My experience in talking with many owners and executives is that two words tend to get the heads nodding: consistency and sustainability. One can typically find bright spots in a company, meaning people and areas that perform at a high level. And almost every individual, department, or company can improve in certain areas. The challenge is, how can we ensure that the areas stay improved? How can we achieve consistent excellence, versus being excellent some days, some weeks, some months, some years, in some areas by some people?
It does not take too many bad experiences to create negative word of mouth, especially in the era of social media! Today, let’s focus on creating consistency. Yes, consistency inside a company does drive performance and help achieve sustainable results; however, we’ll go deeper on sustainability in a future column.
A lack of consistency is not hard to identify. If you’re a parent, have you ever hoped your child got a certain teacher (or even took steps to make sure they did)? If you are an owner or someone in a leadership role in a company, have you ever had an employee share that they want to work for this leader and not that leader? Have you ever had a customer search for a specific employee they prefer? All of these are signs of inconsistency inside organizations.
Employee turnover is another red flag. When a CEO shares that they are losing too many employees, they may feel it’s due to a talent shortage, a pay issue, a benefits issue, etc. Yes, those factors can play a part in turnover; however, my experience is that it is wise to dig deeper. Track the departures to specific areas and leaders. I have often found departures are connected to whom the person works for (it’s said that people don’t quit their company; they quit their boss).
Sometimes the same employee will get better results when they work with one leader than when they work for another leader. This discrepancy is often due to inconsistent accountability. A warning sign might be that a person wants to know whom they will report to—as if they are willing to work for some and not for others.
If you call an employee to come in due to an unexpected crowd, and that person asks, “Who else is working?” they are likely basing their decision on whom they will be working with or for. A leader shared with me that after they let a particular employee go, their difficulty getting people to come in went away. Until the person left, the leader had no idea how much of a negative impact they were having.
Another example is that a leader often says they can’t find employees—but when they leave, the next leader quickly fills the open positions.
Here’s the bottom line: Employees want consistency in their leaders and their work life. Customers want consistency in their experience with a company. Everyone wants consistency. That said, here are some tips to create more consistency in an organization:
1. Take time to decide what leadership behaviors and processes should be standard operating procedures. This creates leadership consistency. Any kind of inconsistency in an organization is a symptom of inconsistency at the top. For example, why should a meeting be run differently depending on the area? Why should hiring take place this way in this department but not in that department? Why should that boss let people work virtually when this leader does not?
2. Create standards of behavior or performance. Clarity is key to consistency. Put in writing those behaviors that create excellence. Many organizations write up standards of behavior documents that, unfortunately, end up on the back shelf and out of mind. To evaluate this, compare organizational performance to the living of the standards. For example, a department has poor customer service results. In reading the standards that everyone signed, it is clear that if followed, customer service would be much better. Yet, there is no documentation showing that anyone has been cited for not following the standards. And those who are following them are not receiving positive feedback. This is less a service issue than it is a leadership issue.
3. Show, show, show. Explanations are a good start when you’re investing in training your people, but if it stopped there, the results will fall far short. A baseball coach can explain how to bunt a ball. However, more is needed. Have you ever bought something after someone explained how to use it, then brought the product home and just can’t get it right? You may have had to find a video to see how to do it. I like learning labs. These consist of bringing people together, sharing why they are together, showing them what right looks like, and finally having them demonstrate the required behavior.
4. Provide plenty of feedback to people who are doing it right. A person is much more likely to hear when something is wrong than when it’s right. How many times have you been to work on time, handled a situation well, and heard nothing? Yet arrive a few minutes late or make a mistake and you hear about it right away! Catching what is right works very well. For example, “Nicole, you are so good about always getting to work on time. That is such a help to your coworkers. Thank you.” Better yet, do it so others can hear. Even when the person is not getting it 100 percent right, it’s good to start with what is right. Positive feedback gets great results. It reinforces the person’s behavior and also encourages others to do the same, which goes a long way toward creating consistent behavior.
Consistency is so crucial and so elusive. It takes clarity of goals, standardized processes, written standards of behavior, standard operating procedures, and development for everyone—as well as positive recognition and at times consequences. It’s a lot of work. But the ongoing high performance your organization is rewarded with when it achieves consistency is well worth the effort.