On Target to Achieve Nothing

On Sunday 27th August, the Observer published an article, by yours truly, about what is wrong with targets. To read it, if you have not done so already, you can get it from our web site at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=971

Since the publication of this article, I have had a number of discussions with people in public sector organisations who are concerned about the Government’s use of targets. If you have concerns, illustrations of the current madness or you just want to let of steam please e-mail me (john@vanguardconsult.co.uk).

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Is your call centre a sweat shop?

Recently, on local and national radio, we have heard announcements about the opening of new call centres. Often the journalists ask: ‘Will this call centre be a sweat shop?’ and the response is: ‘Oh no, we train our people properly and we look after them well’. And that is as far as the conversation goes.

If I were asking the questions, the next question would be: ‘Will you be measuring the workers on calls per man per day or call duration and that sort of thing?’ If the answer is yes, this will be a sweat shop. These are the measures that define a production environment; they are at the heart of the philosophy that led to alienation and industrial strife for the whole of the last century. People who work in call centres know these measures are arbitrary, they have little to do with the work. To survive these people learn to ‘cheat’; often they prosper by ‘cheating’ to win prizes.

I have no doubt the manager would offer a defence. He (and it usually is the men who find these ideas hard to grasp) would say: ‘While we do use such measures we don’t use them in any harsh way’. I would suggest he go home, roll up a newspaper and raise it to his dog. Don’t hit the dog, the effect is the same.

Management’s preoccupation with call measures is due to their focus on their current view of the work – they think of all calls as units of work. This is a fundamental mistake. Regular readers of this column will know that in any call centre you find two kinds of calls, calls that I describe as ‘value demand’ – the things we are here to do for the customer and ‘failure demand’ – calls the customer has to make because the organisation has not done something or has not done something right for the customer. In call centres you find failure demand can be anything from 25 to 75% of all calls. So if you wanted to improve the service offered by your call centre and reduce your own costs, would you focus your attention on the activity of your staff or the nature of calls coming in? Which way of behaving would be most likely to engage your staff in improving the work?

A bit obvious isn’t it?

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ISO 9000: 2000 – news that may surprise you

It will be no surprise to regular readers of Vanguard material that the book ‘In Pursuit of Quality: the case against ISO 9000’ is to be re-published as a second edition to coincide with the launch of ISO 9000:2000. The second edition of the book has a more direct title – ‘The Case Against ISO 9000’ and it has some important additions. Chapter 1 charts the history of ISO 9000 to understand just how we went wrong.

BUT the NEWS is that Vanguard is to publish the VANGUARD STANDARDS – a systems thinkers guide to interpretation and use of ISO 9000.

It will be a surprise to many people that Vanguard is going to publish standards. Why this extraordinary ‘turn around’? Well it is not a turn around at all, our advice remains the same – do not register to ISO 9000. However, people register because they are obliged – they feel they have no choice – market-place coercion is the drive behind the continued, though slowing, growth in registrations. So for people who feel they have no choice, our advice is use the Vanguard Standards; they will do you least
harm and, moreover, will ensure that you can manage for improvement. The Vanguard Standards will also help you argue with your assessor about how you have interpreted ISO 9000 for your business.

The Vanguard Standards are the ONLY resource providing a systems thinking interpretation of ISO 9000 and will be available FREE OF CHARGE from our web site. Expect them to be available at the same time as the ISO 9000: 2000 launch. This newsletter will announce their publication.