The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Updated 14-Sep-2023

As has been said many times over the past 2,000 years or more, The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions. How do we deal with good intentions in the presence of bad outcomes? Specifically, if an employee, partner, customer, etc. is well-meaning but with poor results, how do we respond? The road to Hell

As we get older, some of us develop our intuition, especially with regard to things we have deep knowledge of and experience in, something like 10-20 years of experience. This is different from just having a hunch, which can be purely coincidental. Young people like to have hunches, but generally they have not had enough experience to have an experiential basis for intuition (and what other basis is there?). Gary Klein in his excellent Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions conducted extensive research into how experts generate seemingly intuitive insight under high risk and high time constraints. The basis for the intuitive activity is compiled background knowledge over years of experience.

Consistently Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

The problem comes more from when one wants the outcome to be different, the reality to be different, than it really is. Two recent examples with workers has brought home this truth. One was consistently producing poor results but with the best of intentions. This person was simply incompetent, and months of the same did not fix the problem. Belief in the person and wanting to give them a chance did nothing but demoralize both of us. This was bad management and leadership on my part.

One-Off Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

The trick then is determining when there is a situation which indeed is more-or-less accidental, unlikely to be repeated, and should be forgiven and forgotten. This is especially important when dealing with new employees, clients or partners. In this case, once again, I had warning signs but wanted to ignore them. Sure enough, patterns were repeating themselves.

How to Discern Between The Two

However, there is perhaps one question which can help in both of these cases. As the question: > Is the bad outcome due to bad judgment or a simple accident? The key is in being able to discern between the two, in being able to ascribe the cause of the poor outcome -- not the cause of the good intention, e.g., a good person. Hire people, choose partners and seek customers who have good judgment, as well as the other qualities you may need.