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Mr. White and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Megan Suitts on Oct 16, 2014 2:05:00 PM

By Jeff Hough

Choices Matter

It is an interesting time in American history.  We are in a transitional phase between digital immigrants and digital natives in many aspects of our lives. 

This transition impacts many things and a number of the consequences from this transition have yet to manifest. 

I am a closet fan of a television show that deals with a Mr. White and his descent from a kind and caring father into a horrible man who is the living definition of a monster.

As the show comes to an end it has been interesting to look back at the choices that Mr. White made and the unintended consequences which followed. 

Reflecting on the show caused me to look for examples of actions that while looking good on paper, didn’t really work out as intended.

A recent article in Forbes magazine outlines struggles that Wal-Mart has faced. 

In an attempt to avoid some of the responsibilities outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the company has employed the strategy of staffing their stores with temporary, part-time employees, which allows them to avoid some of the costs associated with the ACA. 

unintended consequences

Because of this move, the retailer has seen drastic declines in customer satisfaction surveys and in sales volume. 

These declines have since caused the company to re-think the strategy; they have begun to re-hire many of their full time employees.

Another great example of an unintended consequences occurred in a company that had an employee who wanted to right a perceived wrong. 

The company allowed some of its employees to provide services outside of their job descriptions—to satisfy their contracts—and earn extra income for the work.  As long the employees took vacation time to do the work, everyone was happy. 

That system worked very well for the company and for several years helped to grow the business each year. Then one employee—who had a trivial grudge against another—asked management a seemingly “innocent” question. 

That question lead to a knee-jerk reaction by management and an ill-considered reversal of the previous decision.  Since that time, the company’s sales have fallen off and customers have turned elsewhere for the needed services.

What Really Matters

Finally, sales across the country are slipping due to a lack of phone skills. Interestingly, the millennial generation—while never very far from smart phones—does not like to make actual business calls. 

phone skills

A recent article by the Wall Street Journal highlighted the plight of a publishing company whose sales had declined the past couple of years. 

Management searched for the problem and determined that their young sales team didn’t make traditional sales calls, opting instead to communicate with clients via email and texts. 

The company has since hired a telephone “coach” to help the sales staff improve their phone skills and shift the mindset towards making the necessary calls.

Unintended consequences result from not thinking things through clearly and offering hasty solutions to problems.  Often, because they are stretched thin, leaders make snap decisions without thinking things through or without collecting enough information to make an informed decision. 

They place trust in their teams to bring them the right information and provide sound, unbiased advice.  When things don’t go the right way, they are forced to make broad sweeping changes which often bring nasty results.

For a business to survive in today’s competitive marketplace, its teams must be tighter and more focused than ever. While technology has increased the pace with which we operate, sometimes we need to unplug and slow down to see the whole picture. 


Somehow, teams must seek creative ways to blend the old with the new and create something meaningful and unique.  Today’s teams must be able to trust each other and make choices for the greater good, rather than individual intrests.

Mr. White was a smart man whose choices ultimately brought his carefully built house of cards crashing down around him.  The problem he had—and that of many businesses—is that he lost sight of what mattered.

When he did that, he began to make decisions for the wrong reasons.  People and their relationships are what matters.  If what you’re doing doesn’t enhance those relationships, you may want to examine what you are doing and why, before—like Mr. White—it’s too late.



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