ICL takes systems thinking around the world

Steve Parry (ICL) tells me the systems approach to help desk management in ICL is now spread to Australia, Holland and Japan.

The results they have been having?

Typically help desks reduce demand by about 25%, increase revenue because customers are buying additional services, customer satisfaction is up by 30%, call centre attrition has dropped by 24% and is now around 6% across the business.

Staff like it, they have their brains engaged instead of turned off by the traditional regime. Customers like it and they ask for more. Why isn’t this normal? Why do most help desks behave as thought their purpose is not to help? Because most help desks and service centres are run on the wrong principles. To give you a flavour: most help desks that are out-sourced run on a ‘cost per call’ basis. What does systems thinking teach us about the best way to reduce costs and improve service? Get rid of failure demand – you just can’t so that in a ‘cost per call’ world.

Barry Wrighton has loads of experience with help desks, he met Steve Parry when they transformed Digital’s desk-top services in Ireland many years ago. If you run a help desk or service centre and you want to know more about how the systems approach can help you improve service and reduce costs, you can e-mail Barry at: barry.wrighton@orange.net or me at: john@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Trust – we need more of it

A few newsletter readers alerted me to the Reith lecture by Onora O’Neill. She spoke about targets and management. Her starting-place was the importance of trust in working towards effective systems and organisations. She said that close regulation, the setting of ever tighter targets and the requirement for professional transparency actually works against the original intent of improving the situation. She is right.

Using arbitrary measures damages trust. Should we do sessions on trust? I don’t think so. We should use measures that will help us understand and improve the work – the result will be an improvement in trust. Paradoxical. Someone should tell Tony Blair, but I doubt he would listen.

You can read the lecture at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2002/

Will Egan produce change in the construction sector?

They say that Sir John Egan was disturbed by the inefficiency of UK construction plc when he arrived at the British Airports Authority. Apparently he studied Nissan and saw things he thought were readily transferable to the construction sector.

To stimulate the construction sector to improve we now have the Egan principles. Because government can coerce the Social Landlords, they are obliged to be Egan compliant by 2003. I am deeply troubled. The affair reminds me of the time plane loads of business people went to Japan (in the 1970s), they copied things they could see – quality teams and suggestion schemes, but it was what they couldn’t ‘see’ that mattered.

Egan says we need: Committed leadership, focus on the customer, integrated projects and teams, a quality-driven agenda and commitment to people. Who would argue? The question is: By what method? These notions and some of the specifics he noticed in Nissan have now become specifications. But his principles contain nothing on method.

Would you imagine things like ‘single-source supply’ and low inventory are pre-requisites to change or consequences of change? In case you have any doubt they are the latter. The pre-requisite is to understand and manage the organisation as a system. Does the Egan guidance talk about this? I think you know the answer.

As they are obliged to do so, Social Landlords are now planning their way to Egan compliance. There is abundant evidence of what Deming called ‘copying without knowledge’. To fulfil the government’s need for control the specification of the Egan principles has been turned into a checklist that is no more than a collection of opinions. Social Landlords are to be subjected to inspection by people who know little more than what the many (92) criteria say.

It is not too late. You can be ‘Egan compliant’ and use the principles and practices of systems thinking. The only hurdle you are likely to have is getting your inspector to understand what you are doing. But hey, Tony Blair said: ‘What matters is what works’.

Once again, someone should tell Tony that coercing landlords to be Egan compliant is going to result in worse rather than better performance.

Standards obviate knowledge

The Egan principles might be thought of as a ‘macro’ standard. In the last month I have been in two organisations where ‘micro’ standards – specifications for how work must be done – are preventing learning and improvement. In both cases, the standards were set by people who were far removed from the work. When those who do the work raise issues about the standards’ suitability, those in the far away places behave as though they are reluctant to change anything, even when compliance means worse service and higher costs. In both cases I discovered that the originators of the standards are long gone.

It is as Taiichi Ohno taught, you must not separate design from process (as, by the way, ISO 9000 still does). When you do, you damage knowledge. It is as though both of these cases have a knowledge prevention system – keep the specification and control of standards away from where we might learn about their value in use.

Specifying Loyalty

This is the latest marketing scam from the standards business.

The British Standards Institution has published a specification for Organisational Loyalty. Called PAS 46 – Improving Loyalty, it details the requirements for maximising customer, employee and investor loyalty through the use of effective feedback strategies.

How would they know?

Someone (other than me!) should tell these people that it is standards that undermine performance, we don’t need more we need less. But then BSI wouldn’ t make any money….