How many plates can you spin at a time?

I have been working with a client recently who was very keen to progress a piece of work. Four weeks ago we set up a phone call. I made sure that it was arranged to suit his diary. An hour before the scheduled time I get an email to say that he needs to rearrange as sometime urgent had come up. I thought fair enough, issues crop up from time to time that need urgent attention.  So off we started again to find a date and time to suit. Again I shuffled my diary to make the appointment. Guess what a few days later another email arrives to rearrange the phone call! Is this a pattern I wondered?

Sure enough the answer was yes. This saga happens on four occasions in the period. Then to cap it all on the day of the last appointment I get an email to say that he is running late and will call me as soon as possible.

Well the clear message to me is that this individual either had an acute problem  with time management, or did not see the piece of work that he was so  desperate to progress with me as a priority after all. In the event the phone call did go ahead, but he had not really had time to think through what he wanted to achieve and we ended up having a faltering discussion almost off the cuff. Is this really the way to make effective use of time in organisations.

The pressure to fill the diary up with meetings, fiddle with smart phones (often in meetings) and farm emails occupies far too much time for the average employee. It seems that there is no time to think in organisations today.

A quick piece of analysis on the email account and the diary would reveal a lot about the organisation and its culture, along with the preoccupations of the employee in question. If managers studied their work and it’s impact they would learn that  in practice much of the time spent in meetings has no productive impact upon meeting customer demand, if anything it is likely to make things worst.

Email trails often reveal the games played in organisations to shuffle responsibility and protect ones back from criticism. The .cc culture, and check with mentality causes a lot of wasted time. Time that could be better spent  in the work fixing issues that stop employees from delivering excellent service to customers. Perhaps If only there were not so many plates spinning managers would have time to do more of the right thing. I wonder who started all those plates spinning in the first place? Well managers of course! What else would they do if they did not have to run around spinning all those plates!

It’s a pity that managers have no time to stop and think about the true impact of their actions in the work. If they did they would be horrified to find that the outcome of their labours invariably made matters worse!

The lesson is that in practice if you focus upon one plate at a time you will end up spinning more plates in the long run. Counter intuitive it may be, but try it for yourself. You would be wise to take a hard look at what clutters your diary and email whilst you are on. You will be amazed at how much time you can create. The challenge then is to use the time to study and understand how the current system works, before trying to change it, rather than tinker and make it worse.

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Sheep dipping or feathering nests?

A friend of mine called Jane mentioned to me that HR have finally got their programme of courses out for the year, not bad it’s only August. Now she has the task of trying to link the results of her learning and development reviews to the courses on offer. I know that there is usually a bit of a rush on to book places on the courses as the dates are fixed for the year.  Jane admitted that if she was being honest back in February when she was doing her reviews she had no real idea of the development needs of her team because she had not finalised the business plans that had started being written back in November of last year.  Surely, it would make more sense to concentrate learning and development effort based upon the demands placed upon employees by the customer? In that way training monies would be spent at the right time on the right support.  Not on a standard set of events determined remotely by someone in HR months before they are offered.

Anyway back to the story… The Policy team had messed about with the dates for publication in previous years; leaving Jane and her colleagues in the dark about requirements and timescales. This year she told me that she had tried to get ahead and start the conversations with her team and start pulling plans together. Since last year Jane has had to enter all the plans in to an on line system. So, quite rightly she thought that her action was doing the right thing, until Policy decided that yet again they needed to change the format of the plans to make it easier for them to produce the corporate plan for the organisation. I could see by the expression that Jane gave me that she was fuming! Quite rightly so in my view. All of the work that she had already done was in the wrong format, and according to them (Policy) she had to re- enter the information in their new format. Jane admitted that she tried to ignore this requirement for a while, as her plans were already in the system.  Ironically, she said she never used the online system apart from having to enter her performance data once a month. Like most of us, Jane acknowledged that she fudged the numbers to make them look ok, and had not been caught out so far because ‘no one really looks that closely at the data’.

