KPI’s and Goals – Let’s Open the Discussion

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1Industry 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.

KPI’s

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!What Are SMART Goals and Why Are They Important? - Business 2 Community

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.How to Make Sure Your Goals Are High Impact - Business With Impact - Medium

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.

GOALS

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.

Knowledge Check!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:

      1. The process is iterative. You are learning; allow yourself time to learn, make mistakes, and keep moving forward.
      2. 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.
      3. 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!
      4. When in doubt, explore the why for answers.
      5. 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.
      6. 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.
      7. 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.

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Circling Back:  Going the Extra Mile in Customer Service

Bobblehead DollIt is no secret; I am a doctoral candidate.  On Facebook, I advertised my dissertation to find participants to engage in my dissertation data collection.  My dissertation is all about the role of the trainer in call center training.  I am looking to answer some specific questions about what a trainer does, their role in training, and flush out details about the role of the call center trainer in establishing genetic memory.  My first ad on Facebook, believe it or not, received more direct respondents than my second or third attempts.  That the respondents accused me of being fake, a troll, and committing several bodily functions on their timelines bothered me greatly.

When mentioned to representatives from Facebook, who could see the comments and the original ad, the representatives reflected less care than I would have ever imagined.  Yet, Facebook claims to be “customer-centric,” “customer-driven,” and “customer-obsessed.”  LinkedIn, AT&T, Sprint/T-Mobile, Bank of America, Navy Federal Credit Union, and many other companies make similar claims and act similarly, where the professed policies are disconnected from reality, and the only person who suffers is oddly the customer.  Then, the agents representing these companies are then asked to “go the extra mile for the customer.”Pin by N D on Jokes | Dilbert comics, Work humor, Funny picture quotes

When going the extra mile was first addressed, leadership, training, business processes, and organizational communication all were aspects to the foundation to helping an agent “go the extra mile.”  More needs to be discussed on “going the extra mile” and delivering upon the promises made by leadership.  However, the discussion is useless unless followed swiftly by concerted action; thus, this article asks for and directly inspires action.

Compounded Leadership Failure

Let’s begin with reality and address the 300# gorilla.  To the leaders of companies, customers are listening, and they are not stupid!  Whether you believe this or not, your customers do, and they do not like what they see.  AT&T, LinkedIn, and Facebook regularly inundate me with the voice of the customer surveys, new products, performance surveys, surveys, surveys, surveys.  These are not the only companies demanding answers and resources from customers, but these companies are especially egregious at this practice.  Tell me, why does nothing ever change in customer approach, customer service, customer care, and the voice-of-the-customer always appears to fall on deaf ears?Colin Powell quote: Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you...

Leadership never collects qualitative and quantitative data and then uses this information to make change, drive visible customer affecting policy shifts, or even act like the customer is worthy of being listened to.  How do we, the customers know we are not being heard; the agents do not have the ability to affect change.  I called Xfinity/Comcast; I have an issue, I get nowhere with the agents, but I am still expected and offered multiple times the voice-of-the-customer survey to help improve customer relations.  I invest my time in completing the survey; I even indicate a return call to discuss the scores is acceptable, only later do I discover that the voice-of-the-customer data is never worked, customers are not called, and the company does not care.

Poor Leadership #inspirational #motivational #quotes | Bad leadership quotes, Leadership quotes ...If you are sending a survey out, you need to address the survey results.  Publicly with your agents, transparently with your shareholders and investors, and clearly and openly with your customers.  By refusing to do these things, the leadership failures in demanding customer resources to complete surveys are wasted, compounded, and the customer is listening!  Worse, the customer is sharing this information with other customers and is openly looking for options to replace you and your company!  By publicly claiming “customer-obsession,” “customer-centricity,” and “customer-first” propaganda (e.g., marketing promises), you are making a commitment.  Failure to honor that commitment delivers a “Used Car Sales” pitch, and lawyers and politicians become more trustworthy than you and your company.  Customers are tired of “Lemons” when paying for cherries; is this clear enough?

Who is your first customer?

To every person claiming the first customer is a service or product purchaser, you are WRONG!  Your first customer is your employees.  Yet, employee abuse remains central to employee churn.  Asking your employees to “go the extra mile” for an external customer and not seeing the business first go the extra mile for them is disheartening at best to your employees.

