Could setting goals have the opposite of the desired effect? In a performance management system goals are set to align an individual to the organisation’s strategy and to stretch their performance. Sounds great so far. But is it possible that people achieving their goals could have a negative effect on the organisation. It turns out this is a very real possibility. Read on to find out about the law of unintended consequences and a simple tool for avoiding it in relation to performance goals.
The law of unintended consequences says that intervening in a complex system can have an outcome that was not intended. That outcome could be positive or negative. Wikipedia gives the example of the introduction of the rabbit into Australia. Originally introduced with the First Fleet in 1788, most likely with the goal of providing food, they have gone on to become a pest that causes millions of dollars of damage to crops.
Organisations are complex systems as are many roles. This means the possibility of an unintended outcome is real. In fact the role doesn’t even need to be complex. By incentivising a person to do one thing, they may do it to the exclusion of other important activities. Consider these goals and their potential unintended consequences.