Thanks to my readers!

I asked for feedback about the style and content of the newsletter in the last issue. Thank you very much, to all those who wrote to me. I think these comments summed up the mood:

‘A bit of thought provoking common sense in the inbox is a refreshing change.’

[The newsletter gives me] ‘some succinct real life examples of what I call the Mass Production Coma and its effect on peoples lives. As you are well aware systems thinking is counter intuitive and it needs examples that will stun people out of their comas…’

So you can rest assured that we carry on as before!

This call may be taped….

‘This call may be taped for quality purposes’ is what you often hear when you call an organisation for service. What this means is inspection, not quality. It is also a peculiar kind of inspection because the ‘product’ has ‘gone’ – you can’t make it better if you find out it was wrong. Managers of these centres will tell you this is vital means for improving staff performance. Not so, the use of inspection is a major cause of demoralisation in call centres. Managers put people into a situation where they are guaranteed to get things wrong, find out that they do so and blame them.

One of the most effective ways to open the debate about the efficacy of what the managers wrongly call ‘quality assurance’ is to put the ‘error’ data in to a capability chart. This usually – every time in my experience – shows how it isn’t changing; the ‘errors’ are stable. It shows the ‘method’, if we
can call it that, does not work.

When you take a systems view of what is going on in these places, you generally find people have been taken off the street, inadequately trained (the training bears little or no relation to customer demands), told to work to procedures (which also bear little relation to customer demands), measured on their ‘production activity’ and so on. In short, they are subject to a series of system conditions that will guarantee they will fail from time to time. Failure is designed in. Then managers inspect the poor
bastards in order to beat them up for getting it wrong. Who is to blame? Ithink you know the answer.

I have written about this sort of dumb behaviour before (newsletters passim ad infinitum) but what drives me to include this now is the discovery that we now have an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) on call monitoring (inspection). How dumb is that? I’m going to encourage my clients to write NVQs that reflect a systems perspective on managing call centre work. If you can’t beat ‘em… make a better alternative.

I look forward to the day when I hear a voice say: ‘This call is being taped to help us understand the nature of customer demands’. Now that would be a sign that the managers understood something about quality.

Heads Roll

A newsletter reader writes:

‘On our local news last night there was a piece on a head teacher who’d just resigned. Why? When interviewed she said that the targets being set year on year which had financial incentives for achievement were a nonsense. She explained that classes vary in their overall ability from year to year, that there will always be variation and always has been. Most teachers realise this. However the target setters do not allow this to be taken into account. She went on to explain that all this was taking time away from ‘educating’ children .’

I wonder how long before the long term consequences start to show? The system discourages both teachers and pupils from valuing learning.


Design against demand

A reader sent me a good example of getting value work right at the front of a flow:

‘I wondered if you’d seen or heard of the BBC2 3-part programme on the Health Service entitled ‘The Service’. The middle programme showed the ‘modernisation team’ at work. Briefly a team from a London hospital visited their counterparts in the Midlands to view a change in the A & E department.

By altering the ways patients were dealt with on arrival (actual asking them what was wrong & treating them!) the Midlands hospital cut waiting time to 10 – 15 minutes. There were still staff who thought they should be elsewhere ‘in case they were needed’, but by and large a well received change.

A brilliant example of the how systems control the way work is done & how we need to focus on the customer.’

Quite. But I bet there is a manager somewhere, worried about the cost. If so it is because he cannot ‘see’ the real costs. Costs are end-to-end, something the accounts don’t help with.


Making it easy for ministers

This summer my daughter wrote a paper whose purpose is to explain to ministers what is wrong with targets and why capability measures would give them what they want in terms of public sector performance and more. If you’d like to read it, e-mail and request a copy of ‘The Problem with Targets’.