A first meeting with a chief executive normally starts with the same question, ‘we want to make a change but we simply don’t know where to start, any ideas?’
Let’s think about the problem logically, you’d want to make sure that you get the best return on your actions wouldn’t you? So you’d probably start in your most broken and highest volume areas.
But how do you get the right combination between volume and urgency, I hear you ask. Well I’ve created a 2×2 to help you with the dilemma.
The horizontal axis measures the degree to which a service or business unit is failing and the vertical measures volume of customer transactions going through the area. (see figure 1 below)
The graph then gives four quadrants. Low volume low failure, high volume low failure, high failure low volume and high volume high failure. All you then have to do is to place a symbol that represents the service or process in the appropriate quadrant to prioritise which area needs the greatest attention.
Of-course you could do this intuitively, which I think is often good enough, or you could do it scientifically.
To use the empirical model simply measure the volume at each point of customer transaction for each service (phone, fax, e-mail, walk-in or letter). This will give you your number for the vertical axis.
Next measure the degree of failure demand (using the same scale) for each service. For example if you had four different service areas and area one took ten thousand calls per month turn the percentage failure into a number (50% being 5000 failure calls).
Then simply plot it on your graph. This gives you a simple method of plotting which service goes first.
This graph is known as the Corrigan volume/failure matrix (I’ve just named it), I hope you like it.
As per usual comments and questions always welcomed.
Fabio Capello, the England football manager, was forced to suspend his controversial player ratings website last week amid a storm of criticism from the press. They were upset because there were suggestions that the ill fated scheme might simply be a ruse to make Capello more money, and that it might take his eye off the ball during the upcoming world cup.
The idea behind the site was that Capello, after each game, would give each player ratings which in turn would encourage them to play better; after-all no-one wants to be at the bottom of the league do they?
This kind of scheme is very appealing to managers, ‘make my team members compete with one another and it will bring out the best in them’ they claim. But much to the misguided manager’s surprise, it makes performance worse not better.
I got my first (proper) managerial job at age 26 with Standard Life. I had 10 highly skilled, highly qualified technical consultants in my team. Naturally, I wanted to bring out the best in my team, so I set up a large white board on the wall and listed everyone’s name. Each person was then given a rating for their performance on a weekly basis (think Fabio without the money and media attention).
When I announced the board my team weren’t happy. I reminded them that competition is good for everyone [sic] and that they should stop bleating.
But I was soon proved wrong. Some members of the team simply gave up, stating that they’d never be as good as ‘what’s his face’, and that others would hold business back or bring it forward to make sure that they got to the top that week.
They also stopped co-operating. If a consultant needed a colleague to call in on a client and complete a deal they’d say no and ask ‘why should I help you get to the top of the ratings board?’
The lesson is this: put in place inter-team, department or division competition and you’ll have your teams competing against each other rather than concentrating on doing the right thing for the company and the customer.
So in the end my exercise in extrinsic motivation lasted 3 weeks and then I took the board down (if only Fabio had sought my opinion I could have helped him avoid all the embarrassment). Though for me I look back on it as turning point in my business life because it was one of the events that started me on my systems thinking journey.
I ask you to think now about how you might be trying to motivate your team, remembering that not all competition is good competition.
But I appreciate not everyone agrees with my views. I canvassed opinion on this issue and found a quote from a senior manager who says ‘I think Capello is a genius, internal competition is a good thing, everyone in my organisation believes that he should keep that ratings website in place.’ Still some might say that the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association is just a wee bit biased.
As usual if you have questions or comments just let me know.
I’m going against the current here by telling you that you’d be hard pushed to find any good benchmarking examples. Sure you can always find evidence of how fat cat directors can justify their trip to Jamaica with a couple of business cards from folks they met at the bar, but this does not cut it as a good benchmarking example.
Here’s the problem: benchmarking is in most cases a complete waste of time and money. Let me explain with a short story.
Denise, Matt and I were up at Aviemore for a few days over the holidays (Daniel decided he’s just too cool now and stayed at home). A friend, Mike, and his family joined us.
