The workshop won’t allow it!

How often to we hear that one part of an organisation will not allow another part to deliver a service because the policies and procedures get in the way of common sense?

He is a local example of what happens in practice.

I have been talking to a motorcycle dealer recently about the option to change my bike.

Now the sale team have been really good at giving me access to ride the bikes that I wanted at a time that suited me. They have fed me coffee, and spent time trying to understand my needs.

Despite their best endeavours the dreaded computer systems managed to get in their way at regular intervals.  I have been asked for me address, and email address on a number of occasions, by the same two people for different computer systems!

In conversation the other day I found out that because this particular branch of the dealership is too successful they register some sales via their other dealerships. You will never guess why – because the supplier sets the dealers targets on an annual basis to sell units.

If they appear too successful then the supplier increases the targets to the point that the dealership begins to lose revenue! so, the dodge is to register units at different dealerships to disguise the success on one branch. making efficiencies

This makes good business sense for the dealer who is bound by the stupid rules of the supplier, who doubtless thinks that it is being clever.

The rub for the dealer in question is that this means that they have to travel backwards and forwards up and down the motorway to register vehicles at different locations to bend the rules set by the supplier.

Step back and hopefully you can see the madness in this target. The waste and additional cost that is incurred by the dealer to bend the rules to maximise the income from the supplier and manage the outcome performance at the year-end.  Not to mention the impact upon the customer!

This is sadly not unusual in businesses, who for reasons best known to themselves put in place silly rules and procedures in an effort to control the market place.

In reality of course the same number of units is sold in the market place what ever the supplier decides, but because the rules the dealer has to manipulate the data to make the system work.

So that’s seems pretty normal, but then the stupidity really starts. I have received a great service from the guys at the front line trying to sell me a bike, they have done what they can to help me make an informed choice about a replacement bike.

All is going well, until I receive a call from my nice sales guy to tell me that I must pay a bit more cash over as a deposit because ‘ the workshop aren’t very busy today and want to work on preparing my new bike’ sounds good I thought, but then the bombshell.

The workshop won’t start the work until I have topped up my deposit to cover their costs!!

Guess what the sales team don’t run the business the workshop does! Now in truth it’s not the fault of the workshop manager. It’s his boss.

You see even though this is a small dealership they have very clear lines of demarcation. Functional specialisation on steroids.

They clearly have separate profit centres. If the workshop do work for sales and it does not follow through to a sale then the workshop loses out financially.

So the system quickly begins to breakdown from a customer perspective. What starts life as great customer service ends up as a trade-off between sales and the workshop and guess what –  the customer loses out big time.

Now it does not have to be this way. It’s a relatively small business, it has two locations. The systems in place plausibly look like they are adding value to the business, but in truth they all run around with bits of paper and talk to one another all the time, so what’s the need for a CRM style system.

Functionalisation is driving cost in to the organisation. I know from the relationship that I have built up that the margin on the sale is not huge, so why burn profit undertaking bureaucratic nonsense that makes life worse for the customer.

And as for the supplier of the product –  well it is a great product, but its relationship with its dealerships is based purely on number of units,  and yet its philosophy seems intended to be more customer centric.  The lesson here is about the unintended consequences of targets against longer term vision.

In the end I take delivery of a vehicle that does not have all of its accessories fitted. Some did not turn up in time, other bits are still awaiting for collection at the other franchise.

I need to spent time at some point going back for rework. In effect lost time and effort for the workshop who did not get it right first time, because the parts did not arrive at the right time.

Great product, with enthusiastic people trying to do the right thing within a system that makes it difficult to get it right first time: can the leaders spot the room for improvement I wonder?

Do you see parallels in your own organisation?

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Money down the drain

You may recall that on the 3rd Sept I reported a fault through my local county council web site. The issue resulted from poor workmanship. A resurfacing job had been undertaken on a road close to my house which had resulted in surface dressing blocking a series of drains on the road.

Well  I recently noticed that a few of the drains had been cleared. Good news, I hear you cry! Guess what,  they missed the key drain on the entrance to a side road joining a main road. How could they miss it? After all the note from the council advised me that the referral would need to be inspected before any action would be taken. Well a few weeks passed before the drains were cleared. So, what did the inspector actually do on the site I wonder? Did he/she even get out of their car?

