Category Archives: Right thing righter

First Class Service

On Thursday last week my beloved Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 died. It refused to turn on. I called Samsung who offered to send a prepaid packet for me to return the device to them for repair under warranty as it is slightly less than two years old. Alternatively I could take the tablet to their Bradford Experience Centre where they may be able to repair it whilst I wait. This would be subject to their volume of work so I opted for the postal option. The packet contained a letter quoting a tracking reference.

On Saturday the prepaid packet arrived. The packet contained a letter quoting a tracking reference. I popped the tablet in the packaging and left it with the Post Office. It was after 12 noon so I wasn’t too hopeful that it would leave that day.

To my surprise and delight on Wednesday when I checked the on-line progress tracker confirmed that my tablet had been repaired. Even more impressive, I received a text and an email from the courier (Anova/DPD) allowing me to track the package. So rather than having to wait in all day I could plan my day knowing the tablet would arrive in a one hour time slot. And it did arrive, 7 minutes into the allotted hour.

Well done Samsung, and Anova/DPD. Treating the customer as a customer.

Using averages is likely to give average results

Averages are used in lots of situations: batting averages in cricket, wages and salaries, road speed (er sorry, safety) cameras. They’re taught in school as basic maths. Take several measurements, add them up and divide by the number of measurements.  Mathematicians call it the mean.  For example, take a sweet manufacturer who sells boxes of chocolates.  Each box is marked ‘average contents 10’.  The manufacturer checks 10 boxes and records the contents.

Sweets per box
Total 100
Mean 10

The advantage of using the mean is its simplicity. The drawback is that this simplicity can hide knowledge from us. Take this example:

Sweets per box
Total 100
Mean 10

Here the data has the same mean, but the data points are spread very differently.  Compare the maximum and minimum values in each of the examples. Note the number of 10s in the first example and how few there are in the second.

So, in these very simple examples would you prefer to buy a box of chocolates from example 1 or 2.  In the first you will get 9, more likely 10, but may be eleven. But in example 2 you might be lucky and get more than 20 or unlucky and get only 2.  If you only got 2 sweets I suspect you wouldn’t be very happy.

Averages only tell part of the story and can hide the bigger picture.

This is the danger of using averages.

Targets – We’ll hit them if you insist

The thing about staff is that they want to please you.  Yes, I suggest all of them, well at least they want to do everything they can to prevent you telling them they’re not performing well enough.

The reality is increased pressure to meet targets increases the ingenuity applied in response.  Or to look at it from the perspective of an economist, the relationship between ingenuity and pressure is elastic.

In other words people, even ‘honest’ people have a tendency to twist the story to hit the target. In short people will cheat (to a degree).  Parameters are bent to make sure goals are met. 

Take a certain parcel delivery organisation where the objective is (I assume) to deliver packages within a specified timescale and where a house is unoccupied leave a card advising of the attempted delivery.  The pressure to meet the objective creates a situation where the van driver rings the door bell and immediately puts a card through the letter box, driving away before the householder gets to the door.

The pressure to hit the target of delivering all the parcels on the van has motivated the driver to spend as little time as possible at each drop-off point. 

And the impact?

Firstly, the inconvenience to the addressee.  They have to either arrange re-delivery or go to the depot to collect the item.  In either event this has created extra work; the addressee may have phoned the depot, requiring someone there to answer it; finding the parcel at the depot and potentially redelivering it.

The key point here is that a target, probably imposed to increase the productivity of the delivery staff and reduce operating costs has caused inconvenience to the customer, and increased the service centre and delivery costs.

To find out more about the impact of rewards read this article from Freakonomics.

Targets – a rod for beating people?

Are you burdened by seemingly impossible targets?  You want to achieve, do a good job but struggle to hit the numbers.

Consider where that target came from.  The outcome of many targets is not within the control of the worker.  They are affected by external factors over which the individual has no control.

Take an ice cream vendor in kiosk at a British seaside resort.  Sales are likely to be heavily influenced by the weather. If it’s a cool wet summer, less people are likely to be around.  Hence less sales.  Yes if the kiosk is on a good pitch this can increase sales, and so will a clean and tidy kiosk.  But if it’s a wet and windy day sales will remain poor.

It’s easy for management to set targets where the results are primarily governed by factors over which the worker has no control.  They cannot change the outcome.

The impact of such targets is to de-motivate.  Gradual spirals of despondency set in with the workers and output falls further.  The result is increased sickness, increased staff turnover.  Performance decreases.

Targets can be dangerous.  That’s all targets, not just sales.

Getting a drink is simple – Well it is, isn’t it?

Recently I was invited to a breakfast briefing at a major hotel. I arrive the obligatory 15 or so minutes before the published start time to mingle with my fellow guests. Courteously I’m invited to help myself to a drink – tea or coffee.

All the necessary items – sugar, sweeteners, stirring sticks, mugs, followed by flasks – are laid out on a table on the edge of the small mingling area. It’s quite a busy event and the area is a little congested.

Now I’m into process, in fact I’m very enthusiastic about process, you know doing the right thing right.

I must be careful here. I don’t want to spill anything do I?

First things first, I need a mug. Yes mugs are great, you get more in them and you don’t need to balance them on a saucer. That’s good.

Now for some coffee. I don’t like tea, so it must be coffee. What? The flasks aren’t labelled? Which is which? Ah, the chap at the side of me tells me which is coffee. Umm, good job he was there otherwise….. So where’s the milk then? Umm, that’s not particularly obvious either, but with team work we achieve our objective.

So far I’ve been working from left to right along the table. But now I need some sugar, oh and a stirrer. Where are they? What? At the extreme left hand side? Surely not. Oh, yes. I can see them but by now there’s someone on my left who’s guessing which liquid he’s pouring into his mug. Sorry mate, I should have told you about that. Really sorry, honest. Excuse me, I’ve not told you which was tea, but even so would you mind letting me through to the sugar… …err please.

I reach for the sugar and the stirrer, disrupting the flow, trying not to cause me or my fellow guest to spill our drinks.

Success. Coffee in mug. Milk in mug. Sugar in mug.

Stirrer in…. ….where’s the bin?

Why do they do it? These hospitality professionals, supposedly at the upper end of the market but they can’t even organise a cup of tea in a…. …hotel!

It should be so simple. 60 guests wanting a drink. But it’s not.

It’s all in the process. Don’t blame the guests. They’re following the process laid out by the hotel.

I wonder how good their other processes are? Glad I’m not expecting something more complex. How good are the processes in your business? Do the right thing righter.