The housing regulator is not happy; the service being provided by local authorities and social landlords is not good! For example in 2009 the Scottish Housing Regulator said that just under half of the landlords they had inspected were poor or only just adequate. I’m also fairly certain these problems are not unique to the Scottish property sector.
In my experience it’s not unusual for a repair to take up to 200 days, voids to lie empty for months, hundreds of names to be on the allocations lists, and rent arrears to be in the millions.
What’s being done to tackle these issues and solve the problems? A number of things actually, but they’re the same things that were done last year and the year before that; you know the old cliché we keep on doing the same things but expect a different result.
What about you, are you ready for a change?
If you are then over the next few weeks I’m going to let you have a series of reports on the problems in housing and how to fix it.
The first in the series has been written by Caroline Rodgers. Caroline has worked with me for the past nine years and knows housing as well as any hotshot guru. You can download the PDF from here.
(A story of cold sausages, a string quartet and climate change protestors)
I was in London last week with some friends. On Friday morning we were sitting in a restaurant having breakfast. Then my blackberry went ballistic; message after message telling me that the link to the free guide on presenting data wasn’t working. And to make matters worse the team in the office didn’t have the PDF of the guide, so they couldn’t help.
Big problem, you see we use a web hosting company in the US and their system was down. So the first thing I did was to drop my fork and knife and ping a note back to everyone to let them know we were trying to resolve the situation.
Eventually I tracked down one of the team (who was on holiday) who had a copy of the guide (for who didn’t manage to pick it up click here) and we got it sent again as an attachment. And I as I chewed my way through my, now freezing cold, bacon and eggs I pondered the messages.
Trust is fleeting. It doesn’t really matter how much good you think you’ve done it can all go pear shaped in a moment.
Reliability is king. I continually hear people moaning that things are tough in the current climate. So you have to make the most of every opportunity. This is the same in the public sector, if you don’t keep your promises you get hit with failure demand, the cost to me was a cold breakfast, what would it be for you? So make sure every process delivers.
Knowledge will save the day. Stuff happens, things go wrong, I get that. But the key is to know the predictable nature of the failure. Is it a one off or is it predictable? The problem is that most managers don’t know, as a result they react to special causes as if they are every day occurrences and make a storm in a team into a hurricane. So you need measures that help you understand and improve performance, do you have that?
I was now firmly in the bad books with everyone. Denise, for spending two hours on my phone (I hope you appreciate what I do for you), Sean for bugging him on his holiday and you for a missing link. But there was light at the end of the tunnel and another message.
We left Covent Garden to the sound of music, not the Julie Andrews musical, but a string quartet. We stood and watched for a while, they were brilliant. Then they upped the ante, they started dancing with their violins! The crowd went wild and started throwing money at them.
And yes there’s a message here, if you want to do well, even during tough times, you need more than just reliability…
Be unique. This can come in the form of a product, a service, or how about a guarantee. Most people can’t offer a guarantee because they are too scared that they will mess up. Though that problem soon disappears when you have knowledge about how the work works.
And if you’re in the public sector and you’re reading this and wondering how it applies? My thoughts are that what would make you unique would be the delivery of consistently high service at low cost, do you agree?
Having seen the quartet I now had a warm feeling, everything was all right with the world. Or was the warm feeling something else. Was it climate change? The protestors in London that day certainly believe it’s the latter. And don’t get me wrong I’m all for a good rant and saving the planet, but…
We wanted to cross the road and the protestors were shouting at everyone as they crossed the line; time for another lesson. In some sectors your message might not be to everyone’s taste, so don’t make it worse by being difficult to deal with (one pedestrian got so infuriated he even burst a protestor’s balloon; that could have gone nasty). Here’s the lesson:
When you want people to comply with your message or process, don’t infuriate them by being difficult.
We ended our weekend by a visit to a Japanese restaurant chain in terminal 5 called Wagamama, it was brilliant. And it had a number of amazing characteristics:
They told us when what was going to happen and when we would get our food. Then they delivered on their promises.
They had a simple method to keep track of who was getting what and who still had to get their meals. They wrote the number of the dish on the menu. That way if a customer didn’t get the right food, the waiter knew before the customer.
They were unique. The food was unusual but very tasty.
It was easy and flawless.
Isn’t it funny how things go full circle?