Though there was no snow (yes the irony is not lost on me) but on the first night the temperature went down to minus 12 degrees and Mike’s car wouldn’t start in the morning.
Guess what he did to fix it? He called out a mechanic. Guess what the mechanic did, looked under the bonnet, identified the problem and fixed it. But the question is "what would the mechanic have done if he was doing a bench marking study?"
First he would have guessed at the problem, then he would have opened the bonnet of my car had a look, chatted to me about why the car was working well and what I did when it didn’t start in the morning, then he would have written a report handed it to Mike and left. A great example of benchmarking don’t you think?
When your service is failing, isn’t that what you’re told to do by those in the know? Spend our time looking at others, who according to their KPIs, are better than you and then hope for divine inspiration.
Not convinced I’m right? Here’s an example. Imagine you are a director of a utility company and you have a division of your business that makes money from the installation of pay as you go meters. But the division is failing and as a result losing money.
You get permission to have a look at other businesses that use the pay as you go model. What might you find?
You might get told by one company you benchmark that success in the pay as you go market lies in choosing the right demographics of the client group, another might show you their technology, and yet another might explain how card distribution is the key.
You head back to office with your PowerPoint presentation to make three recommendations: better demographics, better technology, better distribution.
Sorry wrong answer, do not pass go and do not collect a promotion and a new car. Here’s why, because if you’d spent the time studying your system you’d have seen that the pay as you go meters have a standing charge of 99p per week. This generates an income of around six million per annum.
But when a home is unoccupied the standing charge continues to accrue, when the new tenant takes up residence and puts their card in the meter the card is immediately debited by the accumulated charge.
The disgruntled customer then calls in (failure demand) and requests a call out to have the meter re-set. The cost for this is sixteen million pounds per year.
You see by spending time studying your own system, not only have you saved the cost of flight to the Caribbean you have just found a way of eliminating £9,000,000 in annual operating expense.
Call me hasty if you like but I think the girl that solved this problem deserves a bit of a bonus and heck, why don’t we throw in a new car just for good measure. I still reckon we’re up by quite a few million. And easy money at that, it only took three days to identify the solution.
I had the privilege of working with this amazing leader, she knows who she is (don’t you Rachel?).
So here’s the lesson, whether you’re going to visit other companies in New York or New Cummnock, don’t, it’s a waste of your time and your money.
As an old friend of mine always says, "If your car breaks down, you won’t learn anything by looking under my bonnet."
If you beg to differ in your opinion and have any good benchmarking examples please feel free to post a comment and let me know.
PS: You can download the MP3 version of this blog entry>> HERE. (Right click on the link, click on ‘save target as’ and click ‘save’)
PSS: Our Process Mapping & Analysis workshop is now available for 2010 >> Find out more HERE
PSSS: If you’ve missed listening to the great interview on Radio 4 with the late Russell Ackoff - ‘In Business - Doing it wrong’, you can still listen to it HERE
If you are in local authority planning, grants distribution, information technology, pharmaceutical, roads resurfacing or any other project environment, stop what you are doing and put the kettle on because the information contained in this blog could be the most important you will ever get your hands on.
At the latter part of last year I was asked to speak to the great and the good in Scottish local authority planning. The purpose was to give my thoughts on how to change planning for the better. The advice was simple and unequivocal ‘get knowledge about how the system works before you make a change.’
I guess I must have been having an off-day because for whatever reason many went off and ignored this advice and missed a big trick in planning. I’ve studied planning departments at the tail end of the lean gurus as well; they also failed to see the answer.
So stay tuned as I’m about to reveal all. And if you are one of the few that will actually go away and do something as a result of reading this blog you will see results very fast.
Here’s what happened in planning. The boffins decided that the problem was a lack of clean information coming into planning departments. This resulted in plans being sent back to the client or agent for rework. Fair enough, if you studied planning as a system you would indeed find that around 20% of applications have missing information.
The result of this revelation was two actions, the first was to create a detailed specification of how the plans should be drawn up with a list of required information and the second was for all proposals to be subject to a pre-application meeting between the client and/or agent and the planner. Both of these rules have now been embedded in the system.
