The Google is great in many ways.
One thing that’s been valuable is that they seem to examine their own people.
They’ve been working on figuring out why some teams succeed and others fail.
If you’re like me your first thought might be that some ideas are good and others are bad. It’s not the team’s fault.
But the more I thought about it the more it seemed that the good and bad ideas would even out over time. There’s got to be something about the human dynamic that makes some teams more successful.
It seems Google has done quite a bit of work on this subject.
Google identified five key elements of team success:
- Psychological Safety
- Structure & Clarity
They all stand out as important. They make sense.
But one that really jumped out at me was Dependability.
The Importance of Dependability
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He leads a team at a software company. He gets frustrated sometimes and I asked him what his biggest cause of frustration is and he said it’s when someone on his team says they’ll do something and they don’t do it.
And I thought about Ghost Blog Writers. Dependability is one of our core values. We focus especially on punctuality. Delivering posts on time to our clients. The writers that are the most dependable usually get the best opportunities.
Google recognized this. My friend does. I do.
And it’s been written about in other places too including Harvard Business Review:
Unsurprisingly, conscientious (reliable) people do make good managers. They make sure that things get done. They keep teams on track. They pay attention to little details that can spell the difference between success and failure.
Being dependable is also important for trust. When you trust your team and they trust you things operate well. Even through trying times.
If you’re looking to be a better leader it’s important to improve your dependability.
Here are some tips for doing that.
1. Embrace Failure, Take The Blame
Here’s another interesting article/interview on HBR. They talked to someone that studies high-reliability organizations. Think organizations like nuclear power plants or fire stations. Places where being dependable is literally life and death.
There is a strong tendency in companies that aren’t high-reliability organizations to isolate failure, to blame the culprit, and to not learn from mistakes. And that’s idiotic, because few failures can be traced to a single individual.
The idea here seems to be two-fold. First, it’s about embracing failure. Almost obsessing over it. Because little failures are indicators. Second, those indicators should lead to systematic change.
But it all starts with a culture of taking blame.
I’m watching the show Last Chance U on Netflix. Very interesting view into the human mind. Some players aren’t very dependable with their school work. They come in with all kinds of excuses.
The dependable individuals focus on themselves. Yes, maybe something did come up, but they take the blame. They move on and figure out how to get the work done.
Blaming yourself puts you in control. And it’s a mental flip of a switch for a lot of people. It’s important if you want to be dependable.
Focus on the little failures. The little indicators.
Let’s say you’re working on a project. It doesn’t get accomplished.
Take the blame. Then think back to the little things that failed along the way. Maybe early research was subpar. That was a failure. An early indicator. Maybe the team members weren’t helping each other. That was an indicator.
Learn from those failures and you can find ways to create a better system.
2. Focus On The Details
Dependable people focus on the details. This was also mentioned in the HBR article. It’s a little bit about focusing on failure. The little details.
John Wooden was probably the most successful basketball coach of all time. He didn’t just preach the fundamental details of the game; he took it to an extreme new level. He would make his players learn to tie their shoes a specific way. And they would practice this.
Wooden had learned that if a player’s feet were comfortable that they would usually play better. So tying shoes was a tiny detail, but important.
And the bigger lesson was that if you could get players to focus on a super tiny detail like shoe laces then you could probably also get them to buy into other details like dribbling, passing and shooting.
3. Prioritize, Check Your Motivations
Something I’ve observed with folks that are dependable or undependable is priority.
They don’t get things done because those particular things aren’t high on their priority list. They may not even realize that they have priorities.
If a client asks you to get on a call and you tell them you’ll call tomorrow and you don’t call the odds are good that “something else came up”.
There are a few layers here.
One is understanding time. How long it takes to do things. Proper expectations. People are usually fine if you say that you can’t get on a call today or tomorrow if you’re already busy. They will be disappointed if you promise them tomorrow and then don’t fulfill that promise.
Another is not understanding real priorities. We can all fall into the trap of Urgency Bias or Completion Bias. You tell a client you’ll call tomorrow, but when tomorrow comes there are new things to do. New things to complete. You do those even if they really aren’t as important as calling your client.
And finally it also comes down to understanding your own motivations. On that football documentary you can tell the players that really care about football versus the ones that are playing for what are probably the wrong reasons.
If you find yourself often breaking promises and being undependable it could be that you don’t understand why you do things. You don’t have a purpose.
Why didn’t you call that client?
Phone calls aren’t enjoyable. They don’t motivate you.
But earning money to feed your family does motivation you. Sometimes you can work your way back so that even little promises motivate you.
4. Schedule Out Every Detail Of Your Days & Weeks
This has helped me. I think I’ve been lucky because I kind of obsess over getting things done. I don’t like breaking promises. Even to my wife. She’ll come to me asking me to do something and I immediately reach for a pad of paper and a pen. Or I take out my phone and open the calendar app.
Scheduling does a few things.
First, it allows you to make time to get things done. Got a project that’s coming up? Due in three months? Get the due date on the schedule. Then backtrack every detail that needs to occur and when. Back all the way up to present day.
Second, it allows you to understand time, which helps you keep promises. If you get used to scheduling everything you can honestly tell a customer if you can call them tomorrow. If your schedule is full you can’t make that promise.
Third, scheduling builds routine and habit. The more you schedule the things the more you get used to doing them without even thinking. You live and breath by the schedule.
5. Lead By Example
It’s one thing to tell your team to be reliable. But it has to start with your own actions.
This is just a quick reminder that you can’t expect your team to be dependable if you aren’t yourself. You probably have some really dependable people on your team.
The other bad thing is that you’ll frustrate them and they’ll probably leave if you continually break promises with them.
Schedule a meeting with them and don’t show up? That will wear thin real fast and good people will leave you.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” doesn’t work in the real world. People are always watching their leaders.
I’m glad you’re searching for this topic. Dependability is critically important to success in life. Google spent a lot of time and probably a lot of effort researching successful teams and dependability was critical.
The tips above are great first steps to being more dependable. It takes work. It takes effort to change habits. It also involves learning about yourself and your motivations.
Take the first steps today and you’re on the track to being dependable and to being more successful.