Inconsistent behavior is a silent killer in the workplace. Inconsistency from leaders confuses people, erodes trust, causes fear, and can lead to a sort of learned inertia where the employee, paralyzed by uncertainty, just avoids or shuts down interactions with the offending manager.
So how does it happen? How does inconsistency come into play? Surely we don't set out with the goal of keeping our employees guessing.
The hard truth is that we are often unaware that our behaviors are being perceived as inconsistent. It does not help that as managers we live in a fishbowl, where our every action is seen by all. Furthermore, we may not realize how damaging our unintentional inconsistencies may be. To help, here are a half-dozen ways to overcome any tendency of inconsistency.
• Put your priorities on a pedestal. Nothing will create more uncertainty and confusion for an organization than inconsistent messaging on strategies, vision, and goals (organizational priorities). The same holds true when you act inconsistently relative to your personal priorities at work, such as your stated beliefs, personal purpose, or desired legacy. Putting these priorities on a pedestal and constantly filtering decisions and actions relative to these priorities is what I call demonstrating critical consistency. It may require a personal campaign to strengthen your resolve. It might require an effort to stop trying to please everyone and being mindful to not always let the last word in your ear, well, last.
• Camera in the corner. This is a simple exercise to help you spot your own inconsistencies. Imagine there is a camera in the corner of the room every time you are giving direction, making a decision, or interacting with someone in a certain situation. Reviewing the film later should not unveil a host of continuity problems; the world should see you acting in a manner consistent with your beliefs, actions, strategies, and goals.
• Think "see-say." In advertising parlance, when developing a commercial it is critical that what the words are trying to communicate in each frame match what the picture is communicating (i.e., the "see" and the "say" match), otherwise confusion sets in; after all, you only have thirty seconds to get your message across. It's the same for us as managers: Our visible actions should always match up with our words or else people will become confused and begin to tune out. Relatedly, a brand that doesn't follow through on its promises will never be bought again. And managers who don't follow through on what they say they will do will never have anyone buy into them (their decisions and direction) again, either.
• Mind your mood swings and impulses. Inconsistent moods yield tentative employees and can even cause fear if the mood swings to downright nasty. Everyone, of course, is allowed different temperatures on different days. It's about being aware and minimizing the height and depth of the peaks and valleys, and perhaps even acknowledging when you are not your usual self. When someone's foul moods keep popping up periodically, other people may avoid or overly agree with the person, conceding and nodding in an effort to not trigger an explosion. Similarly, acting on impulse, either positively or negatively, can create touchy situations. Suddenly laying praise on someone loudly and openly when that's not your usual MO can cause suspicion. That's not to discourage acts of positivity, but you may have to telegraph why you are doing it now and reconcile why it's different from how you usually approach such situations. On the other side of the coin, impulsive outbursts of negativity can create fear and self-doubt.
• Same situation, different treatment doesn't work. People will remember if similar situations produced different results and if managers interpret rules and policies differently to meet their own desired end; these inconsistencies may even raise doubts of integrity. This call for disciplined behavior shouldn't be viewed as at odds with the need for open-mindedness, the need to react to new data, or the need to flex your leadership behavior according to different situations. Rather, it is about the need for you to heighten your situation awareness and to be cognizant of the consistency of your behaviors and actions. The same goes for treatment of people; employees want to be treated fairly, not fairly inconsistently. Favoritism will fester into resentment, as will punishment that's not equally administered.
• Put repeatable processes in place. You shouldn't let your crazy calendar and overpacked days dictate how you make decisions. Nor should you let such factors breed an environment where inconsistency is a natural by-product of harried actions. Counter this phenomenon by implementing a disciplined decision-making and activity process.
L&MB Magazine 6 - Q2, 2016
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