I am intimately familiar with a well-known company, its operations, and its customer commitment.  The company does an excellent job in employee relations, which leads to year-over-year success with external customers.  But the company has some deep-seated problems they are working on, and because they are honestly working on these issues, I am willing to give them anonymity for their efforts.  One of the most fundamental issues this company has is in product delivery; the operations in the warehouse prioritize outbound (customer shipping of products ordered) to the exclusion of quality.  The products are more important than the people, which is a growing pain for this company.Tiger Team

By forgetting that the first customer is the employees, this group churns at phenomenal rates compared to other business units.  Why?  Because of the insanity of being left out of customer service.  Company benefits, time-off, vacation policies, “swag,” free merchandise, etc., none of this compensates for irrational operations that fundamentally treat the employee poorly and in a confused manner.  If your company is “customer-focused,” then employees are top priority, and in making them top priority, they look after your external customers more efficiently, more expertly, and they will build a fatter bottom-line through “going the extra mile.”

When was the last time your employees were honestly engaged in voice-of-the-customer surveys and results?  When was the last time the employees knew they were the top priority in your business?  When was the last time operational policies and procedures were adjusted to remove confusion about employee worth and value?  Tell me, are your shareholders and investors treated better than your number one investor, your employees?  If so, your shareholders should be raking the current leadership over the coals for robbery and theft.  Reduced bottom lines because of employee treatment should be a significant issue of discussion by the shareholders and investors, for this is nothing short of robbery. You are compounding another leadership failure through employee abuse, which increases costs and lowers bottom-line performance, e.g., robbing the investor and shareholder because you have refused to provide your first customer simple customer recognition, let alone service.

Going the Extra Mile

Before a supervisor, team leader, director, or other leaders in your business organization asks for an employee to “go the extra mile,” rate that leader on this question, “Have they already walked two miles with the employee?”  If not, that person is asking for the impossible.  No extra efforts can or ought to be sought when leadership fails to first show and do what it takes to walk two miles with an employee.

Call Center BeansWant to know a secret?  When the leader first walks two miles with the employee, that leader never has to ask anyone to “go the extra mile,” EVER!  Your best leaders, your followers, are the people who, instead of looking forward first, make it a priority to look sideways.  These leaders are experts at lifting the talent needed to look forward to a higher level.  Looking sideways includes value-added training programs, professional paths to progression, recognizing and praising efforts honestly and frequently, delegating assignments and tasks, and being actively engaged in delivering “customer-centricity” to the employees.  As a supervisor, team lead, director, etc., your first customer is those who follow you; what have you done lately to prove customer obsession to them?

By the way, your first customer is listening, awake, and actively engaged in either growing or leaving, all based upon how you treat your first customer.  I suggest taking heed of them.?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

If you want to be part of my dissertation research, please reach out to me using the following email address: msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu.  Please help me help you and your company through value-added research.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the photos or images 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.

Cost, Value, and Manufacturing

Does anyone else remember when Walmart was first breaking onto the scene as a competitor against K-Mart, they advertised “Proud to sell ‘Made in the USA’” merchandise?  Then shortly, Walmart faced its first scandal, being busted selling cheap junk boasting “Made in China” on the label.  The “pride” was pushed to the side, the “Made in the USA” disappeared, and the price was all Walmart was going to compete on, “Prices are falling.”  K-Mart is gone, Walmart is still selling, “Prices” are still “supposedly” falling, but where is questionable, quality is all but gone, and who has benefited?

I remember when my town got a Payless shoe store.  I plunked my money down for a nice pair of shoes; they lasted less than 30-days of wear; I was told, “You get what you pay for.”  The next pair of shoes I bought at Walmart turns out they were probably made on the same manufacturing line in China.  Payless sold them for $20.00; Walmart sold them for $30.00.  Neither lasted long enough for the new shoe smell to evaporate.  Payless Shoes is gone, Walmart is still here, the quality has not improved, and I am still asking, who has benefitted?

I purchased some tools the other day; I was mystified at the following label on the tag, “Made in the USA, of parts configured mostly in the USA but manufactured in other countries of origin.”  It turns out, if the assembly of parts is done inside the US, a finished product can be labeled as “Made in the USA.”  If some of the sub-assemblies occur outside the USA, the manufacturer might, or might not, be legally responsible to declare such, depending upon the industry, the finished goods, and the lawyers and labor unions involved.

