How to Learn Dependability

Dependability is your ability to show up and deliver work on time.

Dependability is relatively straightforward to learn provided the two sides of being dependable are tackled independently:

  1. Showing up on time
  2. Delivering work on time

Showing up on time to work, meetings, or appointments is a function of:

  • Recognizing that you have a problem showing up on time.
  • Having an interest in solving your problem of chronically being late.

The first question to ask yourself is: Do you actually care if you are late or not:

  • If the answer is “no,” then being dependable is firmly out of your reach
  • If the answer is “yes,” then you have a chance of becoming a more dependable person. 

Being occasionally late to work, a meeting or an appointment is understandable, but being chronically late is not. There is no excuse for always being late other than your lack of desire to be on time. Ultimately, it is a question of your level of personal accountability for being the source of the problem, rather than blaming external factors such as traffic, missing appointment reminders, the weather, or whatever other excuses you might come up with. If you are chronically late, you know exactly why, and if you desire to fix it, you will find the causes and address them. 

Delivering work on time is an entirely different skillset having very little to do with personal accountability: delivering work on time is a function of expectation management

Being dependable when it comes to work delivery only requires that you set the date when you will be done, and then are finished on or before that date. This characteristic is independent of a deadline, as everyone understands that deadlines often can be unreasonable. Your goal is not to commit to hitting an unreasonable deadline but instead to commit to a date that you know you absolutely know you can meet. 

For example, if you have a Friday deadline, but you know you need until the following Tuesday, set the expectation that you will be done on Wednesday to give you an extra day of contingency. People will complain initially that you won’t hit the Friday deadline, but they will greatly appreciate and respect you for meeting your Wednesday commitment. Over time, people will stop imposing deadlines on you, and instead, trust when you say you will be done. This is because people would far rather have someone dependable in meeting their commitments than someone who always says then can meet deadlines but never does.

If you are not sure how much contingency you typically need, you can start with a rough figure like +30%, and then track how much contingency you actually need. If you are usually over your deadlines by 50%, add at least +60% contingency time to your estimate so that you can actually deliver on time and have a little extra time to deal with unknown issues. 

All of us are miserable at coming up with accurate estimates because there is no such thing as an accurate estimate by definition. There is, however, a commitment to someone that they have an expectation of being met. Rather than attempt to be a flawless estimator – an impossible goal – make reasonable commitments that you know you can meet. Over time, by playing with the amount of contingency you actually need and making and meeting commitments accordingly, your reputation for being dependable will grow.

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