P.S. This week I have an e-book of some questions I’ve answered over the past few months. The questions range from how to improve support for drug users, how systems thinking works in businesses that need to grow and get new clients, whether Kanban is appropriate to service organisations, and a few more. You can get the short book by clicking here (and yes I’m praying that it works).
First I want to say thanks for all the emails I get every week giving me suggestions and ideas for the blog. I read them all. Also to those of you have written with questions I hope that you have found my answers useful. Thanks again for taking the time to read and interact.
Now on with the blog, this week’s was inspired by a story from Scott Finnie. Scott wrote to tell me about an article he read in a magazine.
It’s just over a year since I attended the process mapping workshop with Azmi and I’m still very early in the journey to enlightenment. Systems Thinking has however brought a new ‘waste aware’ lens to my life and given weight and depth to my customer-centric intuition. So for that I’m very grateful.
Anyway, to the main point of the message. I receive various industry journals one of which (”Call Centre Focus”) has an article this month entitled “Dying to Help”. It chronicles the very sad case of France Telecom, where 24 members of staff have committed suicide in 18 months. The latest victim - a 51-year old contact centre worker - caused the company to halt its re-organisation, suspend the programme’s mastermin, and scrap staff performance indicators in its call centres.
As a response, that sounds like a potentially decent start by the company (albeit late - why the previous 23 deaths didn’t cause alarm isn’t covered in the article).
That however, is the only modicum of good news. The rest of the article is given over to tips and suggestions for agents to deal with stress in the contact centre. Let me list them for you:
1. Learn to manage your time more effectively
2. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
3. Know your limitations
4. Find out what causes you stress
5. Avoid unnecessary conflict
6. Accept the things you can’t change
7. Take time out to relax & recharge your batteries
8. Find time to meet friends
9. Try to see things differently, develop a positive thinking style
10. Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as coping mechanisms
In other words, an entire article focused on the 5% (the people) and no mention of the 95% (the system). There’s a passing hint that maybe helping employees deal with stress might be treating the symptom rather than the cause: “communicate context and purpose to employees”, “…as a manager you are responsible for peoples’ workload and their feelings of satisfaction…”
But there’s no mention - and I suspect no understanding - of the need to work on the system. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s nevertheless quite depressing when a supposed industry best practice magazine prints such a misinformed message.”
My reaction, maybe like yours, was to want to write a piece on the poor quality of this advice and how it’s in rife our organisations.But then I took a deep breath and thought ‘no, be helpful, what should the contact centre have done?’
1. Study the nature of demand and response. I suspect that much of the problem is that there is a high volume of failure demand calls (calls caused by a failure of the system to do the right thing for the customer).
There’s a simple logic here, if you give people crappy work to do their life will be crappy. And having customers moan complain and shout at you will certainly ruin your day. Prolong that and you will soon become tired, angry and depressed.
And to make matters worse…what if in addition to being shouted at you are unable to help? This is a common issue in service organisations. The system is designed (not deliberately) so that the agent can’t do what matters to the customer.
And then just to tip the agent over the edge they will get a 1:1 from their manager asking why they’d not hit their call targets. Here’s an example, I needed to transfer money from my business bank account to my personal account last week. My passkey had broken. Despite the fact that the bank knows more personal stuff about me than my wife does, the agent couldn’t help.
She told me that I should have had my accounts linked, I responded by telling her that I’d completed 4 forms and that accounts hadn’t been changed. I ended the call and we were both disgruntled; me because I didn’t get what I wanted, her because she was disempowered.
2. Act on the system . Having understood the main types of failure as well as transactions where the agent was unable to add value guess what the manager should do? You got it; fix it, it’s not difficult really.
The problem is that fixing the system requires an admission from the manager that their thinking about the design and management of the work is the problem. And that it’s likely that this thinking is ubiquitous in the organisation.
So change requires that managers get knowledge about how the work works (or doesn’t) and then learn to give up their ideas about managing top down, using service standards, targets and incentives within a functional design.
Look this is really important. If you want change you can get it, fast. And it’s easy, get knowledge about the work, use the knowledge to make change and then find out if what you have changed has made things better. Then repeat.
Though I do have to say that I think an industry sector magazine could give better advice than ‘find time to meet friends, and avoid alcohol’, that’s weak, they should have said ‘drink more!’
