Inconsistency Rules! No it Doesn’t. Yes – it Does.

Today I’m delighted to be handing over the reins on the blog to guest writer Julia Benbow. I first met Julia on our “Is Bad Behaviour Killing Big Business” LinkedIn discussion group. She’s a great contributor to the discussion. Julia has a way with words and she makes me laugh. Here she makes an impassioned plea for a little inconsistency. Enjoy the post, and why not add an idea or two in the comments? Go Julia!

What would happen if we were all just a little bit more different?

Businesses are very committed to consistency. Consistency in product, quality, brand, behaviour, etc. We all want to get something that fulfils our expectations. We have an expectation that what we get should meet the promise that we were made. Predictability is powerful and it sells.

I have a bit of an inner dialogue running and at the moment, I am in favour of a consistency rebellion. Mavericks of the world unite!

What’s the basis for this movement? Two reasons; firstly big business argues with itself and that hinders innovation and progress. We are given policy, process, scorecards, competency frameworks, telephone scripts, templates for power point presentations, reporting timetables, budgets, and on, and on…… Then we are asked to continually improve, to be fresh, to challenge the status quo, to innovate!  How? When? What with? Secondly, people are predisposed to inconsistency. A sense of ones own uniqueness is important to self esteem. Excessive consistency, too much structure, well, it just infers that your natural state is not ok. What does not okay-ness lead to? Yes folks, misery. People who bring their personalities to work, warts and all and have space to express it, teach others and they learn themselves.

I say empower people to be inconsistent. The risk averse will need to breathe deeply here. Give them some space, get rid of some of the things that you think make you or your business consistent. You don’t have to do it permanently, it might be just for a day, a week or even a month. Do it, give it time, coach and see what happens.

So, what are your ideas?  What could you do to make you, or your business, less consistent?

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

17 thoughts on “Inconsistency Rules! No it Doesn’t. Yes – it Does.”

  1. Julia, ayup mi duck how are yer, are you saying that it’s ok for us to eat fresh beans that are not consistent in shape or length or carrots with inappropriate deformities? Are you really sure that you want to be greeted in a personal way with a greeting delivered by someone who feels comfortable with what they are saying and how they say it? Are you suggesting that businesses might better engage their people if they allow them to make a difference?
    Funny shaped veg – personal service – unique characters – regional nuances – policies with warts. I’m celebrating the difference with you every step of the way.

  2. David, you have my permission to bring your funny shaped veg to work, and your funny voice and your warts.

  3. Wonderful. Thanks as always for your unique insight David, and Julia, your diversity experience shines through 🙂

  4. Perhaps one issue is that fresh beans are easier to manage than human beans and secondly that the prospect of not being responsible for ensuring consistency and uniformity is scary for some managers.
    In addition, I think that it is wholly appropriate for some organisations to take the more controlling route..if this is in line with how they want the brand to be perceived. If, however, the intention is to be more progressive, individualistic, quirky then bring on the funny shaped veg – you can still be known for this tasting wonderful and being great value. For more than ten years I have worked with a tool called 31 Practices that gives guidance as to what type of behaviour is expected in line with corporate values but then allows employees latitude in how they apply this and positively encourages active participation. Results are always positive, sometimes astonishing.

    1. Hello Alan, thanks for dropping by. Your scary observation is indeed – scary! Only last night I was being asked why this fear persists, particularly (based on our collective experience at the time) in larger, well established organisations. We’ve talked about fear before on the blog and offered a small slice of an idea designed to help alleviate the chronic curse of fear. Here’s the link should you or anyone else fancy a read.

      I am nervous about controlling…and yet I accept that certain tasks need executing in a controlled and rigorous manner. I am heartened by yet more talk of funny shaped veg and curious about 31 Practices. I will take a look. Latitude and encouragement are great.

      Thanks Alan

      1. I like your approach. Happy to share details of 31 Practices if you are curious. Let me know the best way to connect

        1. I wonder if fear leads us to hide things in the too difficult box. Collective fear whose cause is usually unique for each of us is a wicked problem and as the academics tell us, wicked problems need clumsy solutions. Which leads me to contemplate whether inconsistency could be a clumsy solution? Mmmmm, that’ll be on my mind for a few days!

        2. Hey Alan – drop me a line via the contact us page and we’ll take it from there. Cheers – Doug

  5. Empowering people to be different is wonderful if you have the confidence and belief and passion to do it. Sadly Alan is right….it scares most managers witless. I empowered people and they contributed to reducing a factory’s lead time from 6 weeks to one day. They were cast aside when the Group decided to close the Division. The General Secretary of the Trade Union told my Main Board he would support them to shut a factory of equivelant capacity to keep this one open. The Managers of the Division could not contemplate managing people who provided on time delivery and top quality throughout the 90 days to closure. Has that stopped me being a Rebel in the cause of pursueing these goals…no way! Read the tale

    1. More scary stuff! It’s…..scarily common. Increasingly I’m told examples of poor leadership and am asked why this seems so common. I feel the urge to join you in this rebellious cause. It’s not a blame game but there appears to be a culture of poor leadership draped over business, and organisations large and small. I will read your knitwear tale Quentin and then see if we can darn a few holes together. Thanks always for your contribution.

