Sitting in the barber chair this weekend in my hometown of Baltimore, I was chatting with the woman who has cut my hair since I was in high school – she also happens to be the co-owner of the hair salon. Over the years, it has been very interesting to see how she has developed her business. First, setting up shop in a nice part of town, and then working to attract new customers by networking with families that attended local high schools. Every time I visit her I ask how business is going and she usually tells me that things are going well – she and her business partner have been very successful. However this time she gave me a little bit of a different answer – she said everything was “consistent.” Not good, not bad – just consistent.

I’ve been thinking for a while on how to interpret her answer. Is consistent good or bad? In some ways consistency is very good – some people even study the art of consistency (some call it “Six Sigma”). Consistency leads to predictable results, no surprises, and minimized risk of adverse events.

In other ways consistency is bad – consistency lacks excitement and novelty. Consistency leads to organizational churn, low motivation and employee burn out.

In the end, I think consistency (like many things) is a double edged sword – it can be both good and bad. Given its inherent tradeoffs, it’s very important that consistency is managed. Someone needs to make sure the benefits of consistency are reaped and the drawbacks are avoided.

What are your thoughts on consistency?

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  • Eh, I’m not sure what your points are in this post. You make the point that consistency can be positive or negative (as can anything else), and that consistency needs to be managed (as should everything else).

    Even ignoring the criticism that consistency may be an OUTCOME of management, and not something to manage, I’m not sure what your thoughts on consistency actually are.

    I’m also not sure that consistency “leads to organizational churn, low motivation, and employee burnout.” What about Google, which has had consistently good growth for a number of years? Or Microsoft, which has had a consistent monopoly over the operating systems market? Or McKinsey, which has consistently provided high quality business consulting for years? Harvard, which has consistently been at the top of the college rankings?

    etc. etc.

    I’d suggest that you’re actually describing unchanging results – where the result from the prior year is repeated.

  • Apt criticism. I struggled on this one for a while. The intent of this post was to start to dig into some managerial issues with having people perform the same tasks everyday.

    For instance, when selecting someone to do task X, you know that the person who will be the best at task X is the person who has done it the most times, but is that person always the right person to pick? If you always pick people who know how to do task X then three things will happen. 1) No one new will learn how to do task X, 2) Innovation usually requires a fresh pair of eyes, so if you continually pick experienced people then you will miss out on ideas for process improvements 3) the one person you always pick for task X will get very tired of doing task X.

    This is the issue I was struggling with – still trying to figure out how I feel about it. When should you pick an experienced person, and when should you pick a new person? To what degree should you let consistency wear in on one person before moving them to a new responsibility?