So let’s finish with some good news of people we helped to do it the right way. The roads department of the City of Edinburgh Council won the Guardian Public Sector Award for Frontline Engagement on Tuesday night; you can read their story here.
Also Alison Angus who worked as part of the team who made the change tells how they did it in the interview I did with her last night. Click here and listen or download for listening on your MP3 player.
Consider this a blog and a seminar all in one, a bloginar!
But first let me get something off my chest. I reckon Simon Cowell got better press than me last week and all because I had a go at competency frameworks. Well I’m afraid I’m going to give you an opportunity to re-assess your view of HR’s approach to change.
Also in this week’s blog you’re going to learn a critical skill especially if you want to learn how to optimise your organisation (that’s better service at much lower cost). I’m going to teach you how to listen to the nature of demand. Once you know how to do this you’ll find that you hear and see things differently within the business.
You see the problem is that managers don’t spend enough time where the work is done, and when they do they see the wrong things. Here’s an example, two managers spend a few hours at the front desk of their service: revenues and benefits.
After a while they both come back quite depressed. The first says “I can’t believe what I just saw. A young single mother turned up, she needed help, we didn’t see the person, we just saw a badly completed application form. We were going to send her away. I think it’s normal, we need to take action, now.”
The second manager comes back and says “I can’t believe what I just saw…that place really needs a coat of paint.” The manager now knows better and asked me to tell the story as a means of helping others to learn how to see and fix broken work.
That’s a true story. The point is a simple one. If you don’t know what you are looking for you won’t know if it’s broken or how to take action. I want to try to help.
Below there is a link. It’s a recording of a call I was sent a few years ago, the name of the organisation has been bleeped out, so I don’t know where it’s from but that’s irrelevant.
The caller is a lady whose elderly and ill brother has been let down by his boiler repair service. He has no heating. She’s called a number of times but had no luck. I want you to listen carefully to the response from the agent. Some of you will say he’s just being unhelpful, I’d say he was unable to help. And if he gets lots of calls like this it’s no wonder he’s fed up. Note there’s been some swearing on the call but that’s also been bleeped, still you might want to turn the volume down.
What did you hear? An unhelpful adviser? I see it differently. I heard a good person in a bad system. To change his and the customer’s life the manager need to change the system. This requires a first step, which is to establish the nature of demand. Here’s how:
1.Write down exactly what the caller said i.e. “When are you coming for fix my brother’s boiler?”
2.Categorise it value or failure. In this case it’s clearly failure. If you’d written down ‘call regarding a boiler’ you wouldn’t know if it was value or failure. You have to write what is actually said.
3.Now rate the response from the organisation 1=No value, 3=value created, 5=Fantastic. Note: we are not rating the caller, they’re just stuck in a bad system, this is not about them!
4.Finally make a note of what you could do to improve this system with your new way of listening to the world.
5.Now listen to the call again with the new framework. Any difference?
6.One more thing, go do the same in your own organisation.
Look, I’m not over egging the pudding here; if you get good at this you can completely transform your organisation’s service, reputation and economics. You just need to know how to look and listen.
And one final point, a return to competencies, all the training in the world would not have helped in this case; sure the poor guy could have taken a note of the woman’s number and made a call. But with a better system he could have made the appointment and given her a firm commitment to a time for an emergency visit and he’d have been a hero. Also he could have noted if the call was predictable and engaged his manager in permanently removing the problem. Just think about the capacity that could be created by working this way?
Finally back to competencies. What would you do here? Competency training or fix the system?
Please note: If you have a comment please do not reply directly to me, please post it on the web, and remember if you swear I can’t post it.
Last Friday I was running a one day strategy session for a Director of Human Resources and he asked me a question. “How can I tell if I’m a good HR director?” I answered by telling him two stories.
About a year ago a client, who is also a good friend, called me to say “you will never believe what has just happened! My human resource manager has stormed into my office and told me that she is sick of Stuart Corrigan” (I’ve heard this from the female population a few times in my life, so it was no real surprise). “After a few questions she said that she used to feel like she was adding value by sorting those that were perpetually off sick, resolving disputes between departments, and counselling those that were fed up. She went on to say that her job has nigh on disappeared since we started doing systems thinking, because people are happier at their work.”
After my friend told me the story I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But it did help me to get a clear view on what an HR manager should not be doing.
Contrast this story from another client Helen Fitzpatrick, a senior HR manager at the financial services company Royal London. Helen and her colleague Julie Cropper, spend their time working with managers to help them optimise their divisions.