Remember that this is all additional cost. If the job had been done correctly in the first place then no follow up would have been necessary.  The inspection has clearly added no value, and the rework to return yet again to the site will add further cost. Believe me it will be necessary for the inspector to return to site and inspect the drain that he/she missed the last time. The rate we are going the road will need resurfacing before the drain gets unblocked. All we have to do is hope that in he meantime an accident does not arise as a result of the eater that will run on the main road. The season suggests that standing water will freeze leaving.

Functionalisation, and the separation of decision making from the work is costing the council a packet. Maybe even enough to fix the generally poor state of the roads in the county.

I feel duty bound to let them know that they have failed yet again to do the job properly. I bet nothing happen this side of the festive break.

Boys from the black stuff the story goes on…

If you read the first instalment you will already know that the council came to resurface a road nearby where I live. It’s a road that I travel on at least once a day. It’s a busy road. It took them over a week to get the job done. The work was packaged into discrete components that obviously suited the work schedule and the works order, but singularly failed to deliver a good outcome for local people. Not least because six drains were left blocked by the ‘expert’ work of the team on the ground, whose job it was to remove and re lay the top surface. So, I decided to log the issue of blocked drains using the on-line e form and wait to see what happened. I would have called them, but it was going to cost me money to call them and help them do their job. Why would I bother doing that?

It was not easy to find the form on the web site. You had to know your way around local government departments to find it. Anyway, a few minutes after logging the call  I get an auto response back saying that the ‘aim’ to respond in 48 hours. An hour later another email arrives. A speedy outcome I can hear you thinking. Sadly not! A note to say that the call has now been logged in the highways system and passed to a Highways Inspector who will inspect and decide upon the action required, and that this will be planned and prioritised as seen appropriate. I am then advised that if I want an up date on this matter then I can call the contact centre after 10 days and they will advise me of progress.

Having taken breath, I dropped them a line back to say that the drains did not need inspecting –  they needed clearing! Needless to say they have not as yet responded to my comment. The saga goes on..

But it does not end there. In the local paper at the weekend I read an interesting article “Streets like a minefield’. It talked about the dangerous obstacles faced after the surface had been left pitted and potholed. Apparently three people had been injured as a result of falling over on the poor surface. A local Town Councillor was quoted as saying ‘it’s ludicrous’. Unsurprisingly, no one from the Highways Department was available to comment.

Good job well done?

The councillor is right, along with the resultant insurance claims that will surely follow the cost of this job will rocket as lawyers and bureaucrats from different parts of the council come together to defend their corner. And for what?

The chaos comes down to the design and management of work. Budgets, targets, inspections, specifications all prevent the workers on the ground from doing the right thing. The contact centre operation has so far added only cost into the process, keying data into a back office system, generating pointless emails and doing their level best to dissuade me from contacting them again. I could show them how to save a bob or two.

The clock is ticking on the blocked drains. Poor weather is forecast and even more problems will mount if action is not taken quickly to sort out the failures caused by the work done so far.  Watch this space….

Boys from the black stuff

Good job well done?

I have been walking a long a road on my way in to my local town for a few years now. The surface has been getting worse over time. The occasional botch job has put ‘chewing gum’ in a couple of holes, but as we all know this does not last a winter. A waste of time and money: a temporary fix that ought to fixed properly the first time. The madness of inspection and scheduling of work on the basis of arbitrary priorities made against a limted budget.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived home one day recently to find a road  machine ripping the surface off the road for a stretch of about 200 metres. So far so good. Obviously the road then lay in its temporary state for a week with raised inspection covers and signage on the pavements, blocking access and causing confusion for road users. Organising the job as a continuous flow would make a lot more sense.

Then it was all systems go! The road workers and machinery arrived and by the end of the day the road was complete. Bingo! At face value the job looked a good one. The resurface was well finished sealed to the existing surface. But then oh no! I walked down the road a few days later and happened to look down a drain cover. I was shocked to find it full of road chippings. On my way back I decided to look at all the drains on the road, and guess what all of them were full/blocked by road dressing. So a great job on the face of it had turned in to rework. A further job for a different team to return to site and unblock each drain. More inspection, rescheduling and prioritisation; not to mention cost.