Country of origin labeling is real sketchy, full of hungry lawyers and fascinating self-interest, as well as enough political grandstanding to satisfy forests of trees being slaughtered for centuries to come.  All in the name of, yes, you guessed it, transparency.  I am oversimplifying the problem here to make a point.  Your child’s pencils in school have to declare Made in China due to some lead poisoning issues in the yellow paint, but crayons can hide the country of origin because a lawyer said the transparency issue does not cause harm.  This convoluted logic is rampant throughout the entire mess of country of origin labeling.  Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the iceberg in manufacturing, cost, and value.

By the way, I guarantee, there are hordes of lawyers plotting ways and means of overturning country of origin labeling to hide or overturn legal decisions they find onerous, mainly to further remove any hint that “Made in China” could be traced to problems with poisoning to China.

Taking us to the first point in this article, when did America stop manufacturing?  Why did America stop manufacturing?  Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods?  In Home Deport today, I made a point of looking for “Made Proudly in the USA” stickers on tools, products, and other items for sale.  There were no official statistics, no actual counts, just browsing shelves, looking for products, and I was not pleased.  Walmart has long been turned into a proud repository for Chinese manufacturing; to see anything other than “Made in China” on their shelves would be a significant accomplishment.

Having ventured into a Hobby Lobby recently, I was again amazed at the incredibly talented people worldwide and wondered again, “When did America stop manufacturing goods?”  Dollar Tree is another place where Made in China flourishes, and one has to wonder, “Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods?”

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am China-bashing or Big-Box Bashing, please note that I am sick to death of the excuses that “Manufacturing in America is too expensive to be profitable.”  I detest hearing excuses that “Manufacturers cannot find enough unskilled laborers to work the machines, without illegal labor.”  I am through listening to supposed experts declare that “Americans cannot compete with Chinese labor due to American expectations for benefits, job expectations, the cost of safety, etc.”  The other day some ignorant putz declared that the “American worker is just plain lazy compared to workers even in Europe, which is why Americans can never work fast enough to meet production goals.”

Bringing us to the cost and value topics of this article.  Long have cost accountants and operations managers had a professional love/hate relationship.  We love to hate each other for one reason; we do not see eye to eye on basic fundamental reality.  To a cost accountant, everything has a cost, but the difference between cost and value is not found in green money losses alone unless you are a cost accountant.

We have discussed the different types/colors of money previously.  Green money is cold hard cash, and cost accounting is only, ever, concerned with the end of the day totals of cold hard cash!  However, reality always has other types of money involved, relationships that cannot be qualified in monetary means, and humans are more than dollars and cents in a ledger.  Value is always different than cost.

Simple explanation; a hammer costs your great-grandfather $1.00.  With that hammer, your great-grandfather built a home and a cradle.  That cradle rocked your grandfather, father, and you to sleep.  Upon reaching the age of accountability, each, in turn, was taught how to swing a hammer, driving nails, and learning carpentry.  That hammer holds four generations of value, beyond the cost of $1.00.  Green money costs, that hammer has depreciated in value until it is worthless to the company and should be scrapped for a new hammer; but the value of that hammer is not measured in dollars and cents.  Thus the disconnect between operations and cost accounting.

What does all of this have to do with retail establishments, manufacturing in America, and “Made in China?”  What is the value of manufacturing in America; self-sufficiency in the time of trouble, pride of accomplishment, value in production, and upward economic mobility of dreams for employees. Why does America need retail establishments that will sell “Made in America;” to remind Americans who we are, why we are neighbors and provide an outlet for manufacturing in America to compete.

Ask yourself, why did President Bill Clinton pave the way for China to join the World Trade Organization and actively push to move manufacturing to China?  Why did President Richard Nixon push so hard to “Open China?”  What has been the cost, and where is the value in either or both of these decisions?  Sufficient time has passed to evaluate both of these decisions without political rhetoric and bombastic bloviations from either political extreme.  Both presidents possessed more reasons and desires than they admitted while in office for these decisions and actions; the consequences are the focus, and you can judge the consequences yourself.