But nothing much seems to have changed. The authorities I’ve seen are still struggling to meet their performance indicators and the planners are drowning in a sea of work, even more so now that they have to have pre-application meetings. So why didn’t the solution work?
The answer was simply incomplete, in-fact it only dealt with one small aspect of the overall problem, akin to trying to lose a ton of weight by replacing your mid morning bacon butties with an apple, sure it will help a little, but you’re not going to see a significant change.
Let me lay out the real problem (actually there are two). The first is that in the planning departments I’ve seen there are simply too many open cases; the planners are flooded with work. This happens as a result of wanting to tell a client that their case has been seen. But it causes a big problem, multi-tasking.
What happens is that in an effort to get more done everything takes longer and the lack of focus causes errors. Think of it like this, imagine you have 10 tasks to do and you try to do a little of everything. The result is that you are constantly picking up and putting down the tasks. Every time you pick something up you have to take a moment just to remember where you were before you can start again. Consequently everything takes longer and is more likely to include mistakes.
The second issue exacerbates the first. Misguided ministers and managers believe that we need service standards to improve our performance. But if they knew how to look they would see that it’s making us worse not better.
In planning there is a 56 day service standard to give a decision on an application. And the clock doesn’t start ticking until the application is error free. Some planners have told me that, because they have so much work to do and there is pressure to hit the arbitrary 56 day standard, applications ping-pong back and forth until they are fit to enter the process.
And when the application is in the process the 56 day service standard causes student syndrome. Cases get opened and then put down again until nearer the deadline, just like a difficult essay. Planners flip-flop between handling easy cases to hit that standard and trying to break the backlog of the more complex ones. Sometimes an application goes over the 56 days and it gets left, the rationale being that service standard is breached anyway so it doesn’t matter if the case takes 56 days or 256 days, either way it’s late.
So what can be done to fix the problems?
Create a list of all planning applications in date order, oldest to earliest.
Create two schedules, the first for pre-applications and the second for determinations.
Schedule the work for the technical clerks and the planners.
Limit the release of work into the flow. Only allow planners and tech clerks to work on only a few cases at a time.
Keep the service standard away from the planner; better still remove it all together.
Create a new rule, work on the case until it’s finished, do it as fast as you can but do it right.
Have a system so that the manager’s job is to help the planner if they get blocked.
If a case is not in the flow then it’s not open. This will give you visibility over the exact size of your backlog (which will soon disappear).
But before I’ve even posted this blog, I can hear the objections.
‘Our customers will be furious that we haven’t looked at their case’- not as angry as when you tell them that you’ve looked at it umpteen times and it’s still not complete.
‘I can handle lots of cases at one time’- not if you’re a human you can’t.
‘Our planners need the service standard to motivate them’- get real!
The problems I’ve discussed here are not restricted to planning. They happen in the distribution of grants, information technology, pharmaceutical, roads resurfacing or any other project environment.
To gauge if you are in a project environment have a look at the touch time of the work, if it is high in relation to the throughput time then it’s likely the above rules will apply to you.
For more information on this subject, check out our free videocast made by Daniel Rodgers and Dougal Mather of Vanguard Scotland.
And finally I think there is a bigger lesson here than just planning, it’s the one I urged the government to take. “Before you make a change get knowledge”. If you do you will see the whole problem and create a complete solution.
Q:In Scotland in the addictions field we are all facing a huge shift in emphasis from a treatment modality (i.e. Methadone prescriptions) to Recovery (i.e. focussing on the holistic person - improving quality of life). This is significant in terms of service redesign and a system overhaul.
I just wondered what kind of support you could offer - we want to change how we deliver services and the biggest problem we have is that our current system is under so much pressure we have no room to make that turning space. How do you create turning space when the front end of your system is under so much pressure - the mid end is at capacity and there is little throughput at the backend. Existing systems are convoluted and confusing for clients to negotiate and we are facing targets from the Scottish Government that have no bearing on whether or not the service we provide is of quality and what people want.
Stuart’s A: The question needs to be answered in two parts. The first is how to create capacity and the second is how do you start to improve the wider system around addiction? Let me try to deal with each separately.
