In the summary issue of Dann’s Principles of Management (August 2012) I defined consistency as: Whenever possible, only take a course of action if you can honestly answer that you would make the same decision for any other employee presenting the same set of circumstances. Consistency means you are not playing favorites. In a nutshell: it’s that integrity thing again.

Why this is important

Most of the employees working for you have experienced both good and bad leaders. Good leaders make decisions when needed and are known to make the right decision even under tough circumstances that are potentially treacherous for the leader personally. They can be relied upon to be consistent with their professed values and priorities. Employees perceive leaders that are indecisive and bend in the wind as potentially dangerous. In some cases, they have been betrayed by those leaders and paid a personal price. So, they are very sensitive to this issue.

One of the major responsibilities of a chief executive is to make the environment inside the organization safe for employees to learn, grow and expand. If the organization is seen as a politically treacherous environment, under assault from regulators, lawyers, politicians, board of directors, etc., then, at some point, the chief executive must take a stand in order for the employees to feel safe and protected. However, more often than not, that stand will be controversial, go against the political grain and/or be a personal risk for the CEO. For example, it may mean standing up against the board or a board member, or it may mean not taking a financially expedient course because it violates a value or promise.

Chief executives that have demonstrated the courage to do what is right, i.e., to stand on principle, make employees feel safe and also motivate them to help that CEO succeed.

Applying the principle to supervisory decisions

One area that employees watch closely in evaluating their supervisor and CEO is equality in the treatment of employees. The perception that the leader has and plays favorites can be the death knell for a leader’s effort to gain and maintain support from the troops. This plays out primarily in three areas: enforcement of policies, employee evaluation/compensation and promotions.

There are also broader decisions where this plays out. Ford Motor Co, at the time of the Pinto, was professing that “Quality was Job 1”, but leadership cancelled added protection for the gas tank on the Pinto as a cost cutting measure (saved about $64 as I recall). The result was a series of highly publicized fiery crashes that ultimately resulted in the Pinto being taken off the market. But, the underlying impact was, no doubt, cynicism among the employees about the company’s professed commitment to quality and safety. Such cynicism is a killer for morale and productivity.

fork in the road arrows

In the short-term, a decision that is inconsistent with what you have professed may bring you fame and fortune, but, in the long-run, the price can be dear indeed. Just ask the former executives and board members from Enron.

The key question

If you are faced with a decision and your gut is churning, it is likely that the decision is potentially inconsistent with what you have stated you believe in. When that occurs, ask yourself this question before making your decision: Would I make the same decision for any other employee presenting the same set of circumstances?

If “yes”, you are good to go. If “no”, then ask “Do the unusual circumstances warrant an exception to the rule?” Make that call while understanding that your followers may not see it the same way, and you may lose support from them as a result.

What’s been your experience?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences with consistency. Drop me an e-mail to start the conversation.

If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 1 – 6 and 8 – 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below:

Introduction to Dann’s Principles of Management

Principle 1: There is Another Side to Every Issue

Principle 2: What is, IS

Principle 3: There are Politics in Everything, Everybody

Principle 4: Performance Set By Example

Principle 5: The Leader Truly Leads

Principle 6: Being Honest

Principle 8: Two Way Dialogue

Principle 9: Everyone will Find Fairness Somehow