      1. Hi Quentin. In spite of the outcome, do you think the people who were empowered gained from the experience?

  6. The feedback I can give you is that despite that being an area of high unemployment over 90% of the people found work, which was at least as rewarding as our jobs had been from a financial point of view.
    Life can have curious twists. About two years after the factory closed I had just started playing golf and had joined a club within striking distance of Maltby at Worksop. I turned up to play one day and I was put with a 3 ball of visitors to the club. After a couple of holes I discovered that they were all husbands of ladies who had worked at our factory and when they realised who I was were delighted to meet me and said how well their wives were doing in their new jobs.
    A shorter answer is that those who really felt empowered wanted to continue to use all their capabilities.

  7. Businesses attempt to differentiate themselves with products or with service or with price – and yet they tend to be full of similar people doing similar stuff in similar ways. If you want to be different, you’ve got to be different. If everyone uses the same RoI criteria, takes the same view of their market and aims for much the same price point we tend toward creating a lovely set of averages. We no more achieve uniqueness through an instruction to be different than we become motivated through a senior manager saying “be motivated” on a conference call to all his staff.

    Take a risk – do the thing that isn’t certain to succeed, sponsor the project that has no clear RoI, risk failure, choose the path that’s covered with weeds, challenge the conventions of your market and see where you get to. Most times, it will be failure, (those rules that create boring averages are based on experience) but sometimes you will succeed and that success will be glorious!

    1. Helloooooo Terry. Great contribution – loving the be motivated clarion call, har har. As for gloriousness – it’s a wonder to behold. And it is achieved through testing out new approaches, walking weedy paths, and challenging indeed. S’funny how few still manage to grasp your ideas. Your writing has motivated me – hope that’s OK, cos I know you didn’t tell me…

  8. Although it’s been a while since the last comment to this blog entry, I feel tempted. INCONSISTENCY RULES, YES IT DOES INDEED.

    From REAL LIFE experience, I can tell you that any company that sets out to create game changing experiences, increase or revive it’s sustainable competitive advantage through service, will never be able to achieve that goal through ‘old-fashioned’ (industrial paradigm) consistency.
    Daniel Pink wrote in his book “A whole new mind” that we now live in a society of creators & empathizers. In today’s competitive playing field, where customers (B2B and B2C) have an abundance of choice, consistency on the operating level (operational excellence) is just a prerequisite to be a player at all. But the playing starts with what the people in the business are able to CREATE ‘on top of that’ in their interactions with customers (which is where the empathy comes in). Consistency here is much more defined by consistency in the way the people in a business make other people feel, be it customers, but also co-workers. And not just once, but, yep, consistently, every day, time and again.

    It starts with a dream, one that doesn’t instruct people what to feel, think, say and do, but inspires them to bring their whole self to work, not just the part of them that executes tasks, and feel and take ownership for their own contribution to the bigger whole.

    It requires an environment in which people feel acknowledged and respected, as human beings (instead of human doings, managed at a task level). Where, to quote Pink again, people feel ‘freedom to be’ and ‘room for play’.

    It requires significant changes to governance, from managing on quantitiative KPI’s only to adding qualitative KPI’s, and balancing quantitative and qualitative KPI’s.

    It requires managers to change their focus from control, often managing at a task level, to facilitating the environment their team works in. An environment where the sum is larger than its parts. TEAM, as Tom Peters translates the acronym, Together Everyone Achieves More. Where the TEAM is the father of the success, and everybody feels their contribution is equally important.

    But, it also requires consistency between ‘who your are’ (the DNA of a compan), ‘who you say you are’ (in marketing communication etc.) and ‘who ‘people’ say you are’ (employees, customers; social media etc.; in the online & off line world).
    Inconsistency at this level gets found out nowadays rather sooner than later, gets spread faster across larger geographies than any marketing budget will ever be able to buy, chasing away existing and potential customers and creating a company or brand image that is potentially a danger to the company’s existence.

    Well, I’m just getting started…
    I hope my view on ‘inconsistency’ will inspire you!

    Because, as I see it, in a world where products and services are completely commoditized, markets are saturated, and we are overwhelmed with an abundance of choice, inconsistency is what will make companies stand out from the crowd. For better or worse. People have experiences all the time. Markets have become conversations. So, why not make sure when they talk about your brand, it’s positive!

    With grace,

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