This year, while helping with a political campaign, my partner (Camille) and I learned about a term called “flake rate.” In political circles, the flake rate is the percentage of people who promise to make calls (or do door-to-door canvassing) for a candidate, yet fail to actually show up to do the work. Political campaigns use the flake rate as “a measure of complacency of the candidate’s supporters.”
We learned that it’s not unusual for as many as 50% of political campaign volunteers not to show up for their volunteer shifts! Of course, this plays havoc with campaign staff. They go to a lot of effort to plan and prepare packets of phone numbers and canvassing contact information. Can you imagine their disappointment when those well-developed plans are not executed due to a high flake rate?
High Flake Rate = Being a Flake
The common term that’s used for a person who has a high flake rate is simply “flake.” The online Urban Dictionary defines “flake” as “an unreliable person; someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through.” In reality, a flake may usually be late, frequently cancel important meetings at the last minute, and often not act on his or her commitments.
I gave myself 30 seconds to see how many people I could come up with whom I consider to be moderate-level or high-level flakes. I easily came up with four people and could have come up with more if I had more time. Interestingly, all of the four people are friends or family members!
I encourage you to try this experiment yourself: How many names of folks who are flakes did you come up with in 30 seconds? Do you know of more people whom you would consider to have a high flake rate?
What Is the Impact of a High Flake Rate?
The reasons for not showing up may be varied, yet the impact is often the same.
The person with flaky behavior usually feels guilty, ashamed, and embarrassed. Unfortunately, this sometimes creates other self-defeating behaviors, such as avoiding the person or people who are disappointed. Even worse, failing to show up or get stuff done usually erodes one’s self-esteem and self-confidence; it also tends to destroy trust in relationships.
Many popular songs describe situations in which someone agrees to meet a person at a particular time or place, yet fails to show up. For example, Grammy Award songwriter Jesse Harris wrote these lines for a song made famous by singer Nora Jones:
Something has to make you run. I don’t know why I didn’t come. I feel as empty as a drum. I don’t know why I didn’t come. – Jesse Harris
Why Are Some People Flaky?
The reasons people fail to do what they promise to do go well beyond “complacency.”
Here are just a few of the reasons that people have high flake rates:
- Having poor time-management skills.
- Thinking they can do more than they can actually do in a given time period.
- Failing to leave enough time for the most important tasks.
- Having less stamina and energy than they realize.
- Feeling inadequate, guilty, and/or afraid.
- Thinking they can’t do what they signed up for.
- Having poor self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Feeling guilty about saying no and being afraid of conflict – so they just say yes.
- Having social anxiety, ADHD, or poor executive functioning.
- Not respecting your time.
- Secretly feeling that their time is more important than your time.
Are Some People Permanent Flakes?
Several years ago, we conducted 360 Feedback interviews for a unit manager whose team was fed up with him because he was a chronic no-show at meetings. This behavior is totally out of character for most high-level leaders that we coach.
We asked the unit manager why he missed a lot of meetings. He explained that so many co-workers asked him to meetings that he just accepted all invitations. When he had agreed to attend several meetings that occurred at the same time, he would decide at the last minute which one he would attend. He didn’t even bother to see if the meetings were happening at the same time when he accepted the invitations!
As it turned out, the unit manager had personal problems that he was allowing to consume his time and energy while at work. He was charming, engaging, articulate, intelligent, and an expert in his field of work. But he didn’t manage his time or respect his team members’ time. And he showed no insight about his behaviors or commitment to change them. His high flake rate eventually cost him his job.
We lost track of the unit manager. But his behaviors led us to believe that he might continue to be a flake in future jobs.
What Motivates People to Show Up?
The flake rate for volunteers at political campaigns and non-profit organizations is often quite high – but not always! For example, the Richmond (Virginia) Marathon has a very low flake rate! How does that happen?
Established in 1978 by local newspapers, the Richmond Sports Backers has produced the Richmond Marathon for over 25 years ago. Each year the Sports Backers produce dozens of sporting events. They have a talented staff and an amazing ability to recruit enthusiastic volunteers. They attract thousands of runners and hundreds of volunteers year after year.
Despite holding three races on the same day (Marathon, Half Marathon and 8 Kilometer), there never seems to be a shortage of volunteers or race participants. An amazingly low flake rate makes everything look seamless, regardless of the weather conditions. People sign up and show up.
As a competitive runner, I look forward to this event because I know that it will go smoothly, year after year. I suspect that the low flake rate for volunteers at the Richmond Marathon involves several factors:
- Having Realistic Expectations – Most volunteers only commit to certain times over a compressed 3-day period.
- Expressing Gratitude – Runners and the Sports Backer staff constantly thank volunteers and publicly acknowledge that they could not succeed without them!
- Being Enthusiastic – The Marathon atmosphere is fun and upbeat, regardless of the weather.
Does Fear as a Motivator Reduce Flake Rate?
Modern-day political campaigns try to lower their flake rates by using fear. They say or write things like, “We are behind in the polls. We have to make more calls or knock on more doors. We can’t let our opponent win. It would be a disaster!”
To some extent, fear is a motivator to kick into action. Yet, it isn’t the best motivator. And it certainly doesn’t work well or produce long-lasting results for most of our clients. We like to build hope that anyone can change any behavior they want to change by making good choices.
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. – Nelson Mandela
Stated another way, we stress goals (what someone is running to) versus fears (what they are running from). Goals are forward-looking, and they create positive energy and focus.
Can You Lower Your Flake Rate?
If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t have a high flake rate. And folks probably do not consider you to be a flake. But you might be a little more flaky than you want to be. If so, working with a coach is a great way to become more accountable and reliable – and to achieve other goals, as well.
We developed a short document to help potential clients assess their own “readiness for coaching.” We can usually help people reduce their flake rate. Yet, it’s important that they be willing to change some of their thought patterns and habits. Coaching doesn’t work well “When Intentions are Not Promises.”
Here are some questions that might help you determine if you need help in changing your mindset and behaviors:
- Are there particular times or situations in which your flake rate is high?
- Do you find yourself over-committed and not making good on promises to others?
- Are you struggling with taking too much time to do certain tasks?
- Do you have ADHD and need more structure to manage the way you use your time?
If you would like to reduce your flake rate, become more accountable, and reach your goals, we hope you will contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to see if coaching is right for you. We look forward to hearing from you!