Performance versus reliability – a people issue too

I was just watching an old TV programme, in which the central character is highly-driven, very effective but is not promoted because his superiors don’t consider him reliable. They don’t trust him to ALWAYS do the right thing.

The concept of “a safe pair of hands” is familiar to most, and seems to be a vital element of career progression.

The analogy to quality in products and services suddenly became blindingly clear – a “quality” person is someone who meets requirements and is fit for purpose, not necessarily a high performer.

I was first introduced to the eternal trade-off between absolute performance and reliability by a senior manager from a manufacturer of razor blades, over 40 years ago – he explained that their blades were quite intentionally not as sharp as their competitors, but were more consistent.  He claimed that a good blade from their competitor would give a better shave, but a poor blade would create havoc with the skin. Sooner or later, every customer of their competitor’s would get a bad blade, and swap brand! This company’s strategy was to catch the others’ customers “on the rebound” and never lose them again through a bad experience.

Likewise, individuals are walking a tightrope in their career; they continue to progress so long as they are reliable, but once they lose that reputation for reliability, their only hopes for progression are if they have an indispensable speciality they out-perform everyone else in.

My motto in stakeholder management is “no nasty surprises” – ensuring that all stakeholders are fully aware of risks, mitigating actions and contingency plans from the earliest opportunity. This isn’t just a project management approach – it’s a personal integrity approach, and builds trust!

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