Industry regardless, business leaders start looking for the silver bullet and changing matrixes for measuring performance every year. Except, too often, the goals are not SMART, and the KPI’s are disconnected from the goals, making the goals nothing more than good suggestions. Worse, too many business leaders forget to make goals SMART, and the goals fail faster than New Year’s Resolutions. It cannot be understated; KPI’s need to be made SMART and go hand-in-hand with SMART goals to build performers.
Key performance indicators (KPI’s) are actions that build behaviors and are reflected in data collected. SMART KPI’s are specific, measurable, applicable, relevant, and task-oriented. For call centers, a SMART KPI is designed with a specific and singular action that can be reliably measured, appropriately articulated as achievable, is relevant to the agent and relevant to the call centers strategic goals, and is based upon a task.
A typical KPI in call centers is After-Call Handling (ACH); this is time measured between hanging up with one customer and beginning a new call. The tasks completed might include leaving call notes, faxing/emailing documents, completing paperwork for the customer, etc. How do we create ACH as a SMART KPI; we follow the pattern below:
- Specific – ACH ranges between 0 and 120 seconds.
- Measurable – ACH can be anywhere in the 0-120 second range, faster being better.
- Achievable – Do your processes for servicing customer requests support front-line agents quickly completing tasks?
- Relevant – Does measuring ACH make sense as an integral part of the call center’s operations?
- Task-Oriented – Do agents know how to manage their after-call handling to meet the maximum ACH?
What do I see too often in call centers where KPIs are concerned; dumb KPIs masquerading as SMART KPIs and leaving destruction and chaos as a consequence. Why? Because the KPI might be based upon a task, but it has not been reviewed as achievable, actionable, and relevant to the organization in more than a decade. In discussing KPIs with a call center leadership team, a leader stated, quite proudly, “Our KPIs don’t need to be revised; they have served us well since 2000 when the company launched.” For the record, if any process, procedure, or business action is not written down, with a single person responsible and revised at a maximum of every 18-months, your processes and procedures ARE THE PROBLEMS in your business!
After evaluating processes at a local hospital recently, some of their processes, standard work that protects patients from getting sick while in hospital, weren’t written down, and those written down were drafted in the 1980s! Nurses running around claiming they were doing their job according to hospital policy could not find written standards for work; genetic knowledge was passed along and changed by the current leader in charge. When asked why the processes were not written down, lawyers and the risk of litigation were the excuses.
In a warehouse, desperately struggling with improving performance to protect bottom-line health, claimed any changes to their standards of work had to be approved by HR. HR uses the 70% rule; if 70% of the workers cannot meet the standard, the standard does not move or reduces until 70% of the workforce meets the standard. What has the 70% rule bred; standards so low the company is losing money, hemorrhaging good and talented people for the dregs of society who have zero incentive to improve how they perform their jobs. Raising the following issue with KPI’s, they should be designed to stretch the employee.
Relevant KPI’s protect against measuring behaviors and punishing production. KPI’s must change actions, and actions are a direct result of attitudes and behaviors shifting. Thus, a SMART KPI is a growing experience where meeting the KPIs inspires individual growth and development. However, a KPI is NOT a stick to browbeat, cajole, or destroy workers. KPI’s are always a training device. The discussion of KPI-centered goals should be a two-directional conversation between a manager and an employee where the manager shows the employee how to change behavior to meet the KPI.
In goal setting, SMART changes slightly; however, the changes do not hinder KPIs from being included but promote KPIs being integral to SMART goals. A goal is a method of grabbing opportunities and learning. How does one learn; they change their behaviors into changeable actions, and learning is inspired. SMART KPIs help to direct those actions, and a SMART goal is a goal that is:
- Specific – A single action, simply stated.
- Measurable – An action broken down into rates, times, or repetitions, producing a number.
- Achievable – Can the goal setter bring the action into reality?
- Realistic – How many people can make reality from goals, EVERYONE, provided we plan properly to take a desire and build a plan to achieve it.
- Timely – What is the deadline, and can it be achieved?
A friend of mine has struggled with quitting smoking and losing weight. Every year, the same New Years’ resolution, same goals, same failure shortly after starting. Why the goal is never SMART, the goal is always, “I’m going to lose weight and quit smoking.” When asked, my friend claims this is a SMART goal. Here is how I suggested my friend restate his goal to become SMART:
- Specific – I am going to quit smoking.
- Measurable – Right now, I smoke 40-cigarettes a day; I want to cut back to 35 cigarettes, then 30, and drop by five cigarettes a month.
- Achievable – My friend has proven he cannot “Cold-Turkey” from cigarettes, but he has proven he can cut back.
- Realistic – My friend knows he can quit smoking, but how he quits remains the difficulty.
- Timely – How fast will he quit?
The final SMART goal in 2018 was, “By the end of 2020, I will have quit smoking, by reducing my monthly intake by five cigarettes month-over-month until I am no longer smoking.” While my friend has not quit smoking yet, the SMART goals have helped him mark progress towards his goal, and making progress in his KPIs keeps him motivated to achieve his goals. What was his KPI; dropping five cigarettes a month of consumption. Learning how to quit has been my friend’s biggest challenge, not the reality that he can quit, but how to markedly meet progress towards quitting.
Is it a problem that my friend has missed his annual goal; no, as he has had to learn to make progress. The KPI is a target and a task; the goal is learning through applying effort, and together with the SMART KPI and the SMART goal, help achieve a new reality. The SMART goal without KPIs is a cool aspiration. The KPI without an overarching goal is wasted efforts, akin to a dog chasing his tail. What happens when the dog catches his tail and bites down; the dog gets a pain in his rear for all the effort of chasing his tail.
Some practical advice for leaders as they SMARTen their KPIs and goals:
- The process is iterative. You are learning; allow yourself time to learn, make mistakes, and keep moving forward.
- Failure does not mean scrapping everything and trying something new. Failure means either the KPI or the goal were not SMART enough. Hold an “After-Action Review,” these meetings are critical to improving the process of SMARTening your KPIs and goals.
- Know the why, share the why, lead the why! The “Why” is the most critical aspect in the KPI and Goal setting process; if a person does not know the why, they will never care about the how!
- When in doubt, explore the why for answers.
- Goals are like water, constantly changing, and cannot be contained and pressurized. You can use the pressure to lift others, but without creating a mess, you cannot stop it.
- Phones are digital, and computers are digital; people are analog. Expect people to amaze you, mystify you, and create new opportunities to change your goals and KPIs.
- If you think you need help, ask!
Asking for help is a sign of strength, and plenty of people are willing to help you develop; please ask. I worked for an officer in the US Navy who refused to ask for help; his performance was impeccable because he wrote his evaluation which was then rubber-stamped by the commander. On the day the charade ended, the cataclysmic disaster was epic. This officer caved in like an old ashtray—a sad event producing painful consequences for everyone in the command and his leadership chain. Use the SMARTening process of KPIs and goals as an exercise in growth and development, and the results will surprise you.
© Copyright 2022 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.