Consider cost versus value, consider the toll on hometowns across America where factories lay idle, homes lay vacant, streets lay silent, and poverty is so thick generations of destitution have lived and died in its shadow.  Consider how some towns have tried to restructure themselves and succeeded, others have failed, some shipped their children to schools far away, others have turned their towns into “sleeper communities” for cities 2-6 hours away.  You decide!  Think!  Investigate!  Talk to people laid off by unions and forgotten.  Then remember when politicians discuss taxes, labor union special interest projects, and social spending.  Remember the next time you, a citizen with a brain, are reduced to “Human Infrastructure.”

© Copyright 2021 – 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.

Bottle-Necks and Push-Back – Problems in Production Goal Attainment

Knowledge Check!Let me begin with an affirmation when you believe that a problem is insurmountable, you are 100% correct, and nothing will ever change.  If you tell me a problem is insurmountable, I will say to you BULL!  Every time!  Why; because if people built it, people can disassemble it.  We might have to push at it, swear at it, sweat at it, and kick at it some, but people can disassemble it!  When we believe no problem is insurmountable, we are more than ½-way to solving the problem!

At work right now, a colleague has a problem; trainers do not want to come in early and train new hires.  Because new hires cannot be trained in off-hours, his team is slipping in production goal attainment.  When he drops far enough, his regional bosses will decide more resources need to be spent, and public shaming begins to occur because public notice accompanies greater resource allocation.  The bottle-neck is training; the push-back comes from trainers.

Fishbone DiagramThe trainers are pushing back because they are already double and triple tasked to training new hires in two other more “important” departments.  Except, because those other departments are considered “more important,” production goals for the entire facility will never be met.  A core philosophy is missed; when quality fails, nobody meets production goals.  The vicious cycles keep going around; training cannot spare people to train quality, quality fails to meet goals, and production goals are missed due to training.

Exclamation MarkThere are times I have wished this was an isolated example; however, this repeats so often I should have cards made.  Breaking the training bottle-neck requires thinking outside the standard paradigm, or in more basic vernacular, get out of the box and start thinking anew!  While the following solutions are explicitly geared to fixing the training bottle-neck, the pattern for thinking is helpful as a conversation starter.  Start the conversation rolling!

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Off-hours shift training. Look at your operational schedules.  Do you have times when equipment is not operating, when the production floor is down, and when people can be trained?  Use that time!
        • I worked at a manufacturing facility where after the first three days of new-hire orientation, all manufacturing and warehouse employees worked the third shift for their first four months. Why?  Training could operate the floors and equipment and work around maintenance without crimping operational schedules or hindering production.  Then, new hires went onto the day shift where two extra managers could offer management-by-walk around for additional OJT.
        • I have observed warehouses where new hires work a split shift; they come in for 4-hours of training when nobody else is around but trainers, and then 4-hours when the rest of the warehouse is around—giving new hire equipment operators experience in operating in both a quiet environment and a busy environment.
        • The idea is to find times when you can safely train without hindering operation tempo. Use the calendar, use a shift rotation, be honest with people and be upfront on expectations and the reality of business needs.  Guess what, when you are honest, people respond!
  2. Appreciative Inquiry – Believe it or not, when you have a problem, a pressing business need, or an urgent issue, your people will pleasantly surprise you with solutions if you listen and act. Too often, I have been stunned ever to forget this lesson; people have brains and ideas, use them, give them credit, and watch them blossom into your best problem solvers!
  3. It should go without saying, treat people as the professionals you hired.
        • My first boss in supply chain quality control did not teach me basic stuff, e.g., this is a part, how you count the pieces, a SKU, etc. The boss presumed I knew or would ask questions, which saved both of us time and resources.  More to the point, by treating me as a professional, I grew into being a supply quality control officer and loved the job.  I have witnessed the opposite too often to know my experience is not the norm in supply chains, which is detestable.
        • You hired a professional; treat them as a professional. Set standards, show them, explain, train them, and build them into greater professionals, primarily by getting out of their way!
        • Encourage people never to stop learning through example!
  4. Who is your customer? Who are your vendors?  Who are your stakeholders?  Why is this information important?
        • Customer service is dead; however, if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders are, so is your business model!
        • Customer helping is alive and well; however, your business model is dead if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders!
        • Managers, let me give you a hint, your customer is your employees. When was the last time you got to know your customers?  When was the last time you helped your customers?  Why did you last help your customers?

