The Trapeze Effect: How to Coach ReliabilityBy Mike Cook
Performance in an organizational setting is not an individual phenomenon. It hinges on interdependency and an understood, but rarely discussed, concept: reliability. These two elements create a reputation that others can count on.
A pair of aerial acrobats is an extreme example of interdependency between two employees. In order for their act to work, the flying trapeze artist has to count on her partner being right there at the right time as she's leaping through the air, expecting his hands to grip hers. The knowledge that she can count on her partner is what drives the acrobat's graceful and daring performance.
In any organization, in order to deliver value consistently over time, in varying circumstances and with diverse groups of people, each team member needs to focus on his or her reputation for reliability.
As a manager, you can dramatically improve team and individual performance at your company by reminding everyone that reliability is a fundamental value. In an organization where good reputation is a core value, you can usually count on it spreading, further reducing traction in future interactions with both old and new coworkers, and reducing the amount of energy you and they will have to expend for each accomplishment.
Good or poor reputation of any company - including yours - is the sum of the reputations of the people who interact with each other and with customers.
Here are some tenets of reliability to share with your employees:
- If you cannot do what is requested, don't say you will do it. Each time you take on a project or task - large or small - take a moment to consider how you will do it and when you will do it. Know your limitations before you commit to saying yes and agree to a deadline. This is a simple rule. Tell your employees that you expect them to follow it.
- If you say you will do something, be willing to move heaven and earth to make it happen. Intention is only half of the reliability equation. Action is the other half. Let workers know that you expect both well-thought-out intentions and follow through.
- If you can't make it happen, let them know. If you discover that, for whatever reason, you aren't going to be able to deliver, let the people who are counting on you know so they can make adjustments. Explain to employees that, once they have established an excellent reputation, managers, coworkers, clients, and customers will always cut them a break when they really need it. .
- Let everyone know that this is the only way you want to work. All employees should let those with whom they work come to understand that this is the only way they want to work - as if it really matters.
- Good reputation builds one interaction at a time. Remind employees that every conversation and every interaction builds others' confidence in them as people who will do what they say when they say they will, and will do it well. Even a small action, such as returning a phone call promptly, builds reputation.