.  On the other, they can also serve as unnecessary restrictions to growth, expansion, or resolution.  I am not suggesting abandoning what it is that gives you identity, but rather a willingness to think about new and fresh ways to express them.  A good example would be to re-prioritize a department or ministry to create a more focused and effectual effort.  An unwillingness to change simply because it’s what you’ve always done is a highway to irrelevance.
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