LookWhen it comes to bottle-necks and push-back, knowing your customer is the first step in solving the bottle-neck and charting a positive path through push-back.  Consider my colleague, his customer are his employees needing training, his vendor is the training department, and the stakeholders are the rest of the business, those setting production goals, those relying upon his team meeting production goals, and ultimately the paying external customer.  Yet, my colleague, cannot see who his customer is, does not think of training as a vendor, and the rest of the business as a stakeholder, for this is not how he was trained.  Worse, his business unit refuses to accept this method of thinking to improve production goal attainment.

  1. Leadership must lead by first embracing new thinking and possibilities.

Previously in my career, it was a pleasure and adventure to be on a project where the leadership wanted a solution to their problem.  However, the leaders did not want to change, at all.  They wanted a solution, but refused to change in any shape, form, or method.  Worse, the leaders did not admit they did not want to change because they themselves had not considered that a solution would require change.  Thus, when the solution was delivered, it looked like a great idea, on paper.  But, the second it was implemented, reality bit, change was coming, and this scared the leadership team into panic mode.  Add in the coming economic downturn that had already started to hurt the company, and panic turned into a full-on disaster.

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1Leaders, it is imperative that you lead first by example personally, then by actions professionally, then only if necessary by words.  When you observe new thinking on an old idea, embrace that and see where it goes.  Even if the new idea fails, build people!  Production goals are about human efforts distilled into statistical symbols.  Never forget about the human element.  Build people, and you meet production goals.  Build quality into every single transaction, and you meet production goals.  Fail people, and you will never meet production goals!  Fail quality, and you will fail to meet production goals.

I cannot make this any simpler!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Communication – A Tool of Improving Call Centers, a Leadership Guide

A call center recently asked for some help. They have an “open-door” policy for employees to use. The call center meets all the designated training directives and compliance mandates. They believe they are the “best of the best” in providing customer support and have won awards from third-parties to back up these claims. Yet, employee churn remains high, employee morale remains low, and the leaders are becoming wary of the employment pool attracted to the call center.

ProblemsIn making observations, the consultant team tested the “open-door” policy and found that those sought were never in their offices even though the doors were open. The training was occurring, but the training offered had little to no value for the front-line customer-facing staff. It was generally considered a zero-sum game, providing time off the phones and causing stress and overtime costs. Worse, the front-line supervisors and employees’ perception was the existence of a chasm, separating them from higher organizational leaders.

Yukl (2010, p. 7) stated the definition of leadership as a “… multi-directional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non-coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make.” Fairholm (2001) built on the definition by Yukl (2010), insisting that leadership is a social event specific to the group of followers and leaders. Leadership and followership is a social contract; a call center is one of the most unique social environments possible. Due to this social environment, the leader who inspires communication is the call center leader who will be highly successful and train others to be highly successful.

Inherent to a fruitful and lasting social environment that promotes growth and development, leadership requires non-coercive methods to inspire and empower and provide aid to followers during change. Leadership in call centers is a social event specific to that group of followers, and leaders requiring mutuality in action to influence objectives being appropriately met. Coercion is a poison that infects like cancer into social environments; unfortunately, coercion is an easy trap to fall into as it is effective in the short-term.

Using the definition of leadership by Yukl (2010), we find why coercive leadership is ineffective; coercion cannot touch the followers’ hearts and minds to empower action towards objectives. A coercive action is any activity performed to harm or ensure the compliance of the action’s target. Coercive practices take many forms, from withholding benefits, including praise, to overt action, including threats and force. Coercive measures are used as leverage to force an individual or team to act in a way contrary to their individual or team interests. Covert coercion is rampant in many call centers and takes the form of restrictive policies, carrot/stick incentives, and human treatment policies that allow favoritism to rule instead of results.

Coercion is pernicious, and coercive practices are preventable. Yukl (2010) further elaborated that the follower only gives the coercive leader power out of fear or acts as a coercive agent to oppress others.  Furthermore, Yukl (2010, p. 137) specified that coercive leadership produces fear as the only motivator, and fear is dysfunctional, making nothing but more dysfunction in followers. Academic researchers often use the military as an example of coercive power and coercive leadership. Yet, having served in the US Army and the US Navy, I can attest coercion does not work in the military just as it does not work in any other industry. Coercive power is an acid destroying everything, building nothing, and dehumanizing people into animals.

