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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Scottish Power to your elbow

I took advantage of the energy deals that were around in the autumn of last year and switched supplier to cap my rate.

All went smoothly until this week.

Out of the blue I recieved an email from Scottish Power telling me that they had increased my direct debit by 50%.

To say that I was surprised was an understatement! How could this be I wondered, I took time to calcuate my last years consumption to make the transfer.

The Scottish Power computer told us how much we needed to pay. A good deal, and the job done. making efficiencies

So, I thought that I would make a call to express my surprise and find a solution that suited me.

I waded my way through the usual obstacles of the call routing system that did its best to pursuade me that I did not need to speak to a person and ended up speaking to an unhelpful agent.

Not her fault you understand she had an impossible job in a crap system. No the less her manner left a lot to be desired, and only served to make me more determined to escalate that issue.

She was adamant that the computer said that I owed money and that the direct debit could not be changed.

I quietly explained to her that this was the winter quarter and that I was a new customer, and that as a result the calculation that had been made not three months previously was correct .

She was robust in her view that I had no option but to pay the revised amount.

Now at this point some people would have checked out and put the phone down believing that they had no option ( I bet a lot do, as this is the game that the company want to play afterall its better to have the cash in the company’s account than the customers.You have to keep the shareholders happy).

However, I was quick to advise the agent that I was not taking no for an answer. After a pause, she said that she would log my concerns on the system as a complaint.

Further intransigence on my part finally got her to put the call through to customer services.

The music played out for a good five minutes, and I wondered what was going to happen. Then, all at once the tone of the call changed completely.

At last I was talking to someone with a bit of common sense. The Superviser immediately said that she understood my issue and would withdraw the revised direct debit straight away. Hooray! A victory for common sense.

I asked her if this happened often, oh yes she said it happens when new customers transfer accounts during the winter period.

The computer automatically calculates based upon useage and sends out automatic changes to direct debits and even automates the email to the customer.

I asked if she thought that this might be a training issue for the front line so that they understood this and could respond more effectively to customers in the first place.

Her enthusiastic reply was that there were a number of issues that had to be taken into account with the customer and that the agents did not have all the answers.

She missed my point completely!

However, I did get my problem fixed.

So what did I learn from this experience?

  • They have an IT system that automatically upsets customers on a regular basis, because it cannot cope with complexity. It causes frustrated customers to have to wait in a queue to sort out mistakes at their own time and expense. It drives costs in to their system.
  • They have a call handling system that is not designed against the demands placed upon it from their customers.
  • They have call agents who are not trained to deal with frequent calls.

Now commercially you might think that this makes sense.  How many poor unsuspecting customers will just follow what the computer says?

But what does this do for customer relations and customer loyalty? (Scottish Power proudly boasted in an email to me the following day that they had a 91% customer satisfaction rate, and are in the top 50 most improved contact centres).

What are they rating and measuring I wonder to benchmark themselves with others?

Notwithstanding the impact upon the customer the current system drives lots of waste in to their organisation, driving up their costs.

The system generates a change to a direct debit to my bank, and all the accounting activity that goes on behind the scenes, it generates an email to me.

I phone them and they spend 20 mins on the phone, they update and record info in their systems, and pass calls around to supervisors and other departments whilst I wait on the phone.

The result is that all the automatic actions made by the computer have to be manually corrected, and my bank notified of the change. I wonder how much that cost?

The chances are that they will not even see this as an issue.

The waste is hidden in the flow of work around their system and will be owned and managed by different managers. Each will in turn have a focus upon a target to manage their bit.

No one will have their eye on the bigger picture because they are too far removed from understanding the end to end workflow in practice. If they did they would be very interested to listen back to my call and follow the issue back to its root within the business.

Perhaps if a few more leaders got back into the work and understood the true what and why of performance they would begin to focus upon acting on the system and improving outcomes for customers and share holders.

Until then keep an eye on your utility bills and challenge the providers all the way.

48 ways to save!

making efficienciesHere is an interesting blog about the focus of the government upon shared services in local government, and the belief that it will save billions of pounds for the tax payer. Evidence from practice highlights the fact that sharing services is more likely to add cost in whole system terms than reduce it. The current rhetoric only measures certain parts of the process to make it look successful. Be careful what you wish for Mr Pickles.

Pickle’s pamphlet ‘Now only 48 ways to save’?.

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.

What would the boss say?