Given the weather this year I decided to take action and logged on to my local county council web site to see how good their on line service was. It took me a while. I decided not to ring the hot line number as the council has decided to charge me for the priviledge. So, having navigated the web site I found the section I needed. Not that easy to do. I have an advantage because I know what I am looking for because I understand how council departments organise themselves. I started to enter the detail in to the web site: a tedious process. I got an acknowledgment on the site and advised that I would get a response within 10 days! This was followed a few minutes later by a standard email saying my request would be dealt with soon! More duplication, and a confusing series of messages.

Let’s hope that it does not rain too hard before the work is scheduled. The damage caused by blocked mains drains is obvious; and all caused because the job was not done correctly at the time. Bad system or sloppy workers? Ironic really that the council faces a financial crisis, and by taking sort cuts based upon unit cost it has increased its costs! Madness.

As I write the saga goes on. Watch this space.

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!

Data data all around, but not a bit that’s useful

It’s that busy time of the year for people in finance in local government –  ‘close down’.

A magical time when every last ounce of energy goes into the exercise.

There is a target date to meet and everything must add up, balance and be filed for inspection by the dreaded external auditor.making efficiencies

Life and death for accountants: like watching paint dry for everyone else.

During ‘close down’ it’s very difficult to get any useful information out of accountancy, as they are ‘too busy’.

So whilst the business goes on spending millions of pound a week managers run blind on what’s actually happening with cost, until they get an update at the end of the quarter. That’s when the fun starts again.

One persons view of a budget and spend profile is different to another. As the manager of the budget you often have limited say in what get reported to the many meetings that purport to scrutinize the detail only to nod it through.

It’s claimed that only the accountants really understand what the figures mean. In practice I wonder if even that it true.

The slight of hand that goes on to churn money in the system means that it’s difficult for anyone to know what the true picture is. By the time it gets reported, and audited the game has moved on.

Every year as a manager you do you best to manage and profile your spend to get value for money.

Now let’s not get started on VFM that will come up in a later blog.

A while ago in quarter two I was told that I was going to over spend by the end of the year by £2M (I was naturally quite worried) at the end of the following quarter I was going to underspend by £550K (now I was even more worried, did anyone know what was really going on?)

You could not make it up. What are you supposed to do!

Experience says keep your own information, so most of us keep our own spreadsheets just in case. They obviously sit outside of the main financial system, possibly even on memory sticks, but don’t tell IT as its against the policy to stick anything dodgy into your USB port.

At least having your own records gives you something to argue with when the accountant tries to manage your codes and your budget for you, and gets you in to hot water.

Ironically the latest accountancy system was introduced to remove the need for all those spreadsheets, but I am really glad that I secretly kept mine. It’s duplication of effort, but you cannot be too careful.

Another thing that bugs me is that fact that you are accountable for the budget and its spend, but the accountants mysteriously have secret powers to enter the system and move numbers around, seemingly at will, to balance things out for that all important financial report.

Overspends of course remain the managers problem.

This can be hugely frustrating when the overspend is cause by a cock up in accountancy when a Zero or the comma in the wrong place. Opps sorry these things happen!

Can you give me an explanation of the reasons for the overspend, and what you intend to do about it for the Management Team report. Oh and by the way the Director of Finance needs it by tonight.

The irony is that the budget is pored over and used as some amazing tool that informs our decision making.

In truth it’s a lagging measure, historical information regurgitated at various meetings to show everyone that we are in balance for the year against the agreed allocation of spend.

This whole exercise is an arbitrary judgement made largely on the basis of rolling forward previous years spent plus or minus a percentage.

It has little relationship to community or customer need, and gives us little if any information about true end to end operational cost of the services being delivered.

Why?  Because budgets are apportioned to hierarchical structures and further subdivided into functions and cost centres causing the system to sub optimise.

In practice this means that individuals manage the money that they have been allocated and spend it on the part of the organisation for which they have responsibility.

Simple really.

The issue is that each of us looks after our bit and has little, if any, focus upon the impact this has upon the customers that we are all here to serve. This in fact drives massive inefficiency and therefore cost into delivering essential services.

