What gets measured…

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


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