Monday, December 05, 2005

James Russell: The price is right on reliability

The old adage 'If you want something done, ask the busiest person' is sound advice according to management author Reg Price, provided that the person is practising "organised busyness".

Problem is, it may be difficult to identify who in your office are what Price terms the "outstandingly reliable people". They are the ones making promises to both customers and work colleagues and then delivering on them, but rarely being noticed by management.

Price grew up on a farm, where "as a farmer's son you always had to do what you said you would or you'd get a kick in the backside".

This basic premise has become the theme of his research and business, based as far afield as Singapore and Britain. And all of this experience has been condensed into his book Give It To Them Like You Said You Would which will land on the shelves early next year.

"My research has shown that between 25 and 30 per cent of promises are not fulfilled," says Price.

He describes most people as 'promises making and keeping machines' and explains that a typical staff member will manage 2000 promises a year at a minimum (some many more) and, also, track the promises other people make to them.

Price has categorised people into four types:

* Trumpeter Tom, who tends to over promise and under deliver.

* Tentative Tim, those who try to slip out of making a firm promise.

* Disorganised Diana, promises well but is too disorganised to deliver.

* Balanced Barry, the aforementioned outstandingly reliable person.

Balanced Barrys are realistic promisers that are focused on achieving a result and, according to Price, may be up to 10 times as productive as other employees. However, it is rare that these people are truly recognised for their skills.

"An outstandingly reliable person may come across a bit gnarly - almost a bit uncooperative - when they are asked to do something. In fact, they want to know what they have to do and what resources they will need in order to do it. They don't want to promise without the certainty that they will be able to deliver."

Price spoke to one outstandingly reliable person who told him he felt like a swan. "He said that he appeared graceful and composed to the outside world, but underneath his legs were going like hell. This is because reliable people often don't have enough support."

Clearly then, Balanced Barrys are the ones you want working for your company. But Price believes that recruiters rarely look for these attributes in potential employees and admits that it also a hard talent to recognise from an interview.

"You have to sift through people's comments and be on the lookout for references to being committed to delivering on promises or always wanting to 'get it right'. It is also often what people don't say rather than what they do," he says.

But some are on the lookout for reliable people.

Price maintains that his philosophy applies to the individual employee delivering on their promises to their co-workers or customers, right through to the most strategic form of reliability - keeping the brand promise.

A good example of a company that keeps its brand promise is Volvo, says Price. "They promise safety and they always deliver on it. Because of it they are an extremely successful company."

It is also important that the brand promise is understood by the staff.

Price says: "Research in Britain has shown that only five per cent of staff actually understand their company's brand promise and, perhaps more importantly, when told of the brand promise, don't feel well enough resourced to deliver on it."

BALANCED BARRYS

* Know how to promise well

* Spend much more time negotiating and agreeing the parameters of a promise

* Know how to say no without saying no - saying no is not acceptable in many organisations

* Have systems to follow up on less reliable people

To improve internal reliability

* Establish a vocabulary for the different roles in making and keeping promises

* Learn how to diagnose a broken promise * Train in good promising work practices

* Dismiss the idea that reliable people are boring

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