This week I walked past my son’s room at 7:30 a.m. and noticed he was not up yet. Two weeks earlier, he had just gotten his first real job. In the past, he had jobs of passion and part-time jobs, but this was a real job with a large company that had the potential for advancement and learning. I was pleased with his performance over the first few weeks, so I knocked on his door to check if everything was okay. He reported that he was tired and said, “I am going to take a ‘sick’ day.” My reply was, “That is a very bad idea.” He then went through his efforts over the last two weeks and said, “taking one sick day will not hurt me at all.” As is typically the case, I realized that the only way to convince him that I was right was to do some research. I had recently generated a measure of consistency where I had data from over 100,000 leaders and approximately 10,000 individual contributors.
The Consistency Index
The consistency index is generated by being rated on five items. A consistent person:
· Is a role model and sets a good example.
· Avoids saying one thing and doing another.
· Honors commitments and keeps promises.
· Follows through on commitments.
· Willing to go above and beyond what needs to be done.
This is the kind of person that is predictable and reliable. Others would make bets on this person because their performance is consistent.
I looked at 360-degree assessment results for leaders to understand the impact of low ratings on consistency. We identified those in the bottom 20% and examined results from 20,680 leaders. While these leaders may have had some good traits, their inconsistency generated an overall negative perception of their capabilities. The following is a list of the effects that come from inconsistency.
1. Their judgment was not trusted in making decisions.
2. They were not trusted by their teammates.
3. They did not follow through on objectives and tended to get distracted.
4. Often failed to achieve agreed-upon goals.
5. Resisted taking steps to improve.
6. They didn’t cooperate well with others.
7. They failed to anticipate problems until it was too late.
In general, these people seemed to be perceived as not caring about outcomes at work and lazy about their job in general. It appeared that a little bit of inconsistency had a profoundly negative effect on almost every other competency and behavior.
Looking at the data for individual contributors who were in the bottom 20% on consistency, I found many of the same items on that list. But I found some additional items that bubbled to the surface.
1. Failed to achieve goals in the allotted time.
2. Resists setting high standards of excellence.
3. Withholds or forgets important information.
It appears that managers and peers start to question individual contributors’ ability and desire to deliver results and share information when they are inconsistent.
For individual contributors who are inconsistent, managers tend to give low-performance ratings on both productivity and effort. Productivity is rated at the 17th percentile and effort at the 18th percentile. They also had low ratings on personal trust and overall effectiveness. The graph below shows how increased consistency impacts the four different outcomes. Those in the top 20% on consistency had all of the outcomes in the 80th percentile or higher.
A Little Inconsistency Hurts A Lot
If I complete ten projects on time, but on the eleventh, I don’t, then that is inconsistent. Even though the ratio there is quite small, I believe it is significant. I think that most people getting low marks on consistency think the 1 in 10 ratio is small, and I would argue that it is not. If you have a 10% chance of getting your finger cut off with a saw, would you take that chance? What my son didn’t realize is that 10% does stand out.
Be Careful with Your Agreements
A big problem that many people have with consistency is that they are quick to make promises they cannot fulfill. When a manager asks you if you can get a project finished by next week, next week seems a long way away. But if you already have three additional projects you are working on, are you sure you can get this new project finished? We want to be the kind of person that is willing to take on additional work, but the inconsistency of not completing the project will hurt for a long time. In the past, I worked with a colleague who was an expert on managing this kind of problem. When asking if he could do some additional work, he would always start by saying, “I would love to jump right in and do that project.” I always liked hearing his willingness to do the project. He would follow up by asking, “Can you tell me what the priority is for this project, compared to all the other projects I am currently working on?” He would then list the other projects that were high priority projects and say, “Is this more important or less important than those projects?” Often, I would realize the new project was less important than the project he was currently working on. By doing this, he was able to deliver on his commitments effectively. Most people believe that everybody is aware of how busy they are and exactly what they are working on, but typically, that is not true.
Having a strong reputation for consistently doing what you say, delivering on your commitments, and keeping your promises will have a profound positive impact on how others rate you. Make sure you realize the negative impact of your inconsistency.