By optimise I mean that they show them how they can maximise productivity, revolutionise service, minimise operating expense and improve revenue and return on investment. The question of course is by what method?
They start with a simple premise; you can’t maximise what you are currently doing until you first understand exactly how the business works now, warts and all, including the assumptions under which it operates.
They, like most who understand this, know that if you start from a position of knowledge about what’s happening today and why it’s happening, then being able to fix what is wrong is actually very easy.
This is a universal principle, I don’t care whether you run one internet site or you are the chief executive of a global company, unless you know exactly how the business works (processes, policies, job role design, measures) and you can articulate it, you will never ever optimise your organisation.
Hence the perspective taken by Helen and Julie is outside-in; work with leaders to get data on how the business works from the customer’s perspective and then use that knowledge to make it better, that’s it. Oh, this also applies to functions like marketing, sales and finance.
Here’s an example; a few years ago we were working with a finance company that handles claims. There were long delays in the system, it took up to 942 days to close a claim, most claims were re-worked by a factor or 3-4 before being closed, customers were leaving, brokers had stopped recommending the company, and the cost of settling claims were increasing.
After having studied the system the problem was obvious (well, I told you it would be), the staff were measured on how fast they got a claim logged on to the system. So information about a claim was passed to claims handlers dirty. They then spent most of their time getting additional information before being able to settle the claim.
With knowledge about how the system worked the solution was obvious; by changing the measures and getting the expertise at the right point in the system, the time to settle a claim was slashed to two weeks. And the increase in capacity was used to work with corporate clients to inform them about the most predictable causes of crashes. Now that’s real added value. And it came about through knowledge of the current system.
Which leads us back to our question, how can you tell if you’re a good HR manager? (you should replace HR with your own job title). The answer lies in whether you can describe how your organisation looks and works from the customer’s point of view. Well can you?
I accept that for some managers this seems too difficult, it means getting out of their office and getting their hands dirty. But hey, what’s the alternative, filling in another spreadsheet on who was off sick this week?
Dear Mr Brown, would you spend a day with me to see what I see?
If you did you would see housing associations failing because they are scared to challenge the regulator. They use service standards that cause repairs to take longer than they should. They use public money to take residents to court because they haven’t paid their rent, even though much of the failing is because of the housing benefits system.
If you did you would see local authority leaders who spend no time at the front line of failing services like adult elderly care, and child services. As a result they have little information on what to do to improve the service, but are quick to blame hard working front line staff when something goes wrong.
If you did you would see ministers who cite special causes when there is a failure of public services, rather than getting to the root cause of the problem and asking if it is predictable.
If you did you would surely stop the waste of spending millions on pointless CRM systems in the public sector.
If you did spend a day with me in the work, you would see private sector employees beleaguered by incentive schemes, targets and outsourcing; come to think of it you’d see the same in the public sector.
If you did spend some time in the work you would see that our lack of competitiveness is not because the workers don’t care but because the leaders don’t know how.
If you did you would see a criminal justice system that doesn’t work because of functionalised work design, a lack of cross functional measures, and no common purpose.
If you did you would see that our call centres don’t work because managers are obsessed with measuring number of calls per operator, time to answer, wrap up time and cost per call. You’d notice that these same managers think that service can be improved by outsourcing to India without realising that often fifty percent of their calls are failure demand.
If you did you would see that our manufacturing organisations don’t offer reliable delivery times or great product quality because they still care too much about batch size and efficiency rather than fulfilling customer demand.
If you did you would see managers wasting their time doing 1:1s, quarterly reviews, and annual appraisals.
If you did you would see why chartermark and investors in people don’t work.
If you did you would see that our banking sector will continue to make the same mistakes because the leaders haven’t realised that their failing is in not understanding the dysfunctional consequences of bonuses and incentives.
And most importantly if you did, and asked your ministers to do the same, you would have your eyes opened about how to fix the whole thing. You see I don’t doubt for one minute your intent only your methods.
