Sunday 5 May 2013

Reliability as a trait :: Eight principles to ensure reliability in everything you do!

A person is reliable when they can be trusted to do what is expected of them. This label identifies a problem solver; someone who can see the bigger picture; and is adept at eliminating surprises. 

The word reliability is even more interesting as it is the ability of an apparatus, machine, or system to consistently perform its intended or required function or mission, on demand and without degradation or failure. This definition opened up a more interesting perspective for me. For a person to have reliability meant that they needed to be trust-worthy; deliver against expectation; be consistent; and have the ability to manage any surprises/risks.

Having this trait can do wonders to an individual’s reputation and enhance their personal brand. To create reliabiilty when your ‘ship is in calm water’ or even when your ‘ship is in choppy seas’ I offer eight simple principles gleaned from my own experience.

Principle 1 : Approach each task as if your life depended on it

Remember that oft-mentioned quote “live everyday as if it is your last”. I recommend you approach every task you do with the same spirit. Resolving and tackling issues requires a high level of self-efficacy and drive. However, I am of the firm opinion that irrespective of the attractiveness quotient of the given task you must regard completing it as a critical step building reliability and moving your development forward. Creating a reputation for being able to resolve issues and accepting all types of tasks broadened my experience and outlook.

Principle 2 : Review your successes critically and honestly

The typical human reaction to success is to celebrate; acknowledge; reward and derive positive inferences. My guidance would be to treat success as a fleeting achievement. Don’t bask in it. Reset your expectations for yourself higher for each success that you garner. Just move on. There is some truth in the adage only the paranoid survive.”

Ask yourself a few critical questions. Was your success truly planned for? How much did others help or support you in your success? Did chance play a role? Did you mitigate any contingencies that arose but then ask why did they arise in the first place?

[And will get some things wrong along the way. Just hope that they are far apart!]

Principle 3 : Expect negative outcomes and react fast when they happen

I am a student of people’s emotions and have learnt to moderate my expectations from human beings as after all they are but just human. Remember that to err is human. Expect that people will surprise you and don’t spend time getting agitated about the same or trying to decode human behaviour. Plan for contingencies and execute accordingly. Things will not go as planned but this is where you need to ensure you do not freeze up. Go ahead and freeze (if you have to) but be sure to unfreeze faster than you freeze!

Principle 4 : Master the art of under promise and over deliver

One of the fundamental building blocks to reliability is managing expectations.

One of the biggest sources of misery is where you fail to deliver on your commitment because you over-promised or under evaluated the challenges that you are facing or made overly positive assumptions (which are now holding progress back or derailing you!).

Be deadline driven. If you give a time then deliver on time! Never make promises unless you are ready to deliver on them. If you can negotiate new deadlines or dropping or fine tuning expectations then you can focus on the 'truly critical' tasks that people are measuring you against.

Do not fall into the trap of managing only the expectations of an individual but rather focus on managing the expectations required to deliver the outcome irrespective of who is asking you to do the task. People tend to take on more they can chew depending on the position or title of the individual assigning the task. The higher the person the more the need to manage expectations!

In summary, disruptions and surprises happen but irrespective try to create an aura around yourself of being an individual that is consistent in delivering positive outcomes.

Principle 5 : Interrogate intent rather than follow instructions blindly

One of the tricks to being reliable is that you have to also gain the trust of people. When given a task I have seen colleagues at work jump right in to resolve the matter and only later realise that there was more to the task than what had been understood. When presented with a task I would recommend you ask some questions that allow you to understand the intent i.e. what is the compelling event or rationale behind the assigned task. Those who understand the intent behind a task end up seeing the bigger picture and will deliver a resolution that will be more meaningful and relevant to the task giver. Every problem has its emotional relevance to the organisation and you should figure that out!

Principle 6 : Know your strengths but know your weaknesses better

Most individuals spend a lot of time on working on developing strengths and understanding their weaknesses. However, I have been stunned by how shallow these attempts are! Knowing your limits particularly from a weakness (or area of development point of view) can on many occasions help you in not over-committing or making a mistake when working on reliability building tasks. Read this in conjunction with under promising and over delivering and you will see that you will only undermine your attempts if you do not know or understand yourself.

Principle 7 : Be accountable but be willing to share responsibility with others

As a reliable person you need to know that you are accountable but that does not mean that others are not responsible. You need to work with others and the ability to work with others is the most important trait in this convergent world.

Your intuition will always lead you to a first pass approximation of what needs to be done but despite your many years of experience you cannot be expected to be able to fit every piece of information in this dynamic world into you intuitive framework and be able to address or manage the same.

Reliability comes because you are able to see the task at hand from all angles and plan accordingly. One way to achieve better understanding of a task is to seek input from many others. If you are consulting broadly then you will get a better perspective of what can go wrong and plan against the same. I do this at the expense of losing the aura of being a senior executive as I realised that asking others and clarifying with others when I was tackling issues/tasks helped me deliver consistently and avoid pitfalls despite the perception that a senior executive is supposed to know all the answers! Not true at all.

Principle 8 : Overcome the permission paradox

I read a great book by Citrin and Smith
The 5 patterns of extraordinary careers’. They refer to an interesting paradox (called the permission paradox) which is a Catch-22 situation that outlines that an individual cannot get the permission (job) without the experience BUT getting the experience without the permission (job) is also problematic. The authors recommend that individuals bypass the traditional process of getting the role by undertaking specific actions that allow them to obtain the right credentials, cultivate the right mentors, gather lateral functional experience and very importantly work on getting involved in stretch assignments that would allow them to build a track-record of reliability. If you conscientiously work on opportunities to overcome the permission paradox then you work at creating an elevated profile for yourself and moving forward on the journey to being reliable. Frankly, this is evidence that you are taking ownership and delivering beyond the job description!

In closing, the most important rationale for creating an aura of reliability is because it engenders trust. Trust acts like a balm in frenzied times and is appreciated by harried executives who are looking for one less worry in their corporate lives.

Ultimately my expectation is that this will bring more ‘speed’ to your career. What do you think?


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  1. Good insights. I agree that "Those who understand the intent behind a task end up seeing the bigger picture and will deliver a resolution that will be more meaningful and relevant to the task giver." I really appreciate it when I get instructions with sufficient background information. This allows me to produce a superior result.

    1. Lori..thanks for contributing...yup...sufficient background information would solve a majority of issues that arise between manager and the managed.