Unfortunately most of us have come across metrics that are used to measure individual performance, to provide a quantified ‘stick’ with which to beat the under-performing individual, I hate them with a passion. Whilst they might have some validity in an assembly line, they have no place where I work, with knowledge workers.
There’s another way to think about metrics though, as a way for people to understand the work they are doing better to provide insights into how they are doing it, so that they can take ownership of and improve, their own performance. Managers then have a very different discussion with their staff, it’s no longer do more, it understand more. Once the focus switches to knowledge about work and how work gets done, improvement flows naturally.
By refocusing metrics in this way we help people understand why some jobs take a long time, while others are quicker. Provide the team with insights into why some people do the same job faster than others, without the assumption that speed is always better.
Metrics need to become more like the fitbit that I wear on my belt, my wife doesn’t check up on my daily step count and use that to decide whether I get dinner or not, instead it’s a tool to help me improve my fitness, one of many inputs that provide me with more understanding of how I move each day, to give me with insights, to encourage me to move more. It’s a tool for self improvement.
Let’s take the example of a service desk environment where people are traditionally managed based on their ability to meet or exceed a target number of tickets. Throughput is easy to measure, but difficult to correlate with good performance:
- Tickets associated with one service might be more complex than tickets for another
- One person might more reliably diagnose the problem than another, he gets less tickets done, but the customer is much happier with the result
- Another might document the resolution better, so he’s slower too, but the next person trying to solve the same problem will be quicker
- Another might solve a problem in a way that takes a few minutes longer, but minimises the disruption for the customer
- Yet another might capture more useful meta-data resulting in more accurate reports and improved analysis of trends
- The last example might be the person who calms down the frantic, angry customer and turns them into a fan
These additional dimensions of good performance are lost when throughput if the primary criteria. Of course defocussing on throughput and re-focussing on a broader definition of quality might result in less throughput in the short term, or more variability, but variability is inherent in most systems anyway. The way to deal with that is by building slack into a system. Instead of dividing 1000 tickets a day by 10 tickets per person and so having 100 staff, you have 105. This might seem crazy at first sight but take a read of the book Slack and you will seen see that companies with slack consistently outperform companies that don’t. Queues don’t build up, teams have the ability to cope with unexpected peaks, staff don’t burn out, sickness levels reduce, innovation increases, improvements can be sustained and customers are happier.
I’m no expert in service desk in particular, but here are a few random ideas that might be better than the throughput stick:
- Group people into teams of 4-8 and give the team a target ticket volume. Encourage the team to discuss how to tackle the challenge together. Maybe 5 people will cover the sixth person while she does some cross training. Maybe 2 of the people are better at complex tickets than the others. Maybe one member of the team seems consistently slower and the team can work together to figure out why and provide some coaching.
- Provide the team with more insightful metrics, metrics that really help them do their job better. Make it possible for them to compare throughput when solving different types of tickets (problems, requests, how do I questions). Let them see whether their throughput is affected by the time of day, because the team’s not managing their energy well. The possibilities are endless.
- Set-up competitions between teams, to see who can clear the most tickets each week and then get the winning team to share as many hints and tips as they can think of as to how they did it. For each tip they provide give the team £10
The point of this list isn’t to provide really good ideas, it’s to change the mindset away from measuring individual performance in a crude way and then using it as a stick, instead use metrics to help individuals, or even better teams, take ownership of improving their own performance.
Critically assume people want to do a good job, but to be motivated to do a good job your need to find ways to give them autonomy over the way that they do it and some control over what ‘good’ means to them. They want to improve their performance, not simply their throughput, they want to become craftsmen/masters of their trade. They want to understand and engage with a higher purpose than clearing 10 tickets a day:
- giving the customer a good first impression
- reliably diagnosing the customers problem
- fixing that problem quickly
- minimising disruption to the customer
- minimising the chance of the same problem happening again
- explaining to the customer how to help themselves
- capturing information that can be used to analyse and spot trends
- capturing knowledge so that if the same problem happens again others will be able to do everything better
- leaving the customer calm, confident and happy
- keeping their energy levels high so they do a great job all day
- not getting burnt out to the point where they go off sick
- enjoying their work and their team so much that they want to stay
- making sure they do the follow up research that arises from some incidents
- helping out a team member who who didn’t get much sleep because of a sick child
You can’t easily measure all of these things in a quantified way, but you can in a subjective way, but that’s the subject of another post.
I wrote this post with my legs up on the sofa in my conservatory office. I don’t normally work on a Friday but I started discussing this topic with a friend of mine on the phone this morning and I wanted to clear my mind of the resulting swirling thoughts. I’ve one more blog post to write and then I’m off to walk on the sea front, so this post’s picture is to remind me of what I’m missing.