The opposite of coercion is persuasion. Persuasion is the mode of being effective in collaboration, and persuasion requires trust and communication. Trust is an operational factor that builds the relationship between followers and leaders. It is the single most crucial factor in collaboration; but, collaboration and trust, as operational concepts, require two-directional communication to reach maximum effectiveness (Du, Erkens, Xu, 2018).

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResCommunication as a tool in expressing confidence in the follower/leader relationship gains strength to clear misunderstandings and reach the desired consensus to meet organizational goals and operational objectives. The operational concept of trust and communication requires the third leg of the trust relationship agency. The follower needs to possess agency to act, informed agency requires training to employ, and the power and support of leadership to feel confident in action as detailed by Boler (1968), Avolio and Yammarino (2002). Which is where concepts meet reality, where theory is tested, and the leader is needed.

The following are proposed actions to build trust in organizations, improve communications, and empower the agency in employees to act. One of the worst things a leader can do when coercion is suspected is “trust exercises.” Trust exercises like standing a person on a chair and having them fall back into the team’s waiting arms. A call center leader colleague tried holding team and department meetings using “trust exercises,” and the result was best described as a catastrophe. The actions proposed are practical and can be employed in all call centers, including those working remotely due to COVID.

  1. Employ praise! Honest, truthful, fact-based, and reasoned praise is the most powerful tool a call center leader can employ to build people. With many call center workers working remotely, using praise as a recognition tool is critical to improving employee performance.
      • Use QA calls to issue praise.
      • Use non-cash incentives to recognize powerful deeds.
      • Make praise public through company newsletters and leadership emails.
      • Be specific, direct, and honest in your praise.
      • Be consistent in offering praise.
  1. Saying you have an “open door” is not enough, be the support mechanism your people need.
      • Respond to emails. Even if you cannot offer a substantial response immediately, personalize the email response, set a follow-up date, and meet those follow-up dates for additional communication.
      • Respond to employee questions with enthusiasm for listening and acting, not merely speaking.
      • Stop active listening; begin immediately to listen to meet mutual understanding through reflective listening. Mutual understanding and a promise to act on a concern are essential to support “open-door” policies; failure to listen and act is the number one failure of “open-door” policies.
  2. Training must change. If training is not a value-added exercise to the person receiving training, training has not occurred, resources have been wasted, and problems are generating.
    • Does your trainer know how to gather qualitative data from front-line workers to make curriculum developments?
    • Does your trainer know how to collect quantitative data from the training program to gauge decision-making in curriculum improvement?
    • What adult education theories are your trainers employing to instruct, build, and motivate adult learners who are employed?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • Does a “trained” employee know how to use trainers’ information to change individual approaches?
    • Do team leaders take an active role in training, or are they just “too busy?”

All these questions and more should be powering your training of the trainer discussions. If these questions are not being addressed, how will you, the call center leader, know your training investment dollars can return a positive investment? Training remote workers, especially, requires training programs that can motivate learners to change personal behavior. Thus, the training must have the ability to reach the student’s honor and integrity.

Leadership CartoonCOVID has provided many opportunities, and only through collaboration, communication, trust, and empowered agency, can help call centers to survive this difficult period. Regardless of how long the government shutdowns occur, your call center can survive, and call center leaders can prosper, provided they are willing to be leaders indeed, not managers in disguise.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. San Diego, CA: Emerald.

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf.

Fairholm, Gilbert W. Mastering inner leadership. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Communication: Sine qua non of organizational leadership theory and practice. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(1), 12-30.

Yukl, G. (2010, April 23). Leadership in organizations [Adobe Digital Edition Version 1.5] (7th ed.).

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.
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Uncomfortable Truths: Department of Veterans Affairs, are you listening?

It was surprising that the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically share health information with third parties without the veterans written consent unless the veteran opts-out in writing or submit a revocation in writing submitted in person or by US mail.  Especially surprising is that the official form for opting-out is not legally active until October 2019, and the deadline for opting-out, in writing, is 30 September 2019.  While this news if significantly troubling, let us define the full problem, courtesy of the Department of Veterans Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

I-CareOn 12 September 2019, the VA-OIG completed their investigation into the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field system (BFFS), who handle benefits payments for veterans and other beneficiaries who, due to injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their financial affairs and are thus vulnerable to fraud or abuse.  The veterans affected are those who are the most susceptible in the veteran population, and the government agency charged with protecting, helping, and supporting these veterans is vulnerable to fraud and misuse.  In fact, the VA-OIG found that the BFFS, “… lacked sufficient controls to ensure the privacy of sensitive data and prevent fraud and misuse. Specifically, finding the VA’s Office of Information and Technology inappropriately set the security risk level for BFFS at moderate instead of high. Risk managers did not follow established standards and did not consider whether information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries stored in the system’s database was sufficiently protected.”

