In another recent adventure I met with some lovely marketing folk to discuss opportunities to help them with a little bit of improvement to their marketing ways. Being something of a self-styled expert in this arena I thought I could offer them my assistance. I was wrong.
They asked me what I thought of their website. I said it was nice and all that but I wasn’t really the best person to ask. You see, I believe that a data-driven improvement should be based on what actual customers feel about your website rather than the opinion of some office-based numptie who is not even a customer.
I suggested a variety of metrics and reports to look at visitor behavior and develop dynamic data-driven responses to improve the website performance. I even recommended a structure for change management including a rolling process of continuous improvement supported by a longer term, strategic development project.
Apparently they only wanted my opinion on whether it looked good.
I recently had the pleasure of spending time with some chums working in call centre land. They had heard about this ‘systems thinking’ thing as someone upstairs in the organisation had made the suggestion that the call centre folk should start doing some systems thinking. Well imagine my surprise. What luck!
Here was a real opportunity for me to share my systemsy ways and help my chums. So I started off telling them all the great stuff about systems thinking only to see blank faces staring back at me. This approach wasn’t working so I tried a different approach.
First I did a bit of research. I had a chinwag with some fine people who had done systems thinking with success. Then I spoke with some equally fine people who were trying to do systems thinking with less success.
Next I talked to my chums in call centre land. But I didn’t talk to them about systems thinking this time, oh no! Instead this time I asked them about what they thought was important and how they measured what they were doing. The results were interesting…
Universally (and not surprisingly) everyone said that customer satisfaction was most important. The metrics used to measure this included call wait time, average handling time and abandon rate (fairly typical call centre measures).
I then asked them to complete an organisational maturity model devised by the nice people at SCIO. This model is based on the viable systems model and it measures the systemic maturity of an organisation based on the six aspects of VSM.
The model uses organisational archetypes to identify areas for improvement and one particular archetype stood out:
Open Loops & Reverse Polarity – A problem common in performance management when performance measures are used not to inform about a process but instead used to drive the process. It is extremely common and occurs when collecting so-called ‘feedback’. Systemic failures include reverse feedback where feedback flows the wrong way and the operation receives information on the management aspiration for it rather than management receiving feedback on the operational performance (SCiO).
In other words the purpose of this system is to do what gets measured (and what gets measured gets done). This may well be a key reason why systems thinking will not flourish in this environment, as one of my interviewees suggested sometimes “it isn’t that they can’t see the solution, it is that they can’t see the problem”.
Disclaimer Time: this is blog #1 and it is work in progress