Planner's Perspective: Unintended Consequences

The following is a guest post from Dean Jones. Dean is a certified meeting planner and serves as the conference manager for Rejuvenate Marketplace.

James Whitlock is not someone you probably know or have ever met. I don’t know him either, but his story intrigued me and I knew he would be the subject of my next article. The connection starts with my wife (she doesn’t know James either), who is a Nashville kindergarten teacher. The Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) system built five snow days into the 2009-10 calendar. I realize that many of you from climates cooler than Nashville are already shaking your heads and rolling your eyes — and it’s well deserved. Nashville is a semi-Southern city with 5,600 miles of paved roads and 30 snowplows (actually 28 now — two crashed their first day out this season). Needless to say, Nashville doesn’t deal with snow well. So back to the five snow days: MNPS called off school seven days this winter to avoid potential disasters with buses, parents and kids on the roads.

Seven minus five equals two. Two school days must be made up. The dilemma is how: shorten spring break, lengthen the school year or add additional time each day? The MNPS board chose option three. It made sense. The teachers are already at school, the heat is on, buses are running their routes, and 30 additional minutes a day for 26 days seemed like a logical solution. However, as with many “logical” solutions, there are unintended consequences — enter James Whitlock, time systems lead worker. Mr. Whitlock is the sole employee of MNPS tasked with programming and upkeep of school bells. The logical decision became a nightmare for one employee, with 139 school-bell systems to reprogram.

I have made similar decisions related to my events. They seemed logical on the surface but more thought and feedback from staff or outsiders could have revealed flaws in my logic or perhaps an alternate plan with fewer unintended consequences.

So how do you avoid putting yourself and your events into this position? Whenever you need to make a change to some existing system, program, schedule or event, it’s wise to have a pool of people that can help you evaluate potential decisions and repercussions. This team could be other planners, friends, staff or outsiders, but a combination of all would be a great mixture. Sometimes when we bounce ideas off other planners they only offer us one perspective, but an outsider may offer a totally new perspective that we hadn’t considered.

Begin thinking now of your “consequence team” that can help you evaluate potential scenarios, evaluate trouble spots and provide alternative solutions to your decisions. One word of advice — be sure that James Whitlock is on your team!

Be careful out there!

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