Law of Unintended Consequences Revealed – Chicago Public Schools Example

Written by Steven Randall, Partner, Vonya Global

Unintended ConsequencesAlmost everyone has heard of Murphy’s Law… that’s the one that states: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and then some.” It is also called the Law of Unintended Consequences, especially when it pertains to a decision you have to make.

A number of years ago when I was taking on my first managerial job, my boss explained to me that with every decision there are unintended consequences. The better you are at predicting and anticipating what the unintended consequences will be, the better decisions you will make.

Illinois has a state mandated policy that Children must attend 176 days of school each year. This school year was interrupted by the Chicago Public School (CPS) Teacher’s Union strike, the result of which is now putting considerable stress to that policy. Due to the extended strike, the CPS’s last day of school this year (2012-2013) is June 24. By comparison most private schools will have been on break for at least 2 weeks. Needless to say that with so many kids already on summer break, the CPS students are not very eager to go to class. It is also likely that the teachers are not very interested in going to work.

It is my understanding that the majority of the test scores have been compiled and the grades for each student have been reported. If that is true, my question becomes what are the students and teachers doing this week? In one case I have learned the answer was the students are learning how to make ice cream and watching movies. What?

This certainly wasn’t what was intended when the State of Illinois crafted the policy. The 176 days are intended to be spent educating the students, not spent watching movies and making ice cream. The schools, administrators, and teachers are abiding by the terms of the policy but they are not fulfilling the intent of the policy. In my opinion, it is a colossal waste of time for all parties and huge failure of the CPS.

I don’t intend to indict the CPS as I certainly do not know all of the facts, I only intend on using this as an example of unintended consequences in policy creation. While this is an example of the government, I would apply this lesson to business. Businesses have numerous policies and procedures dictating the role and responsibility of a variety of jobs. It is inevitable that those policies and procedures have unintended consequences. Therefore, it is essential that someone has spent time predicting and anticipating the consequences so that better policy decisions can be made.

We will discuss policies and procedures in greater detail in blog articles over the next few weeks. Stay tuned. And if you like what you have read, please share it.


This blog post was authored by Steven Randall. Steve is a Managing Partner with Vonya Global, a premier provider of internal audit co-sourcing, outsourcing, and consulting services; a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Chicago Chapter Board of Governors; a Director of the Adler-Caris Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to raising funds for Alzheimer’s Disease research; the President of the Oz Park Baseball Association, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing fundamental based baseball in a safe environment in the city of Chicago; and an Advisory Board Member of the Chicago Youth Baseball Initiative, a University of Illinois at Chicago community group dedicated to providing Chicago youth with the opportunity to play baseball in a fun and safe environment, while offering educational experiences on a world-class college campus. If you would like more information about Vonya Global or if you have a question for Steve, you may contact him through this blog, the company website, twitter, or his LinkedIn Profile.