The result is that the organisation runs very inefficiently, but few people realise that this is the case because they are focused on their bit. The drive for efficiency only compounds the problem faced by many organisations.

Salami slicing or prioritisation of spend via a lottery causes individuals to act in a territorial way to protect spend in their area. It’s human nature.

The true cost of the system is in the flow – how things actually move around the organisation, not in unit cost.

Only by studying the organisation as a system can you begin to understand where and how to act to improve service and reduce operating cost.

Nodding dog Syndrome

I was sat in a coffee shop the other day enjoying a refreshing cuppa,  well on my way to earning my free cup, and reflecting upon what I call nodding dog syndrome.

I just have one more stamp to go and then i get a free drink.

The power to comply with the rules and win the bonus is really strong isn’t it. I know that a free cuppa is not going to change the world, but the principle is sound. Follow these rules and you can get a prize or a bonus.

I am more likely to go back to get the prize than pass over it. After all I have earned it. My behaviour has in a small way been affected by the hook of a free drink. The parallels with the working environment are strong.

Let’s take the all important performance data reporting as an example.

So the pressure is back on to make the numbers fit the plan. We are all well in to the  quarter and probably already starting to panic about what stories we can make up to cover the slippage or the short fall.

Everyone in the chain is keen to make the numbers look good, and come up with a form of words that will fit the highlight report to show that everything is on track. Doubtless some of us will also have to remember to log on and fill in the blanks in the computerised software that pulls our performance into the all important dashboard.

Now where did I put my password again?

I have to confess that  I only log in to the system once a month because I find it tedious, long winded and unhelpful.

The information does not help me or my team to learn and improve in the work, but because everyone is obliged to fill in the blanks, ( it’s in my objectives) audit, and/ or nod through the numbers it has become an inevitable routine to endure once a month.

I can see everyone pawing over the keypad dreaming up fine words, or thinking of who or what they can blame for the problem.

I have asked around and I don’t seem to be in the minority, and yet this is the core system that the organisation uses to monitor performance. I’ve been told  that it provides a good audit trail and a narrative that can be pulled out and fed in to the series of important meetings that are held each month to determine that performance is on track. Critical to business performance or so they think!

The trouble is that few people seem to acknowledge that the data keyed in to the system is manipulated to fit the target. The aim here is to make it look ok for the boss.

Bosses like green flags!

If you make it amber or red you need to write an essay on what has gone wrong and how you will put it right, and the boss will have to fill in lots of boxes and answer lots of difficult questions too. No one wants that do they?

The quarterly one to one review will be a nightmare if anything is not green. So, it’s just easier to make it look ok and nod it through. As long as the boxes are populated on time and are green then everyone is happy.

How can this be the way to do business?

The trouble is that targets  do not help us to understand how effectively we are delivering our service against customer expectation. By this I don’t mean the data from the annual customer poll or the generic customer panel that was run a few months ago.

I am thinking real-time feedback.

The other problem is that by the time the ‘big wigs’ get to view the scorecard the information, even if it was useful, is long out of date –  lagging behind what is really happening at the sharp end.

Making the whole process a massive waste of time. Time that could be spent in the work with front line colleagues understanding how to improve the system to enable a great service to be delivered every time.

I can remember a time when i had to go and explain why I was behind on a key performance indicator. The meeting took place two months after the data had been prepared rendering the cross-examination pointless.

Nevertheless the top brass took turns to ask me very detailed questions about the slippage. There was no interest in learning or improvement, just a determination to find someone to blame.

I tried to show them a control chart which ably demonstrated that the variance was normal, and therefore  to be expected, but  the meeting turned a little sour.

My hard evidence was unwelcome as it blurred the issue. Never let the facts get in the way of a good row over data! We cannot learn anything useful from such an exercise, other than to keep your head down and make the stats go green.

Make it up, do what it takes; find a way to fiddle the numbers.

We are feeding a machine with data like a hungry beast to keep it quiet, not using live data based upon what are customers are asking for in the moment to help us learn and improve at every opportunity.

So, if you want the bonus that you have ‘earned’ be a nodding dog –  better to keep your head down and make the numbers fits the plan at all costs.

