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.

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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.

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks.

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks. A friend of mine told me a story about something that happened to him at work this week.  He overheard a call to one of his team from their internal sales call centre. It transpired that a customer had requested a delivery, nothing special you might think? However, the sale had come from a business a couple of hundred yards from where he was currently located. The irony was that the sales assistant in the call centre two hundred miles away was explaining that the order could not be placed with the local depot. Instead she advised that it had to come from a depot 50 miles away!

The logic – the sales targets indicated that the product needed to be delivered from that depot 50 miles away, other wise they would not hit their sales target for the month. Fortunately, my friend who was the manager over both sites stepped in to over rule the decision. He said to me ‘I thought this is madness,  I was prepared to take the consequences, and so I overruled the decision. The decision was ridiculous. Sales were not happy’. This got us on to a conversation about the stupidity of targets and the effect that they have within businesses. For the sake of a sales target the business was prepared to spend more cash delivering tonnes of product by taking a 100 mile round trip. How can this be good for business?

Fortunately my friend has a systemic view of the world, and was able to allow common sense to prevail and take executive action. He could see how barmy this decision really was.

The worrying thing is that If he had not been in the right place at the right time the business would have lost money, but it would have hit it’s sale targets for the month. How barmy is that!

He was the first to recognise that the sales team will be making arbitrary decisions like this every day. The sad thing is that he feels powerless to impact the command and control style of management that operates within the business.

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….

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.

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

Room service

I have been using a hotel recently on business and have managed to strike up a good relationship with the local staff. My business priorities changed after I had made a booking locally at the hotel. No worries I thought I will ring them and let them know that I need to change my plans. That’s when the fun started. How hard can it be?  Well I was about to find out!

I googled the hotel to find the number and make the call. I hit an IVR system, I thought this is strange –  the hotel is not that big and an IVR system seemed a bit over the top. I started musing about the IT salesperson the had flogged them an overly specified system for the purpose. A large bonus would have resulted and you would have not seen him/her for dust. Anyway, back from my day-dream and  having chosen the bookings option I was then surprised to hear that I was 5th in the queue! It started to dawn upon me that this was not a call that was going to be answered by the hotel reception, but by a call centre somewhere in the world. To cap it all the message playing advised me that I was being charged 10 p a minute by the hotel for the call and I was still 5th in the queue. At this point I thought stuff it! I put the phone down and emailed the local sales manager at the hotel to make her aware of my experience and to change my booking. She answered first thing the following morning and all was well.

Upon my arrival at the hotel the sales manager immediately apologised for my experience and said that they had no control over the phone calls. The hotel group to which they now belonged had centralised it call handling facility some time ago and that there was nothing that she could officially  do. However, she then whispered that I could have the local number for reception which is managed about 20 hours a day and that they would be very happy to help me in future. Of course she was quick to let me know that this was against company policy,and she could be shot for giving the number to me. Shot for doing the right thing!

The conversation then went on to reveal that the centralisation of the booking system causes all sorts of problems for not only the customers, but also to the local staff. She said, Imagine trying to book a conference or a wedding through a call handler somewhere else in the world who does not understand the local hotel, its provisions etc.  It causes a lot of problems which have to be sorted out once the hotel become aware of the booking, causing duplication of effort and frustration for the customer who is keen to ensure that their event goes off well. As is always the case the local team pull together and do their best to make sure that the customer gets what they want on a way that best suits their needs, but at what cost to the business and its hard-working employees?

Another classic case of a bunch of suits in an ivory tower somewhere in the world thinking that they can save money by centralising and standardising their approach to customer enquiries. Of course they will be using a bunch of metrics that tell them that the system works wonderfully and probably also helps to justify the decision to invest in the IVR system and call centre operation. If only those guys got out of their tower and came to study and understand the reality of their decision through the yes of the customer and colleagues in the workplace they would understand that all was not what it seemed. Until then I will use the local phone number to sort out my accommodation. However, the obvious frustrations and morale of the staff will continue to suffer along with the reputation and lost business to the hotel and others in the chain until someone is brave enough to wake and realise that this does not make good business sense.

It pays to give bad service

I recently called  an embassy to fix an appointment to gain a visa for a relative  and it turned into an expense wild goose chase when the agent failed to do their job properly. Firstly, i was surprised to learn when i called the number that i would be charged £1.23 per minute plus my call rate. After all i was already paying over £100 for the privilege of a visa in the first place. A minute in to the IVR message i realised  that i needed more documentation that the web site suggested. So i hung up to get the missing information.  Then back to the phone i sat through that IVR message to get to the number i needed to set up an appointment. Fixing an appointment took a full ten minutes on the phone. I was then told that an email would be sent to me with the necessary information in it to enable me to undertake the next steps, which must be  completed before attending for the appointment.  Failure to do this would mean that entrance to the embassy would be refused.

So i waited patiently, and sure enough an email arrived but minus the all important documents that i needed to print off and complete in order to gain entry to the  embassy. Imagine my frustration when the email contained no attachments! The catch 22 – you cannot email the embassy you can only ring them on the standard number to get any help. This left only one option spend more money sorting their problem out. So i was forced to repeat the process – call the call centre explain the issue and attempt to get the all important attachments. Back through the IVR i went and eventually spoke to another agent who confirmed that the attachments were missing. She agree to send them to me again. No apology, no hint of sympathy for my inconvenience. 10 minutes and £12 poorer the documents were sent across to me. This time thankfully they arrived.

This is a system that clearly helps to cover its costs by the charging by the minute for its service. The individual agents are not to blame for this shabby approach to meeting customers expectations. The leaders who decided to to industrialse the process made the mistake. Unfortunately as the system is now a licence to print money no one will care. As customers with no choice but to respond to this dumb system we will be forced to continue to put up with poor service. Someone, somewhere clearly thinks that this service gives good value. My advice would be for a senior bod to come out of their bullet proofed glass panels and walk the workflow as a customer from start to finish. Only then could they see the broken system for themselves. As command and control thinkers they might need some help seeing the wood for the trees. Pity really as the average teenager can see what a ridiculas process has been created.

To top it all when you evenly get to enter the embassy in advance of the allotted time you find a line,   more a kin to queuing for a pop concert that a business meeting. You then find out that the time given in the original phone,  for which we paid £24, does nothing more than place you  in the very long queue. In all 2.5 hours was spent in the building mainly sitting around waiting for something to happen. Useful time spent totalled about 10 minutes max during the 2.5 hours. This ‘useful time’ was spent giving in documentation, much of which they already  had on their computer system, and answering a couple of questions. The waste , and cost, of human a time  runs to many hundred of hours a day. sadly no one cases about what matters to customers anymore we are merely numbers of a screen waiting and waiting……

Apparently we were lucky  – it can take up to FIVE hours on some days. Madness!