I once had a manager with fabulous patter
But he got no respect because the work didn’t matter
He knew everyone’s names, and boy could he flatter
But he made no difference because the work didn’t matter
He suggested we have targets, standards and incentives
But we started to cheat and be lazy, no longer inventive
And when our attitude faltered and brains became numb
We got called to his office for another one to one
So he got into some fads, BPR and prince two
He even bought software that put the work into queues
But the new new thing made not one bit of change
Except that the staff started to get ill and feel a bit strange
His last gasp attempt was some offsite group hugging
So we all got involved and though no-one came last, one team was struggling
But come Monday morning when we got back to work
Nothing had changed and upstream and downstream we still shouted, burke!
In the end he gave up and left in a very fast motion
Cos head office thought he was brilliant and gave him a promotion
But then our luck changed and we got a new leader
And after years of command and control we really did need her
So she soon got to work studying demand, capability and flow
It looked like she’d been there for years she was so in the know
Things soon started to improve it was a quick as a flash
She used systems thinking, why don’t you give it a bash!
This blog is dedicated to my wife, Denise, who is without doubt the best leader I have ever met. Ask any of the teams she has led over the years and they will testify to this fact. Denise managed her teams on a very simple set of principles
On the first day she would call a team meeting and ask the team who they were trying to serve and what assumptions they held about how best to run the team (Thinking)
She then asked them to list all the things that got in the way of them doing their job, and then list all the things that they needed, but didn’t have, to do their job. (Understand and improve the system)
Finally having studied and designed the system she would work on job design (method).
So here is the idea:
Sit down with your team and ask them to list ten things that get in the way of them doing their job. Score each of the ten items on a scale of 1-7 (1: doesn’t get in the way much-7: If this happens one more time I will scream).
Then do a second list, this time all the things that they need, but don’t have, to do their job. This time score each of the ten items 1: This would be nice to have-7: I really needed this twelve months ago.
Rank each list and then get to work removing and improving; because one day a former member of staff might write a poem about you, and wouldn’t you rather have inspired than just hired and fired.
As ever, I would love to hear your comments on this blog. Click here now and share your thoughts .
A client told me last week that his group chief executive turned up and questioned his measures in the contact centre. The client knew that what mattered to his customer was to have calls handled one stop, so that is what he measured. He still captured data on time to answer, abandon rate, and time per call but this was kept away from front line staff and used for resource planning purposes. The group chief exec said it was silly to try to handle calls one stop as better service would cost more money, and anyway customers didn’t care how many people they spoke to, just so long as they got their call answered.
The problem is that because the group chief exec says it, then it must be true, mustn’t it? Probably not. In my experience the more senior the executive the less they really know about what matters to customers, and what’s going on in the work. In other words they make assumptions, assumptions that can be very damaging to the business.
In this case the client had data, he showed the group chief exec the demand analysis and let him listen to some calls. It was clear that customers who got passed around the business either got angry or hung up.
We had also done some analysis on cost. We found that initially learning how to handle more variety took a bit longer, but overall call volume dropped because we stopped people having to call back. And within a short while the time taken to handle the call was no longer than it was in the old system, and though the customer was getting what they wanted more often.
Assumptions without data are dangerous. Here are a list of poor assumptions that we frequently make in both the private and public sector, much to our cost.
Measuring activity is a good thing.
People have control over their behaviour at work.
It’s better to measure unit cost rather than measure end to end
Giving people a due date in projects will make them deliver on time
Putting low cost low skilled staff at the front of a system will reduce costs
Off shoring work will mean you make more money
The public sector is different from the private sector
Management should be remote from the work
Government KPIs provide the right information
Most managers don’t challenge their current assumptions because they have little data with which to make informed decisions; it’s not their fault, it’s the system. I promise you that if you take one of the assumptions I have listed above, pertinent to your situation, and go and get some data you will learn something astonishing about your system. It really all depends on whether you are brave enough to challenge your current assumptions. Are you?
As usual let me know
Following last week’s blog on leadership. A number of people have written to me to ask the question, how we best get leaders to change their perspective on how to lead?
First a quick review on what we want leaders to do differently. The answer is their thinking and behavior. Thinking differently means that leaders shift their perspective from managing their organisation as a top down functional hierarchy, typically with decision making removed from the work. They realize that measures related to budgets and targets are futile. And there is a shift from the belief that their primary role is to manage and motivate people.
Instead they start to view their organisation as a system, viewed outside in (from the customers perspective) with decision making in the work. Measurement is related to customer purpose and capability. And the primary leadership role changes to acting on the system.