Alternatively, you might be curious about using real data to help deliver excellent services, at lower cost, and to improve the mood and engagement within your team.

As a leader the choice is yours.

Confessions of a public sector director

I have missed my deadlines!

I should have completed all my end of year reviews by the end of last month.

I am late putting the final touches to my business plan, and the performance team wants to know the reasons why my numbers were down for quarter 4.

It seems to be getting harder each time. The last management review removed three of my colleagues and I inherited two extra reports to go with the six that I already have.

The performance objectives that had been set for the new guys have been passed on to me together with the outstanding objectives from two of the managers that did not survive the last jobs cull.

Everyone seems to me to be trying really hard, but according to the latest guidance from HR I need to score three of my team as under performing. This means that they will miss out on a bonus, and I will have to fill in a detailed improvement plan with each of them, which I have to monitor on a monthly basis.

If I fail to do this then my boss will put me on to an improvement plan! I am drowning in paperwork; well I tell a lie some of it is paperless.

We have a new on line web based portal to update our performance metrics on each week.

Honestly I spend more time staring at my computer screen up dating forms and scorecards than I do actually trying to do my job. Is this what I joined this business to do? I talked down the pub with a few of my mates and they mainly seem to be caught in the same trap.

The end of year reviews are all based on the revised competency framework, revised again this year by HR, and also have to link into the business plan targets for the team.

Mine are linked to the team and to my boss, and so on.  It’s a maze. I am not sure that anyone really understands what it all means.

The online guidance and video blogs don’t help much with explaining what we need to know, I just need someone to talk to in person, but the HR team now operate out of a contact centre 400 miles away.

The game at the end of the year is to come up with smart words to show how what we ended up doing looks like it fits with the original plan. I have become pretty skilled at making things look ok.

In truth what we actually do and what we put into the plans are very different, but as long as the right boxes are filled in and we can come up with a sensible reason why we missed target we can usually get away with it.

What a way to run a business!

I sometimes wonder whether everyone is up the same trick? Is the MD also spinning the numbers with the board? He must be! As long as the board is happy then we live to breath another day.

As for this years business plan, well everyone else seems to be rolling forward last years ideas and adding a bit at the margin on performance targets.

You have to do it to survive, but it feels like cloud cuckoo land to me. It feels more and more like a losing streak when betting on the horses. A few of my colleagues have let all this get to them and it has starting to impact upon their home lives.

One of my colleagues had her longstanding partner walk out on her the other week, because she was hardly ever at home. The culture of presenteeism means that we have to be seen to be at work crunching the numbers.

Two of my colleagues are off with stress, and I am not sure that one of them will ever come back. Maybe it’s for the best, at least he will end up with some sort of deal to keep him quite and the company out of the courts!

I have to sit down later this week with one of my reports,  to talk to him about his performance this month.

It’s going to be a difficult conversation you see because he is very good at his job and brings in great results; in fact he is ahead of target. The problem is he is ahead on the wrong target.

Let me explain a bit further – the powers that be have decided that we need to review ten clients a day, and this is the target that we get measured on.  Well Alan has only been hitting around five a day for the last three months, so things are not looking too good for him.

The problem is that he has actually converted more of his reviews in to new business than any other member of the team, but the other team members regular hit their target for reviews.

How can I explain that one to him? The business needs new business to survive, but the target is for numbers of completed reviews. The big bosses don’t seem to realize the implications for the business.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the bonuses they are due at the end of the financial year?

However, I am not sure that it has to be this way. I was reading an interesting article the other day by a chap called John Seddon. In it he talked about that fact that targets always drive the wrong type of behaviour in organisations.

When I reflected upon my own experience I could see what he meant. He also argued that business planning, and annual performance reviews were a waste of time and energy. Well I agree with him there! He argues that such processes are entirely arbitrary and add no value to the business what so ever.

So, why I am finding myself having to doing more and more of this stuff?

The article says that as a manager I need to connect with the work and my team and to understand what my team is about through the eyes of the customer and then to work with them to design and manage the work on the basis of what matters to the customers.

It sounds simple enough; I would love to find the time to have a go.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.