In the end Jane’s name came up on the naughty girls/boys list, and she got a stern email from the Chief Executive’s Office telling her to get her finger out and get her plans in the right format.  Brilliant! You cannot beat a bit of extrinsic motivation to kill morale.

Anyway, Jane decided that she could avoid the issue no longer, took the ‘bull by the horns’ and copy and pasted the detail from one part of the system to the other. A waste of time and effort! I was chatting to another friend the other day and he was telling that a similar thing happens in the organisation in which he works.

What is going on in the world? Can organisations really afford to waste resources messing about changing templates and entering plans into corporate systems? Reality proves that plans get compromised after month one and become a work of fiction as people fudge the system to show progress again objectives that have been rendered worthless in view of changing priorities. The problem is that the new priorities do not replace the last set, they get added to them.  All this planning and monitoring is little more than a smoke screen. We all know that the real work gets done off plan and often by getting around the system to make it happen in a timely fashion.

If leaders took time to understood the true purpose of their organisation in customer terms, and then designed and managed the work around that purpose they would soon learn that all this corporate business planning and performance reporting added no really value to the bottom line. In really it has the reverse impact. Money down the drain!

However, such action takes guts and determination; and too few seem prepared to do what it takes. Sad really!  Leaders are happy to feather their own nest at the expense of others. Not really leadership at all is it!

Money for nothing!

Today I had to spend a few more quid speaking to a well known embassy to try and sort out the ongoing saga of a travel visa. For those of you unfortunate enough to have to get a visa for America will know how problematic it can be to get good advice. The web site failed to answer my basis questions, the search on the site  just lists media articles that are no use or ornament. So, off I go again spending £1.23 a minute plus network charges for the privilege of talking to a call centre operator somewhere on planet earth. The first minute is a sales pitch that you cannot bypass. I had to get to option 4 to get the access I needed, another minute gone; so £2.50 in and I had nothing to show for my efforts.

The query simple really- the travel plans had changed so what needed to happen next. Eventually I got through to a chap, we will call him Jim. I gave him a concise story and asked what needed to happen. He assured me that the visa would be ok and would stay in operation. He even suggested that provided I got into the country before the visa expired that I could stay out on the student visa until the end of my studies. Jim said he wanted to check some more info and would I hold, well what could I say-  he had me by the short and curlys really. So, off he went, eventually he came back apologising for the delay. The conversation went on a bit longer and then he said that he needed to speak to a specialist supervisor. Guess what I go on hold and he disappears to get help. Time and money is ticking away, but what can I do… Then he is back and guess what everything that he has said before is rubbish! He confirms that having taken more advice that in fact the visa will not cover the revised plans and that I will have to start from scratch. The visa that I have set up cannot be cancelled, and I cannot have a refund. Great news! Well at least I ended up getting an answer to my question, and to be honest I was not entirely surprised by the answer. However, the cost of this privilege ran to another 15 quid.

My beef is that the system, like most contact centre operations is flawed: Well at least from the customers view point. This particular contact centre is a licence to print money. Not only do you get charged a significant amount for the visa itself but you have to spend, on my count, an average of £12.50 for the privilege of speaking to someone. I have no idea what the leaders in this system get up to, well I do really, but they certainly do not understand anything about the nature of customer demand in their system. If they did they would have call handlers that were trained to answer calls against an understanding of customer demand. My question was not difficult, and yet Jim had to get help twice at my time and expense! Of course to the call centre manager it’s money in the bank –  the longer the call goes on the better. If the supervisor had answered the call I would have got an answer in less that half the time. Good news for me, but not for the business. A crazy world!

O2 or Orange?

Well O2 have been taking a fair amount of stick recently over the loss of their network and the thought of trying to sort out a problem with O2 filled me with dread.

Where is help when you need it? I don’t know about you but i am  increasing dependent upon mobile technology to help me manage my busy life. To lose access to your phone, email, and calendar feels like loosing a part of you. How can we function without it?