Yet, the VA is now making available to third-parties, the health records of veterans.  Does anyone else see a problem?  Previously I have written about the continuing risk of veteran’s files from being accessed by persons unknown, and how this problem does not slow, simply how the VA has stopped reporting how bad the problem continues to be.  Personally, I have been a victim of ID Theft from VA Data breaches three times.  I have had VA Employees surf my medical records and then use this data to discriminate against me.  I have witnessed blatant HIPAA violations by VA Employees without hospital leaders taking any action.  Now, the VA is going to “share” my medical record access with “interested parties.”  I have some concerns!

Just in case your attention was drifting due to fallacious impeachment proceedings, the VA inappropriately sole-sourced contracts for ambulance services in three separate Veteran Health Administration Regional Procurement Offices (RPO).  The significance of this event is evidenced in the lack of competition for government contracts.  Designed incompetence was the origination of this issue, the contracting officer claimed, “I didn’t know.”  The contracting officer, who must go to school to obtain authority to enter into contracts for the Federal Government, somehow “didn’t know” about the regulations and rules for sole-sourcing a contract.  I have some doubts!

In further news from VA-OIG investigations, we find another contracting officer who claims, “I don’t know,” to hide behind designed incompetence in sole-sourcing contracts.  From the VA-OIG inspection report, “15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million, were inspected to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The contracting officers in RPO West, who “misunderstood who the proper approval authority was.”  Are you kidding me?

Blue Money BurningThe VA-OIG reports, “when contracting officers violate federal regulation by failing to obtain the required approval for sole-source contracts, they exceed their contracting authority.”  Contracting officers work with the approving authority, how can they not “know” who they work for and how to obtain proper authorization?  The excuses are weak and inexcusable; as an operation professional, the first step in getting to know the business is to know who answers the questions, who has the authority, and where that person is located.  For contracting officers, the approving authority is the boss, either the employees do not know who they are working for, or there are significant issues in lines of authority, and both situations speak of phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.

Just like the Home Shopping Network is always claiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  RPO East, not to be outdone by RPO West, had the VA-OIG inspect “20 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO East totaling $41.4 million. The OIG found RPO East contracting officers did not obtain required approval before awarding 10 contracts worth about $14.2 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  If RPO West is suffering from “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership,” then RPO East is beyond saving under the current leadership, and I call upon Secretary Wilkie and his team to scrub RPO East leadership and start over under strict quality review teams to ensure compliance and correction.  I repeat, only for emphasis, this situation is inexcusable.  The contracting officers must attend school, must know the regulations, and must not “individually interpret” the purchasing rules, and they know this from the first second on the job.  I was made aware of sole-source contracting regulations, and I was not a contracting officer.

RPO West has the follow-through needed to boil someone’s blood.  “The VA-OIG reviewed 15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  I rescind my earlier comments about the ability to save RPO West, I call upon Secretary Wilkie to personally ax the leadership at both RPO East and West, to start on a clean slate the contracting officers, leadership, and then strictly observe and implement a quality control mechanism to protect the taxpayer.

People ProcessesSpeaking of “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.”  Please allow me to prepare the groundwork for the subsequent VA-OIG investigation.  To be a supervisor in the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery, you first must work in the positions you will be supervising.  This information was passed during a job-interview by the hiring authority and confirmed by several VA directors since.  From the VA-OIG Report, we find, “a supervisor at the VA regional office in Boston, Massachusetts, incorrectly processed system-generated messages known as “work items.”  The supervisor, “incorrectly canceled 33 of 55 work items out of 110 reviewed (that’s a less than 50% accuracy), and improperly cleared another nine work items from the electronic record. Because of these incorrectly processed cases, VA made about $117,300 in improper payments to veterans or other beneficiaries, along with about $8,600 in delayed payments.”  Best of all, the supervisor claimed these work items were improperly handled because, “he did not intentionally process the work items incorrectly, and the errors were the result of working too quickly and misunderstanding procedures.”  You are the supervisor, you are in charge, you should know who to approach for guidance and clarification, you have caused significant harm to veterans who either are not being paid or now must repay funds improperly provided.  There is an obvious question here, “If the supervisor is less than 50% accurate, what is the accuracy of the supervisor’s team?”  While the VA-OIG cannot investigate this question, is the director investigating this question?