Creating capacity in the current system
Without being glib, to create capacity requires knowledge of how the current system works today. And in your system you have to know two things. The first is the type and frequency of demand into the system, i.e. who wants help, how often and what help do they want. When you get this data you might find that there are some people who would be better served elsewhere, or some who are having to make multiple demands on the system to get what they need, hence destroying capacity.
The second piece of information you need to get is your capability to serve those that need your help. I.e. how often do they get what they want and how easy does the system make it for you to deliver what they need?
Let me give you an example. A few years ago we did some work in cancer care. They had similar problems to the ones you describe. As you can imagine it was tough but very satisfying work. We worked with the medical staff and hospital administrators to teach them how to study their system. They soon found that the nature of demand was predictable in terms of frequency.
But what they also found was that there were a percentage of the clients referred from doctors that should not have been referred and they made plans to work with doctors who needed additional help in the pre-diagnosis stage. Additionally there were some patients that had been given the all the clear many years before and therefore had no higher likely hood of contracting cancer than someone who had no history of cancer. There were obvious opportunities to reduce the demand into the system.
Whilst I can’t and wouldn’t say that the same would be true of your system, gathering data on the type and frequency of demand would be my first port of call, it’s likely to provide useful data if not about how to reduce demand, then to prove the true levels of funding and staff you might need in your system.
Additionally when we studied the flow of a patient through the cancer diagnosis system, it was obvious that the process was cumbersome, slow and filled with red tape. And when systems are slow to respond to what matters to customers, they (the customer) tend to place more demand on the system to find out what’s happening.
Hence it’s likely that you would get some benefit studying what’s involved in your service provision. You may find that there is unnecessary bureaucracy and policies that would be better removed for those afflicted with the addiction and would reduce the cost of running the service.
Having created capacity by doing this I would suggest that it’s incumbent on you to make the wider system better and actually do things to help remove the addiction (yes a statement of the obvious I know). But the question is by what method. I will deal with this in the second part of my answer.
Optimising the larger system and improving care throughout the system
As in my first response the answer to actually improving the whole system lies in understanding the points of failure in the system. It may be that those points give the clues to what happens when a methadone dependant citizen reaches out for help and is let down, thus further exacerbating their addiction.
To provide insight would require, in my opinion, a slightly different approach. Rather than working forward, you work back. Take 20-30 people who are in the system currently and work back though their typical journeys. You may have to involve many different agencies: benefits, housing, the criminal justice system, accident and emergency, the local GP practice, and of course your own system. As you study a typical journey you will no-doubt find predictable points at which help might have been effective and welcomed, or points at which help was wanted but there was no method for its provision.
Though this might prove a difficult task I’m sure it would be a worthy one. My experience in multi-agency work with the criminal justice system and local authorities is that with the right leadership much can be changed.
Q:We all agree that a poorly designed and managed system/process is counterproductive to satisfy customer’s needs effectively and efficiently. However, the process of changing the system for the better via a change in thinking, eventually comes down to delivering a process in a particular way (the need to accommodate variation not withstanding). The improved way of handling certain types of customer demand would therefore need to be specified and adhered to ensure predictable outcomes - is this not standardisation? What other name would you label the practices and behaviour of the redesigned system/process?
Stuart’s A: Standardisation can be put in place when the nature of demand has been established. Standard processes can be designed against standard demands. For example let’s say that you knew that 65% of you customers called in to ask for the balance of their business account, a standard process can be established to provide the answer to that question. However the problem occurs when standard processes policies and procedures are put in place with when no account has been taken of the nature of demand.
For example in the UK my bank (The Bank of Scotland) decided to standardise how they managed personal and business accounts. If you were an operator in the call centre you would now not be allowed to deal with both. So as a customer I used to be able to have a single operator transfer money from my business account and then pay bills with it from my personal account. The bank’s new standardised approach to dealing with business and personal customers differently means I now have to call twice.
Had the bank studied the nature of demand they would have made the system able to absorb demand, and would have had a process for handing a customer who had a business and personal account (assuming I was not the only one).
Hence the way to standardise is first to understand the nature of customer demand and make sure that the system can handle all the demands placed on it. The most important issue is not what standard processes are required but what is the nature of customer demand and how can we make sure that our operators are enabled to handle everything.