Take for example a housing association. When a customer calls in to report a repair it is normal to speak to someone who lacks expertise in diagnosis (functional thinking), who is measured on the number of calls they take (targets and service standards). But the leader doesn’t see the poor customer experience because they are remote from the work (top down, decision making separate from the work). The customer is not given a date for a repair because the scheduling is done in a different please to the diagnosis (more functional design). And when the tradesman turns up it is not uncommon for the job to incorrectly diagnosed; but as he works with schedule of rates codes he can’t make a decision to change the specification and finalise the repair. The customer loses and costs rise, but management are in the dark as to why.
The problem is that the leader doesn’t see it, because they get data that suggests everything is fine. The call targets were hit, the visit was done within the time specified by the regulator and job re-inspected to comply with the rules around schedule of rates.
If the leader knew how to look they would see failure demand: customers calling to re-book a failed repair, and requests for specific times for visits. The leader would also notice poor diagnosis leading to repeat visits; and a failure to handle calls one stop due to the functional nature of the design. Lack of decision making, poor morale and cheating would also be evident, a feature of the design of the system. And if they were really clever they would see that in their managers were spending all their time trying to get people to hit their targets and service standards rather than understand and improve the system.
Which begs the question how would you get the leader and the mangers to change?
There are three options, coercion, education and normative change.
Coercion means do this or else. And sometimes, when a business is failing or there is a crisis, it is a legitimate method of change. But long term it only gets compliance, and if those being asked to change don’t really understand why or buy in, the new behavior will at best be passive. My eldest son, Daniel, cleans his room when I promise a threat, but an inspection would soon confirm his heart wasn’t in it.
Education is also a poor method of change. Those who change as a result of education have already accepted that there is a problem and therefore a need to change. It is also likely that they have tried a number of different methods with little success and are eager for a solution. I could spend hours in a room explaining to my son, Daniel, how best to clean his room but if he didn’t see the need for a change, my dazzling presentation skills would be wasted.
Tactically, when using education as a means of change you should focus on the problem not the solution, and then show examples of other similar systems and the impact of their failures. For example I could show Daniel examples of messy rooms and how other kids of a similar age failed to impress friends and member of the opposite sex, and how that made them an outcast. This might work as long as Daniel made the connection and cared. Otherwise education is a poor method of change.
The final and best method change is normative change; which means that I come to the conclusion for myself, that I have a problem. In studies of alcohol and drug addiction (Prochaska, Norcross and Declemente 1994), the researchers found that a change in behavior was most likely to occur when the addicts recognized themselves that they needed to change.
In organisations helping managers to realize that they have a need to change requires that they go out into the work and see for themselves the unintended consequences of their policies, measures and processes. Many years ago I did some work for a sports centre. Management had recognized that in the evenings there was a high demand for five-a-side football. So in order to give everyone a good chance of getting a booking they instituted a policy.
A) Football pitches can only be booked seven days in advance from 6pm.
Management were proud of this policy because they said it meant everyone now had the same chance of getting a booking, or so they thought.
We went to the sports centre to study the nature of demand. From 4.30pm a queue started at the front counter. The queue was made up mostly of school children, they were in-fact the children of the fathers who played football, and were keeping their place in the queue.
From around 5.30pm the phone would start ringing, these were the people trying to secure the bookings for their next game of football; and because it wasn’t yet 6pm management put in place another policy that from 5.30 till 6pm the phone would not be answered (even though some of these calls were to book other facilities in the centre).
But the worst piece of data we uncovered was that the people, who were supposedly fighting for a pitch, were not actually in competition. Those that played football played at the same time every week, every month, every quarter and had done so for years.
So management’s assumption that they had made things fair for everyone was wrong on two counts.
1. There was no need to make the system fairer because no-one was competing for the same slot.
2. If a new person moved into the area put together a team and tried to get a slot they would fail, because the current system was so well known by the locals. And as far as I know there have been no new five-a-side football teams that have moved to the town.
Finally to make matters worse, the very people who paid their money week after week - the loyal customers - were being aggravated by the silly booking policy.
Management were astonished by what was happening, and quickly realized that they were to blame. Just showing them the data without the emotional experience of seeing the children queuing and the ringing phone being ignored by the staff would not, in my opinion, have had the same effect.
So what are the lessons for helping managers to change?
1. When starting with education focus on the problem and showing systems similar so management can make the intellectual connection to their system.
