Lean Management could cost you THIS valuable asset if misapplied.

Full lean managment

In today’s economy, companies are trying to figure out how to do more with less.  

Catch phrases such as lean management, metrics, matrix, and productivity have taken over our professional lingo.  But how do you do more with less when dealing with people? There is a balance. It is a thin line that too many firms cross. 

There is a resource in companies that have long term employees, it’s called Knowledge Asset.  This tangible asset something that can’t be easily replaced.  The Knowledge Asset is the compilation of knowledge about the tricks, tips, and tweaks that work with your product that is so vast, and detailed that it would be impossible to record, or even teach.  This is knowledge that comes from working your product inside out, and backwards for several years.  Once a knowledge asset is gone, it is irreplaceable.

I had a meeting with some of the Senior Reps from a company I was working with.  The average time with the firm for the group in this meeting was close to 15 years.  These people had given a lot of time with the team they were on.  When asked about what was the best thing about their jobs, they all unanimously responded about the team they worked with.  When asked the worst, …. Well let’s just say we ran out of time before they ran out of complaints.  The company had just undergone reorganization, and as a result a lot of the off-phone projects that the senior reps could look forward to working on were all taken away.  Suddenly these reps were not only expected to take on the training of the new employees, but to also make the same call numbers as a front line first tier rep.  Due to the reorganization, almost all the senior reps were facing write-up because the new call taking guidelines did not take into consideration the more difficult calls that they handled, along with the training times they had with the newer employees.  When asked how many of them were looking for jobs outside of the company, all but two raised their hands.  When I asked the two why they were not looking for new jobs, they explained that they had just hit retirement age and had decided to take advantage of that.   I left the meeting with the realization that the company I was working with was about two months from losing every single one of their senior customer service reps.  They were facing the very real situation that they were going to lose their Knowledge Asset.   It had gotten so bad that the reps even joked about wanting to all turn in their two-week notices with-in days of each other.  

I asked them what needed to happen to change their minds, and unfortunately, things had gotten so bad that their response was that the company in question had broken so many deals with them, that they no longer believed anything the firm promised.

The firm in question had become so focused on the outdated Six Sigma lean management that they failed to look at the work the employees did.  The company focus became on quantity, not quality.  One manager actually sat down and told me (and his staff) this little story…

You run a bakery, and have 3 orders for 5 pies.  

Your first baker makes 1 pie, but it is the best pie you have ever tasted, but he failed to make the other 4 pies. The order was not met

Your Second baker makes 3 pies, and they are pretty good, but you are still 2 pies short for your order.

Your third baker makes 5 pies, but they are the worst thing you have ever tasted to the point that they are almost inedible.  But the order was met

The moral of the story?  You need to be more like baker 3.  

I must admit when I heard this my jaw was on the floor and I was doing the fish mouth for several minutes while my brain tried to process this concept.  Management was literally telling these employees to put out shoddy answers just so they could make an impossible call quota.  Remember the employees in this meeting had an average of 15 years with this company.  15 years that they had won numerous customer service awards. These employees were regularly recognized in company meetings for positive customer comments and compliments that had been sent to upper management about the work they had done.  These were not slackers, they took pride in the quality of work they provided.  They were now being told, by management, that numbers took priority to accuracy. 

When we met with upper management and expressed our concerns about the change in focus, and how it was impacting their bottom line, they explained away the whole thing as those employees were lazy and not wanting to work anymore.  

When looking at lean management to help streamline your customer service team.  Make sure to ask these questions:

1.     Do the changes we are making impact the ability to give accurate answers?
2.     Are we putting quantity over quality?
3.     Do we have solid matrixes in place to ensure that quality does not suffer?
4.     Are we lean managing our way into negative impacts on our employees?
5.     Are we preventing our employees to earn/work their way up into less phone time?
6.     Will these moves cost us the knowledge asset that we possess?
7.     Have you set quotas that very few employees are hitting?

If you answered yes to any, or all of these questions then you may want to take a look at your lean management principles to ensure they are not diluting your quality of service to your customers. 

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