Be careful what you wish for

Hand drawn five bar gates and stopwatch

If you don’t measure it you can’t improve it.

That was what a previous senior manager of mine used to say. I was working in a customer service centre and part of my role was to collate the measurements that were used to evaluate the team’s performance.

The team was split in two: One half took incoming phone calls, the other half dealt with written  communication. This was in the mid 1990’s and written meant paper. Email was just starting to become adopted internally and the workflow used a fledgling digital system. Customer’s letters would be scanned automatically and those scans added to a queue to be dealt with in turn.

That queue also had requests from the phone team that were deemed complex and needed escalating as the paperwork team was generally more senior. 

The phone team were measured for total number of calls taken and the average duration of call.

So the aim was to take as many calls as possible and to keep them short.

Calls came in via an automated switchboard and would be non stop unless you clicked DND (Do Not Disturb). This was a feature of the phones and it prevented the next call coming through. It was measured but did not have the same weighing as call number or duration.

So to meet individual targets, many of the call team would make notes (pen and paper) during the call, press DND, type the request and add it to the queue for the paperwork team.

So rather than dealing with the majority of caller requests in the moment, a significant volume were added to the queue for the other half of the team. The phone team looked good because call volumes were high and duration was short. Yet two people were involved for a task that could have been completed within the duration of a call.

All because the measurements encouraged gaming the system.

So when you want to know the performance of your team be careful what you ask for.

Focusing on certain Key Performance Indicators rather than gaining a broader understanding can inadvertently lead to encouraging behaviours that reduce your overall effectiveness.

For further reading about how using rewards may actually lower output see