How Reliable Are You?

During the days of land line only phones, Ma Bell has a dial tone reliability of 99.999% which meant that all but 5.26 minutes per year you could pick up your phone and be assured that you would have a dial tone.

In his New York Times Technology column,Randall Stross details how reliable technology services can be by pointing out that while they all strive for five-“9s” (like Ma Bell) with the current exception of Google search (which has multiple redundancy and does achieve five-9s )most achieve four-9’s, which means reliability of all but 52 minutes/year, which is pretty good.

Of course, tech companies have multiple back-ups,mirrored sites, and using other computing systems to provide discrete services such as storage back-up. Perhaps most interesting is how Netflix relies on what they call a “Rambo Architecture” that forces part of their system to modify in case there is a failure in another part. For example, if there a failure in the part of their system that provides customized recommendations for viewers,rather than shutting down that whole program, the Netflix system will just show popular titles rather than personalized titles. Netflix even goes so far as to stress their system themselves to see how their disruption protocols operate.

Well, so what does that have to do with us a leaders.

Clearly, we are not going to have an “up time reliability” of anywhere near 99.999%, even if we wanted to achieve that kind of standard But how reliable are you and what makes the difference in your being reliable?

Whether it is your starting and finishing meetings on time, your ability to make good decisions, lead a problem solving process, solicit staff input or make good budget decisions, we all find that we do this better some times and not as well other times. I suspect that for the most part our “reliability percentage” for even great leadership is probably, on average, in the mid 80s. In fact, at an 85% reliability and based on 2080 hours in a work year, being 85% reliable means that you are “on your game” for 1768 hours or 34 hours per week. If you squander 6 hrs per week (in a 40 hour work week—who works that) your “reliability would be less than 85%. And as we all know, there are some days and weeks we do really well and some days and weeks when we’re a bit off.

But more importantly, how can we improve our reliability percentage.

Here’s some ideas…

  • Debrief yourself at the end of your day and ask what you did well and what missed the mark. Don’t dwell on this missed opportunities but note and pay attention to them; What worked well and why? What did we do differently today from yesterday?
  • Like Netflix, stress your system to see how you can improve by. Take on an additional project or try a new approach to leading a staff meeting to see how well it works and how well you work. More tools and techniques to get done what has to get done will help you become more efficient and provide more up time reliability.
  • Practice healthy behaviors like getting enough sleep, taking breaks and eating lunch with colleagues rather than at your desk.
  • Amazingly enough, technology companies turn to their competitors for specialized services such as Amazon Web Services that make over 20 specialized web services available to other companies. Look to others within your organization to provide you with specialized support that you either don’t have the expertise or are not interested in providing. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

We’re just the people who build the darn machines but we’ll never get close to five 9s reliability. Take it with a grain of salt and look for small ways that you can become more reliable to yourself and your organization. Unlike the machines, we’re all about success not perfection.

© Richard Citrin, All Rights Reserved, 2011

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