Well, the other day the worst of nightmares, but not for me but my partner.  She looked at her phone and said that strange  the network message on my phone is  showing no sim! What could this mean i wondered, and soon found out. No access to all the key information that she depended upon. Oh let me have a look at it i said willingly. In truth i had no idea what i might do to fix it.  I tried a bit of DIY – took the sim card out. Even that was a challenge. I had to find the special little key that helps to extract the sim from the body of the phone. Luckily i remembered that i had put it in my man draw. After a bit of searching i found what i was looking for. Ah ha! Anyway two or three goes at removing the sim and cleaning it proved no different, even when i combined it with the classic IT helped advice of switching it off and back on again. I was stumped at least for now. Feeling a little deflated i said that i did not know what to do next, and that she would have to go and get help from the local phone shop.

The next day proved a busy day for both of us and i was worried as i left that my wife did not have access to the phone, she would not be able to keep on touch with the kids. Shocking really isn’t it that we feel so dependent upon bits of technology to help us run our lives. Anyway, she was left trying to find a way to fit in a trip to the phone shop along with everything else in her busy day. I was left feeling that i should have been able to fix it, but what could i do?

As luck would have it i came out of my morning appointment slightly early. I dropped in to one of the mobile shops that sells all major brands of phones and packages and asked them what advice they could give me. Despite the fact that they sell the 02 network they could offer no useful advice, other than to visit an 02 shop. I dropped in to an Orange shop, as a current arrange user i thought that they might be able to offer me some advice as they sold the particular handset, but no they too suggested an 02 shop.  Whilst i was on i had been having a problem with accessing my online account. So i thought this would be a great opportunity to resolve the matter while i was with a real person, rather than a remote voice in a call centre. I explained that the web site did not offer me the help that i needed and that there was no obvious way to get help on the site. He went away to talk to an anonymous person in the back, probably the manager busy doing more important things out of the way of the paying customer. After waiting a couple of minutes the helpful chap came back and said that he knew that there was a number because he had given it to another customer in the past, but that he could not remember it. His boss had no idea. So that best thing to do was to call 150 from my phone and see if they could help me. Great help!

Disappointed  i walked out of the shop still keen to try and fix the problem with my wifes phone. As luck would have it i came across an 02 shop. I walked in and spoke to a really helpful employee. I briefly explained the problem and what i had tried to do to fix it. She listened intently.  I was keen to know if the sim needed replacing. Myabe not she said. Can i suggest that you try two things before taking the phone into an 02 shop. Within a minute she had explained and demonstrated what i needed to do to try and fix the issue.

Well i though it must be worth a try. So i took the bull by the horns and phoned my wife at work. Thanks to the demonstration offered by the sales assistant in the shop i talked her through the first of two reset procedures.  Within in two minutes the phone had rebooted and hooray the connection to the network had been restored.  A problem fixed through the expert knowledge of a key worker who had the skills and knowledge available in the shop to first explain and the demonstrate what i needed to do to restore the service to the sim card. An excellent example of having the technical knowledge in the right place to help the customer.

All the other shops on the high street that i visited and who claimed that they could not help me could learn a thing or two from the women who helped me in the 02 shop. In the end the procedure that she offered could have been explained by any of the assistants in the other shops as i have since learned by looking at my own phone on the orange network that the same procedure will reset my phone.

So to unhelpful staff in the  Orange shop who referred me to dial 150 to sort my problem out i would say study the demands that are made by customers like me in your shops and make sure that the colleagues that you employee at the front line have the basic technical knowledge and skill to help customers whilst they are in the shop. Fending me off to a call centre is not the answer. It costs you more, both in terms of bottom line and importantly by brand reputation. After all if you had done a good job in the moment i would not have been tempted to compare your service with that of the assistant in the 02 shop.

Think on!

And for anyone with an iPhone that hits the same problem go to settings/general scroll to the bottom of the page and touch reset. Look for reset network setting and follow the instructions. If that fails switch the phone off by holding down the on off button on the top of the handset and the circular menu button together until the phone completely shuts down. Failing that