I have been involved in a few conversations in recent days where the subject of what the boss would say came up in conversation. It’s fascinating  that employees  fuss over what the boss will think. It shows a lot about the culture that operates within such organisations. In some cases careers may rest upon pitching it right. Is this what the boss will want to hear? Atfer all bosses only want to hear good news don’t they!

In the instances discussed it appeared to make doing the right thing impossible, or at least as far as that employee was concerned. The shadow left by the leader lasts long after they have moved on. In one of the discussions the leader was no longer even in the business, but their image left a lasting legacy and this was having a material impact upon current operational performance.

When I delved deeper into the conversations I find that the truth is that many people do not actually know what there boss would actually say or do. Folklore makes up the gap. People exaggerate experiences to warn others off from crossing the line and questioning the bosses thinking. Hierarchy plays its part. Looking down  its can be in the best interests of bosses to allow the myths to prevail because its suits their purpose. Possibly to climb the greasy pole, or perhaps to keep others in check. ‘I know the boss well – she would not like to hear that’. Like gossip this is passed on and embellished along the way for effect. The truth becomes distorted and if we are not careful everyone believes the rhetoric –  sometimes even the boss! Looking up the hierarchy all you see is a metaphorical brick wall.  It’s easier to follow the crowd, keep your head down, and do as you are told. Conformity is the name of the game.

Then you get to meet the boss in question, and they are nothing like the character portrayed by the stories that you have heard. They are keen to learn; to engage; to understand how the business works; and how things might be improved.

The problem in todays corporate world is that it is too easy for leaders to become detached from the real operation. In their place comes stories generated by others in the hierarchy often to suit their own purposes that cause the leaders messages to get distorted, or even replaced with the words of others.

The way for a leader to resolve this is simple.  Get out in the work as a routine part of your day, build trust and confidence, and find out what is really going on out there. When you find things that are getting in the way, or that others cannot sort or fix act to resolve the issue. Generate a true image of who you are and what you stand for. If you have the customer at the heart of your thinking and understand what matters to them you will not go far wrong.

Get started tomorrow by blocking time out and go and do some action research. You will be amazed what is really going on outside your glass box.

Boys from the black stuff the story goes on..

Well it’s now twelve days since the saga started. You will recall that the local county council had resurfaced a road. In the process local residents had fallen and injured themselves due to the delay in scrapping the top surface off and truing up to resurface the road. The local paper picked this up and gave it publicity. In the process of finishing the job the road worked managed to fill six drains with a mix of the old top surface and the new black top.

Job creation

Well, the drains remain blocked. I have heard nothing from the council, other than an acknowledgement to my email. ( No real surprise there!) The autumn is upon us and the rainy season has returned.

I am wondering how long it will take the council to clear the drains. I am also wondering what the next issue will be, if they don’t pull their finger out. Flooding is on my list. A road traffic collision is not beyond the realm of possibility as the road in question adjoins a busy route. All addition costs and potential distress that could have been avoided if the job had been done properly in the first place. Better still that the inspector that visited the job afterwards had done their job properly and got the rework undertaken quickly. Of course if  inspection was built-in to the work on the ground then the job would have been left in a good shape. However, because management believe that you need to separate inspection from the job it causes sloppy behaviour on the ground, as no one accepts responsibility for the job. Every one blames someone else. Driving costs up and customer satisfaction down.

In the meantime the resurfacing work goes on elsewhere in the town. Guess what the drains are also being filled with debris. A systemic fault with the way that the work is being undertaken. Adding more costs for a council that claims to be hard presses for cash. Getting the job done right first time would be a start. I am guessing that the ‘chaps’ in their ivory tower over in Preston have not been out of the office to see what is really going on across the patch. If they did they would learn how to design and manage the work in a different way, producing better outcomes for everyone. The balanced score card that they rely upon is telling lies, but no one can see beyond the fiction created by made up numbers.

Watch this space….

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.

Money down the drain!

Can you spot the problem here? The team on the job left the site after a job well done!

Is this good work? Time, money and effort go into resurfacing a road that creates more work for another team to fix the failure. There is not one, but six drains like this!

Time pressure, unit costing and specification all got in the way of a job done right first time. I assume that the road has been not yet been inspected. This is another function that is better built into the role of those doing the work.

Do councils really have money to pour down the drain?

A change of leadership thinking is required, but are they up for it?

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.