Systems theory states that organizations are systems of connected and interdependent groups, none of which can be understood in isolation from each other. Unfortunately, individuals often do not fully understand the impact their actions (or inaction) have on others, especially when the consequences are delayed and removed. The impact plays out distant in time and space, say three months later and two silos over.

The solution lies in
1. Developing an awareness of the complexity of the challenge, and
2. Studying bad outcomes to learn how to do better.

Here are two examples of good intentions gone awry:

Example #1: Management tool or straight jacket? “States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluations,” The New York Times, February 19, 2012.

“Steve Ball, executive principal [at a school] in Nashville, arrived at an English class unannounced one day this month and spent 60 minutes taking copious notes as he watched the teacher introduce and explain the concept of irony. ‘It was a good lesson,’ Mr. Ball said.

“But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one—the lowest rating on a five-point scale—in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

“‘It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,’ Mr. Ball said.”


Will the teacher feel her evaluation was fair?

Will principals feel good about their roles?

What is the likely outcome? What is the likely impact on the teachers’ trust levels? Motivation?

Why are the guidelines so strict?

Could it be because of fears based upon past experience of favoritism, or past scores being gamed in order to make administrators look good?

What is your solution? Remember that whatever solution you design has to be applicable to tens of thousands of school districts and applied by an even greater number of evaluators, each of whom has an individual personality, world view, personal standard of ethics, and no doubt a unique perspective on evaluating your instructions and any latitude therein.

Example #2: Management tool? Or simplistic box checking?

“Bronx Police Precinct Accused of Using Quota System,” The New York Times, February 23, 2012.

A lawsuit contends that a police station house in the Bronx has a strict quota system that requires officers to produce a minimum number of arrests, summonses and street stops each month. So regimented are the demands for numbers that supervisors in the 42nd Precinct began keeping color-coded charts to track officers’ productivity, according to the lawsuit.

Black ink means an officer is meeting quotas, silver ink means that only some of the quotas are being met, red ink denotes officers meeting no quotas at all.

Allegedly, the quota system has created animosity among officers at the station house: “An officer has been posted at the locker room to keep officers who oppose the system from damaging the lockers of those who hew to it.” NYPD has consistently denied the existence of a quota but has said supervisors can establish minimum productivity goals for officers. NYPD states color codes “did not represent a quota system but were an
indicator of enforcement activity in three areas—arrests, criminal summonses and stops for suspicious activity, used to measure police productivity.”


Is there really any meaningful difference between “minimum productivity goals” and quotas?

What are the desired outcomes? Will the inputs yield the desired outcomes?

What is your policing paradigm? Command and control or community outreach? SWAT Team vs. Andy of Mayberry?

How would you design a system to evaluate police officers? Reward/promote the best, coach the middle, remove the unqualified?

What are the possible unintended consequences of your system?