Old Faithful and Reliability

Old Faithful is a geyser located in Yellowstone National Park, USA. It gets its name because it regularly shoots steam and water to great heights. In fact, with a margin of error of 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt either every 65 or every 91 minutes, depending on the length of the previous eruption. It’s been doing this since 1870.

While most of us who endeavor to be Trusted Advisors would probably prefer not to be associated with a “geyser” (myself included), there’s something we can all learn from this phenomenon of nature.

Reliability: The Good News/Bad News

Of the 12,000+ people who have completed our online Trust Quotient™ survey to date, Reliability comes out 16 percentage points higher than any of the other three elements of the Trust Equation. This isn’t really surprising, given that Reliability is the easiest to grasp and execute. Reliability is logical, concrete, and action-oriented.

The bad news is we’re not as good as we think.

Case in point: I’m always interested to see how participants in our programs handle the pre-work assignment we send via email a couple of weeks before the program begins. Responses are due to be emailed back within a week. It takes 10 – 20 minutes to complete the work. People generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Turn it in late with no acknowledgement (slightly more than half)
  • Never turn it in (some)
  • Turn it in on time (very few)

So while Reliability seems like a “slam dunk” in the world of trustworthiness, there’s room for us all to improve. (And by the way, I am no exception, witness how I’ve been doing lately on my goal of writing one blog post per week.)

The Road to Being More Reliably Reliable

Generally, people experience you as reliable when:

  •  You feel familiar to them. They’re at ease with you. They have a good sense of who you are and feel they know you. You use their terminology and templates. You establish routines in your relationships (regular meetings, emails, etc.). You dress appropriately.
  • You are consistent and predictable. People know what to expect from you, and they get it. You set expectations up front and report on them regularly. You are rigorous about using good business practices, such as meeting agenda and notes. You make lots of small promises and consistently follow through. They can count on you to be the same person at all times, and the same to all people.
  • You work to make sure there are no surprises when you’re around. You use others’ vocabulary and respect and reflect their norms and environment. You make sure that their expectations of you are consistent. You produce documentation of consistent quality and create deliverables with a consistent look and feel.
  • You do what you say you will do. You keep and deliver on your promises, and see keeping your word as a matter of personal integrity. When you are unable to fulfill on a promise, you immediately get in communication to acknowledge the impact and reset expectations.

Reliability is Reliability is Reliability

Here’s the rub: Consistency matters. If you apply these best practices more with your clients and less with, say, your Trusted Advisor instructor … then your reliability score suffers.

Perfection is not the goal here; impeccability is (See Impeccability vs. Perfection: Who’s Got Your Back?). There’s always room for error and for our humanity. When it comes to trust, what matters is being rigorously self-aware, transparent about our strengths and weaknesses, and willing to hold ourselves to higher and higher standards of execution.

Writing this post was one action I chose to boost my own Reliability today. What’s yours?

4 replies
  1. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    I’ve been thinking about Reliability this morning, and wound up reading through some of your older posts, Andrea; in addition to this one, I’ve looked at Impeccability vs Perfection, and Why Mistakes Build Trust. (You’ve got some great advice squirreled away in the archives of this site!)

    Here are some points that struck me.

    In Why Mistakes Build Trust, you wrote:

    “They were responsible and apologetic, not defensive and guilt-ridden. They didn’t explain or justify or blame; they simply said, “We’ll take care of it.”…Mistakes are an opportunity for us to show the world what we’re made of–to make known how we handle ourselves and who we choose to be in a moment of truth.”

    Some of my worst personal customer (dis)service experiences, as a customer, have involved a business representative being not just defensive but hostile and accusatory towards me! (And I am a small, non-threatening, anachronistically polite person.) The story of outstanding customer service in your post is really impressive, and I wish your insights there formed part of standard employee training at more companies. (To be fair, if employees of most companies received any training at all, we’d all have more customer service success stories.)

    In Impeccability vs Perfection, you wrote:

    “Where Perfection is determined with gritted teeth to always get it right, Impeccability is determined to be thorough and complete. Where Perfection endeavors to never make a mess, and experiences distress when the inevitable occurs, Impeccability recognizes that all humans make mistakes and chooses to see the inevitable as an opportunity to build trust….Perfection constantly feeds a need to satisfy something internal and self-oriented. Impeccability, on the other hand, is other-oriented at the core; his motivation is the satisfaction that comes with being of service and making a difference.”

    This is another great insight–especially for any of us with perfectionist tendencies. It also provides a wonderfully clear standard for how to determine if one is “getting it right”: check your self- or other-orientation.

    Finally, the four points above on what constitutes reliability are excellent.

    I find that in the Trusted Advisor materials about reliability, sometimes all of this advice is summed up in a sort of short-hand statement, of: “You make lots of small promises and consistently follow through.” (I’m thinking in particular of the article and blog post about internal staff functions, Trust Me, I’m from HR/ IT/ Legal/ Finance!, which offers this statement as its primary advice to IT departments.)

    I understand the need for concision, but I don’t think this short-hand always serves the topic or the reader well enough; it seems to reduce credibility to an issue of will power (“Just promise more! Just do it! Just try harder!), while your three posts above clearly demonstrate there is much more to reliability, both in terms of /being/ reliable, and in being /perceived/ to be reliable.

    I’d like to think there’s a better way to sum all of this up in situations when you need to be brief. I don’t know what that is, yet, but I’ll continue to think on it. (And I’ll report back any epiphanies!)


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] bill seems higher than expected, let the client know in a separate note or call – that reduces surprises and increases your reliability. If it’s lower than expected, that’s worth a call as well. Good news is appreciated. And, the […]

  2. […] not follow those rules, the roads would be chaos and dangerous.  To me, that sounds a lot like reliability, a Trust Equation component.  Knowing that people stop for red lights and stop signs creates […]

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