Intensions vs. Outcomes

Intensions vs. Outcomes

It’s no secret that things don’t always work out the way you expected or intended.  The outcome of an action, plan, or strategy can be (and often is) completely different.  We see this is employment law and human resource investigations all the time.  The Manager felt he had good intentions by suggesting that his employee works off the clock. And Mr. Manager may really enjoy his friend and employee which is why he’s suggest with good intentions for the employee to not clock in.  Payroll’s tight at the location the manager is responsible for.  Employee is a good employee but while the Mr. Manager may believe his intentions are good, they are not.

In reality, the Manager’s intention is to save payroll, keep himself from being reprimanded by his boss, and while doing what he sees is a favor for his friend allowing him to keep his job.  The reality and outcome is when Manager gets caught is that he’s violated company policy, his company owes Employee back pay, as well as Manager puts the company at risk with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Wage and Hour Division.

The law doesn’t care about intentions, it only cares about acts and outcomes.  As a HR Director, I’ve heard my share of responses from employees when we questioned them about their actions during employment investigations.  I heard things like, “Well, that’s not what I meant.”  “She/He took my comment the wrong way.”  And my personal favorite, “I was just kidding.”

The problem therein lies we weren’t raised this way.  Because in our home and family life, intentions do matter.  It’s the reason why the saying, “the old college try” was created.  Outside of the bubble that is HR and corporate speak, intentions do matter.  It’s the reason why I encourage my daughter to color within the lines, and I’m thrilled even when it doesn’t quite work out the way I instructed.

As I’m writing I wonder, how does one make the transition between understanding when and where intentions vs. outcomes matter?  Is this something we train in school?  And isn’t the greatest teacher of all failure when intentions truly reign?  And how this factor into the corporate and HR world?  Because playing it safe and living with constant predicted outcomes makes the world a very predictable, measurable, and boring place.  A safe place mind you where everyone drives the speed limit and obeys the law but where risk rarely happens.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions


  1. Louise says

    Very thought-provoking…I agree with your assessment that, in most situations, intentions do matter. But I think sometimes we can get caught up in that just a little bit. Whenever a celebrity who does something bad makes a mea culpa by donating to a charity or something, I’m still glad for the donation, even if we’re not always certain that the change of heart is genuine.

    Still, I’m certainly not saying we discount intention, especially when things don’t work out exactly as they should. As long as someone’s heart is in the right place, effort counts.


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