Jane is a manager in a software support organisation. She plotted how many calls her people were taking (from customers) and found three quite distinct groups; high, medium and low performers.

Immediately, she saw an opportunity to improve. If she could get everyone to work with the methods of the high rate call handlers, productivity would improve immensely.

Sensibly Jane first took the step of listening to a sample of calls from each group. She knew that attention to productivity (alone) may damage productivity. She also knew that she could not improve performance without first learning about method – what people did on the ‘phone.

What Jane learned surprised her. The group that did the best job (for the customer) was the medium-rate group. The high-rate group were quick but often not good quality – they didn’t always solve the customers’ problems (and this caused call-backs). The low-rate group were taking too long, they had a variety of problems (from poor product knowledge to poor call-handling).

Jane worked with the medium-rate group to understand their method with calls (working with highest frequency calls first). The results were used to train both other groups.

The results, within weeks, showed a tighter distribution of call rate (i.e. less variation between the individuals). Then she worked with the whole group to continuously improve performance, moving the call rate of the whole group up.