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.
I’ve just finished my guide to running a high performance call centre and I was toying with the idea of including a section on competency frameworks. It occurred to me however that (in my experience) competency frameworks should not really be used in the same sentence as high performance.
I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘back up there pal’ how dare you have a go at competency frameworks, it makes complete common sense for an organisation to define a set of competencies and measure their staff against them accordingly.
Well…in theory that’s not a bad idea but there’s a flaw, three in fact. The first is that the competencies chosen don’t really have much impact on how an organisation performs; the second is that some are not competencies, they’re outcomes; and the third is that some of the competencies are not actually under the control of those who have to use them.
You probably don’t agree but at least hear me out before you start to send the hate mail, I promise I will give a balanced argument.
The CIPD website www.cipd.co.uk. (see there’s their address, that’s pretty nice of me) states that in their 2007 learning and development survey the most chosen competencies were as follows:
customer service skills
The best way to help explain how these don’t help much is through a case study. Let’s say that you are the head of service of Revenues and Benefits in a local authority. You are inundated with complaints, there is a large backlog of work, there is low morale, and costs are rising due to the need for more staff and overtime.
How might you tackle this conundrum? Well you could send your people on a communications skills course (obviously you would attend too) and they could explain to the folks who are eligible for benefits what they need to do to claim. But wait, there’s a ticket system in place, the staff only have a certain amount of time to spend with each customer and their job only allows them to take the forms and pass them to the back office. They’re depressed. They’ve got these brilliant skills but they make no difference in the current system.
How about this, you use your communication skills to better set expectations for the customers and maybe motivate the staff. Except that nothing changes, because motivation is a feature of work design, I know because a much respected chap called Frederick Hertzberg said so.
So communications was a failure, bummer! What about managing the people? Do one to ones, tell them to work harder and smarter, put up a few posters. Oh no, that doesn’t work either, it’s that old ‘behaviour is a feature of the system’, chestnut again.
But wait, here’s an idea, close the office for the day, take the front and back office team out to the woods for the day, play paintball, maybe build a log cabin, sleep in it for the night, make some tree bark soup and dandelion beer. The only problem is that when you re-open the office the next day nothing has changed about the work design, soon the friendships crafted over the open fire flicker and die because the work passed from the front office to the back office isn’t clean.
But there are always customer service skills to fall back on. Aren’t there? Erm, not really, being polite and friendly doesn’t actually solve the customer’s problem. Sure, your people should be nice, but like putting racing stripes on your car, they look attractive but won’t actually improve performance.
Then there’s the problem of outcomes that masquerade as competencies. The CIPD say that ‘results orientation’ is a competency. I’m not so sure. I think that’s something that happens as a result of spending your time understanding and improving work design. It’s a bit like innovation; you get it by studying the needs of the market and understanding your operational capability. But innovation is not behaviour.
Finally there’s problem solving. I like this competency. It’s solid, like a big rock in a sea of uncertainties. But it does assume certain things; for example that you can tell the difference between symptoms and causes, and that you know how to get to the root cause of a problem. Take revenues and benefits again: absences, backlogs, dirty inputs, poor front and back office relations and customer complaints are all symptoms of poor thinking and work design.
Many a misinformed manager (or dare I say it, consultancy firm) would therefore put in place a customer complaints system, absence management, targets, workflow software, a backlog team, a weekly team meeting between the front and the back. And yes they are problem solving but they’re working on the wrong problems.
But what’s the alternative? First get knowledge of how the system works from the customer’s perspective. If you learn how to look, you’ll see that management’s insistence on functional work design, productivity targets, service standards and decision making removed from the work are the root causes of the system. Fix those and all your problems go away. For example in Swale Borough Council, Mark Radford achieved the impossible. He took a failing revenues and benefits service from the bottom of the bottom quartile to the top quartile within a year. Specifically he reduced the time to settle a claim by 145 days (all claims now settled in 5-6 days), with cash savings of £442,572, two posts were freed up, and there were significant improvements in morale. (more…)
The global economy is in a mess, why? Simple, managers were more interested in making money than innovating and solving customer problems; had they done so profits (not losses) would be the obvious outcome. In the public sector cost reduction is the by-product of such actions. Which begs another question, how do you innovate? The answer: by being in the work.
