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The Three Foundations of Reliability

Jul 21, 2021

Have you ever known a person who managed to build up a reputation for being athletic with shockingly minimal athletic traits? This sometimes happens because that person makes something like a buzzer-beating 3-point shot one time, earning them the title “the basketball guy.” That 3-point shot was definitely important, but it doesn’t make that person athletic. In fact if you go back and look at the game stats, it turns out that in that very same game he had more turn-overs than anybody else and out of thirteen attempts that was the only shot he made. We are sometimes so bamboozled by one exceptional action, we forget about every failure that came before or after that one buzzer-beater. From now on, the fans will only think of him as the star player. It won’t matter how many turnovers he gets in a single game. The crowd will think of them all as separate instances of abnormality, because “this is Jarod after all, and Jarod is an athlete.”

The only people who won’t fall for his reputation of greatness, are Jarod’s teammates. And they will be accused, by the fans, of jealousy for not passing to him. The teammates will be far more likely to pass to Ted, who’s never made a three pointer in his life, but is an excellent ball handler, and consistently makes his layups. In other words, Ted has proven his reliability.

Don’t Mistake a Brilliant Flash for Reliability

We can be taken in quite easily by a flash, but more often than not, that flash is unreliable. It’s like lightning, and you can never be sure when it will strike again. Reliability may be less exciting to the viewer, but in the long run, will be the more strategic and fruitful option. And it’s often the reliable businesses and people that produce the best results for you.

Let’s explore 3 key traits that mark every reliable business and person.

Consistently Accessible

One of the easiest ways to be reliable is by being accessible. This step specifically doesn’t even require any talent at all, it simply requires your presence. Imagine you have a cockroach problem. You’re finding them everywhere; crawling in your sock drawer, dead in your coffee beans, burrowing in your flour. You can’t leave a stick of butter out overnight, because in the morning it will look like a cockroach battle took place there.
Your friend advises you to call Mike the Exterminator. He says two months ago Mike helped him with an extraordinarily bad weevil problem. You take your friend’s advice, and try to contact Mike. He doesn’t pick up the first time you call, but that isn’t too surprising. An hour later, you call again. Still no answer, so this time you leave a message. Two days later, he still hasn’t answered so you call your friend, asking if he had a similar problem.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Took me months to get a hold of him. He doesn’t do very many jobs, and I think he’s only open on Wednesdays.”

Availability Matters

At this point, you won’t care how well he comes recommended. It doesn’t matter if he does an excellent job, because right now, you just need somebody in there doing something. You Google exterminators near me, and find Stan the Bug Guy. Stan has two stars on Google review, but seems to be the only option. You call, and he picks up on the second ring. You set up an appointment for 9 AM the next morning, and by lunchtime there is ne’er a roach to be seen.

At the end of the day, availability will matter more to most people than skill. Obviously, you don’t want to botch the job once you get there, but answering people’s calls is the first step on the journey to raking in long-term customers.

Consistently Capable

Most of the time, when somebody is looking to hire somebody else, it’s so that they can take one more item off their list of “things to worry about.” For instance, Stan the Bug Guy. You had a dire problem, and looped Stan in to help you out. That’s what an expert’s job is: worrying about things, so you don’t have to. He’s adopting the monkeys from your circus. But, there is an occasional person with the title of “expert” who manages to do things exactly opposite. Instead of taking weight off your shoulders, they themselves become an extra vegetable on your veggie platter of causes for distress. They are like that baby sitter who can’t make it twelve minutes without calling to ask about something.

Ideally, a babysitter is supposed to shoulder the responsibility of caring for your kids for one night. You hire them, so that you can get out of the house and leave your kids behind for a couple hours. But suppose, two hours in, you get a call from her. You pick up, and she’s in tears. Apparently she blew up the microwave, then the kids brought the hose into the house and watered all the furniture, somebody dumped a bottle of honey in their hair, one of the kids ran away during a game of hide and seek and nobody can find them, and the rest of the kids locked the babysitter out on the roof. Far from being a help, in magician-like fashion, she has actually produced several more problems out of thin air. You and your spouse call your date short, and return home to rescue the damsel in distress on your rooftop.

Capability is a Big E on the Eye Chart of Reliability

You want to be able to hand over a slice of your worries to them, and have them completely vanish. You don’t want your contractor to become an additional burden. You’re hiring them, so they can shoulder your problems, not so they can hop up on your shoulders, one hand rested atop their Stetson, hollering “giddy-up.”

Capability means they show up to a situation with their own bag of tools, their own game plan, and their own way of doing things. They should know more about your problem than you do. It shouldn’t matter if all you can tell your plumber is “there’s just water everywhere, and I can’t make it stop.” You shouldn’t have to know what’s causing the leak, where it is, or what will make it stop. Capability means that you should be able to hand them the general diagnosis of your problem, and let them go down deep into all the boring pros, and footnotes, and appendices, and bibliographies.

Consistently Thorough

As much as we may hate it when we go in for an oil change and come back with an eight foot list of what’s wrong with our car, deep down we know we should be a little bit grateful. It isn’t pleasant, but for many people it is quite necessary. If all someone knows about their car is that it needs gas and sometimes oil, how on earth will they ever find out that their car battery has corroded into a pancake? They need an expert mechanic to watch for things like that. Would you really rather they keep all your vehicle issues to themselves?

Thoroughness means that they are not just focused on the specific task they were assigned. They are watching for additional issues that could sneak up on the untrained eye. Nobody is ever going to hire an expert to look for problems that they don’t know exist, and yet those problems are still out there. So how does one deal with those sorts of blind spots? You have to rely on the mechanic to go beyond what he was asked to do. That doesn’t mean a full car inspection, but it means that, while changing your oil, he should be observant. And, he should report back to you anything of note. The thorough expert gives us confidence, knowing everything is working at intended.

Don’t Overlook Reliability

Despite its importance, reliability is normally something that we forget to look for in others. Resumes will show the highlights of a person’s career, but not their everyday performance. We tend to look for a person’s best work to determine their ability. But, when looking to hire, pay attention to how consistent they are in their communication, and any references that they may give you. Trust other’s’ evaluations of them more than their own.

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