This is Part Five of a six part series. For the rest of the blogs, click through from the ‘related posts’ below.
Read this paragraph once and tell me how many ‘F’s’ you see.
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
How many did you find? 3? 4? 5? The answer is 6 (I hope no one found more than that!).
Chances are you skipped a couple – most likely the ones in ‘of’. Why did this happen? A problem exists that we can potentially overload with information coming into our already delicate brains. To combat this, we don’t actually take in everything we see. In many cases we rely on pattern recognition to tell us what is probably going to be there anyway. You missed the word ‘of’ a couple of times because you kind of knew it would be there, so you didn’t analyse it.
So we don’t really just see what we see. We constantly predict what we are going to see and then expect to see it.
Physiology of Inconsistency
But when things don’t match with what we expect, then the signal in our brain (most likely the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, or ACC) jumps and send us a frustration alert. This is characterised by an over-production of ‘brain adrenalin’ and a reduction in some of the performance chemicals. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. We see something different, we go into high alert mode. This is how important consistency is for our performance.
As a manager, if I don’t create consistency, I keep my people guessing far too much and they are constantly seeing things (or hearing things, or even perceiving things) that are not at all what they expect. A frustration alert ensues and most likely a drop in performance as well.
Three Modes of Consistency
Consistency, as I’ve seen it from a management point of view, entails three things:
People like to be treated (and see others treated) fairly. They don’t like favouritism and double standards. When we detect unfairness, it actually sends a threat response to our body and brain. This reduces performance dramatically, and can make people choose irrational action. Just think of the stupid things you’ve done ‘just on principle’.
Delivering on Expectations
Managers who don’t deliver on their own commitments keep their people guessing. And not in a good way.
I have written before that if we expect to get something we like, physiologically, we react exactly the same way as if we actually got that thing. If I expect to get a $5000 bonus, my brain chemistry and physiology react exactly the same as if I actually get $5000. Here’s the problem: that reaction includes a spike in our performance chemicals (dopamine, seratonin, oxytocin), BUT…..if I then don’t get the thing that I expected, the levels of these chemicals drop through the floor and performance suffers.
Keeping the goalposts still
Another way that consistency works for us is when we can rely on the goalposts always being where they are meant to be. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t stretch people – of course you should – but when priorities, management fads and objectives change on a regular basis, our perception of consistency (and subsequently our ability to perform) decreases dramatically.
A little bit of surprise?
Ok. So a little bit of novelty is good. That ACC can pick up novelty and treat it with an increase in performance chemicals, especially dopamine, because ‘something different’ can make us pay attention. But the fine line here is your call. What things are just novelty – things to keep people on their toes and engaged – and what things are just flat-out inconsistent? Get that right and you’ll boost your team’s performance.