2. Get knowledge about how the organisation functions as a system, draw a system picture (see Understanding your Organisation as a System)
3. Take a manager to study the work (download our FREE process mapping guide) and let them see for themselves what is really happing in the work.
4. Ask questions (like why is that happening) until they recognize the link between their policy and the performance of the work.
5. Get their agreement to do check on their system
6. Identify levers for change and improve the system.
Does this mean all leaders will change? Probably not in all cases, but why don’t you give it a go and let me know what happens.
Changing for good. 1994 Prochaska, Jo. Norcross, JC. Diclemente, CC. Avon Books New York
If you are a housing association the regulator is not your customer.
If you are the fiscal you are not the customer of the police.
Local authorities do not exist to serve councillors.
If you are the private arm of a public private partnership the council is not your customer.
You are not the customer of a down or (upstream) department
There are no internal customers, in-fact the concept of internal customers is a stupid one.
Head office is not your customer.
As long as you spend time serving the wrong customer your costs will rise proportionately.
If you are confused about who you are trying to serve ask this question “on the day we started this system who was it designed to benefit?”, answering this question and ensuring that every policy, process and measure is aligned to helping the customer get what they want is the only way to improve service and cut costs.
The aim of my blog has always been to share ideas and knowledge on Systems Thinking and to encourage people to provide their views and experiences on how to deliver great service.
I am delighted that there has been a healthy debate on some of the blogs and as I am on holiday I thought I’d go the whole hog and give a subscriber the opportunity to take control of the entire blog. So thank you to Simon Cockburn of Scottish Life who has provided us with his views.
Don’t blame the French…..
A couple of weekends ago I visited a sushi restaurant with my wife and son and a couple of friends. We’ve been there a few times recently as our 12 month old seems to enjoy watching the belt go around the restaurant and watch the chefs in action, its quick service so we can usually be in and out in 30 mins and the food is always pretty decent.
Our hot food order was taken by the waiter who was very efficient and pleasant and the only slight downside was that the restaurant was unusually quiet even for a lunch time. After around 15 minutes another friend arrived (late as usual) so we told him to order his food from the same waiter to help get things moving. Whilst he was ordering, one of my friends leant over and asked the Chef if our food was on the way as given how quiet the restaurant was, thought it would have been with us by now….the chef then hurriedly went through what appeared to be a list of orders already dealt with and after a few minutes of searching found the order sat very lonely at the side of the kitchen area. The chef then read through the order with my friend to confirm she had the right one before she started cooking, whilst a bit on the abrupt side you probably don’t want to flag this just yet with the chef about to skewer your teriyaki.
Whilst all this was going on I decided to watch the new order my (perennially late arriving) friend had placed to see where it went. Sure enough it went to the same place as the Chef had picked up the last one and a rather quiet “hot food” was muttered across the kitchen by the waiter. I looked at the Chef who was deep in thought and a bit miffed in all of this so didn’t hear the instruction from her quietly spoken colleague. I leant over and mentioned to the chef that there was another hot food order was waiting behind her just so this wasn’t overlooked.
Whilst all this was going on the manager wandered past as he could see was a bit of a kerfuffle and asked if everything with our meal was okay. We mentioned there had been a 20 minute wait for food, it had just started being cooked and that the chef seemed a bit on the spiky side…he then went into the kitchen to take control of it all and then came back to explain what had happened.
He said that the fact we ordered separately had complicated things (!!) but when one of my friends mentioned the slightly spiky sushi chef (is that a “she sells sea shells on the sea shore” for the 21st Century..?) he crouched down to avoid being overheard and explained “I’m really sorry about all of this - your waiter is a trainee and I agree the chef is a bit abrupt, sorry she’s French..!”
Slightly surprised at his response I explained that rather than what he had suggested, this had all started with simply how the waiters pass hot food requests to the chefs, the success of the process being reliant on having a loud voice.
He looked at me slightly bemused (why did this weirdo watch an order being placed and where it went…) apologised again and hopefully didn’t just have ‘a word’ with both the new guy and the chef that he’d promised us he would. I think after you have delved into systems thinking you can’t help but see the world slightly differently - even sushi.
One element of Systems thinking I learnt very early on was the shift away from focussing on people to a focus on the process and despite a few lapses its one of the most important message to take I think. So remember folks, when something goes wrong in your system, don’t just blame the French….