Managers say “We can’t innovate, do you know how much it costs?”
In some cases they may be right but not all innovations cost money. So let’s start by defining innovation. When you think of innovation typically what comes to mind? The iPod, The Sinclair C5, The Segway, or maybe the new airbus. And associated with these projects is typically a massive spend for all too frequently - a poor return on investment.
But what about the other type of innovation the type that starts by with identifying a clear customer or staff member with a problem and fixes it.
In my work I never cease to be amazed at the how many ideas are just waiting to be released into the consciousness of an organisation. What is also interesting is that the ideas are always born out of getting closer to the work, not further away, i.e. you won’t get flashes of inspiration by spending a few days in a hotel or visiting another organisation to see how they do things.
And some of these ideas are truly remarkable. Our country really needs remarkable right now. I experienced remarkable last week at the DVLA, and if they can do it…
On Tuesday I had to renew my road tax. I usually spend an hour trying to find all the forms and then stand in the queue at the post office. This time I decided to have a go at doing it on line. I say have a go because I expected it to be rubbish. But it was brilliant. I loved it. I told about twenty people, and now I’m telling another one thousand.
What if some of the people I told renew their tax on line, because it was so easy, also buy a private registration? The DVLA have saved, and generated money at the same time. They’ve freed activity that was using mundane brain power that could now be used in further innovation. What if the DVLA did motor insurance, or sold cars on-line. Why not?
The real secret to what the cool people at the DVLA did was they started from the customer and worked back, not the other way round, I hope the person that did this got promoted, if you know them let me know?
Over the years we’ve been proud to have nudged our clients to innovate. I say nudged because what we did was to show them how to find the ideas, as opposed to a cook book of recipies. But what’s really important is that they now have the knowledge about how to innovate and can replicate their actions over and over again. And once infected by the bug they tend to just keep doing it. I saw a great sign on a van yesterday, it said:
“Knowledge combined with passion is an unbeatable force”
Here’s a few notable nudges:
Edinburgh City Council - First time fix on potholes
Lothian and Borders Police (lost and found) - Lost items in clear plastic bags so quicker and easier to find
West Lothian Criminal Justice system - Give police access to fiscal reporting to reports easier to submit
Haldane UK - Numbering boxes containing handrails so that fitters know which ones to open first
VELUX - Training staff to deal with 80% of all demand and having experts on hand so that other 20% could be handled whilst customer on the phone
Haldane UK - Changing the staples on the boxes so that clients didn’t cut their hands
Dundee City Council - One assessment for elderly in need of care
Edinburgh Council advice services - Benefit checks over the phone
West Lothian Council Housing voids - inspector meets new tenant to discuss what needs done to the house.
Next question is how do you innovate? Here’s the best five ways that I know how:
1. Study demand (listen, look, read e-mails, read letters). Look for customer requests to which you currently say no. Find out what it would take to say yes.
a. VELUX did this and now sell windows direct.
2. Watch people doing their work:
a. When I got a puncture repaired last week I wondered why no-one asked to give me a quote for my car insurance when I was in the depot. Instead they called 3 days later during dinner.
3. Be a demand, follow it through to the end look for friction:
a. In planning departments the main problem is that the planners have to constantly multi-task so everything takes longer. If management followed the flow they would see.
4. Be a customer:
a. The food at David Lloyd health club is terrible, maybe if Mr Lloyd ate his own spaghetti bolognese he would change the food.
5. Be a front line person for a day, week, month:
a. If the senior management of the HBOS spent a day being a corporate mortgage adviser they would see how stupid it is not to give them a direct phone number so that clients can call them direct rather than going through the call centre.
So you’re an innovator the next question is how do you become remarkable? I will answer that next week. And if you want the above list in a handy check-list that you can pin on your wall you can get it free here.
PS If you haven’t downloaded the first 4 steps of my presentations system click here now
PPS. If you think a friend or colleague may like this blog please pass it on.
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 .