If the accuracy of claims handling personnel is less than 50%, how can any veteran be sure their claim has been handled properly?  Having been forced to repay funds to the VA, I can attest to the financial impact these over and underpayments cause for veterans.  When will these decision-making officers be held personally accountable for improper decisions?  Senators, members of the House of Representatives, what are you doing to support improving the VA, in conjunction with Secretary Wilkie?  From what I witness, not enough!

You're FiredFrom the files of “Not Enough,” comes another egregious example.  A patient in a psychological ward in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania VA Medical Center was killed because of a drug-to-drug interaction, were due to insufficient observation, insufficient monitoring, and inadequate action when the patient coded, and a veteran died at the hands of caregivers.  When a patient in a hospital ward, which is monitored electronically and physically, commits suicide, I become very agitated.  When any patient dies at the hands of the healthcare provider, I have officially lost my “cherub-like demeanor” and begin resembling a grizzly bear with a bum tooth, hemorrhoids, and woken too soon from my winter nap.  The VA-OIG Report states the following, “… providers did not monitor the patient for electrocardiogram changes or drug-on-drug interactions.  Staff and providers documented signs consistent with over-sedation but did not intervene, communicate directly with each other, or add team members on as additional signers to the electronic health record.  The facility did not comply with the Veterans Health Administration requirements for issue briefs, root cause analyses, and peer reviews.  The staff did not follow the facility’s observation policy.  Facility providers did not adhere to policies requiring discussion, documentation, and patient signed informed consents prior to initiating methadone treatment.”  The providers knew they had a problem, before the patient got into trouble, and did nothing!  In any civilian hospital, this is called malpractice; but in the VA Hospital system, “this is an unfortunate incident.”  While I am undoubtedly glad leadership acted to remedy this situation in the future; I am very displeased to note it ever occurred.  With all the publicity over the power of methadone as an opioid, with the technology to remedy these problems before the patient dies, I cannot accept this situation could occur in the first place!  This veteran’s death should never have happened and the fact that this veteran died at the hands of providers from over-sedation, is a testament to the incompetence designed into the VA processes that excuses accountability and rewards malfeasance.

Speaking of opioid medication problems, the VA-OIG inspected 779,000 VA patients prescribed opioids, and for 73% (568,670) of those patients there was an insufficient investigation by the primary care providers in consulting the state-operated prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to ensure over-medication did not occur.  The VA-OIG estimated that 19% of those files improperly handled placed patients at risk because of medications prescribed outside the VA Medical System.  With the constant harangue from the mainstream media over opioid addiction and deaths from opioids, a person might ask, where is the concern?  Why isn’t this a talking point in a Congressional Investigation to understand why, and then begin to implement changes to ensure the VA is not stained with more veteran deaths over opioids.  Finally, with an accuracy rate of less than 25%, it appears to me this problem needs immediate rectification using technology and quality control measures at the local level to improve adherence.

blue-moneyI would like to take a moment and thank the VA-OIG for stepping up to the plate and correcting pre-award contract pricing to save the American taxpayer $515 million because the contracting officer on 16 of 22 proposed pharmaceutical contracts was improperly priced.  In case you are wondering, the accuracy of the contracting officers was less than 75%.  I know of no industry, business, or service organization that can have a 75% or less accuracy rate and remains in business.  As a business operation and purchasing professional, these numbers appear to suggest that the contract officers are either intentionally neglectful, or they are counting on pre-award review to protect them from price gouging; both situations are inexcusable for a contracting officer for the Federal Government.

Thank you!As the Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (LA VOCREHAB) was recently featured in an article, I am pleased to see that hiring additional staff has improved performance, per the findings of the VA-OIG.  The VA-OIG Report found accuracy in spending money had increased, compliance, and helping veterans to gain employment had all increased since the damning report from the VA-OIG; thus, congratulations to the LA VOCREHAB program!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.