Managers: What are they good for?
“…absolutely nothing?” Managers don’t have a great reputation, do they? There’s any number of cartoon strips, jokes and internet memes to back up the idea that they’re just a waste of space; a smug, self-satisfied blight on the happiness of innocent workers everywhere. But we also know that this isn’t anywhere close to reality. Alongside a few notable exceptions (admittedly mostly cartoon characters), there stands an army of hard-working and effective men and women who know how to get the most out of their teams.
It’s a manager’s job to know what’s going on, and to make sure their team is on track to achieve their goals. A good manager will provide clear direction without getting too bogged down in the details. They will inspire and equip their team members to do great, focused work.
Twenty-first century tools
In the hyper-connected, global, 24/7 world we all inhabit now, a manager’s responsibilities are broader, deeper and more complex than ever before. Teams are often spread over several continents, time zones and even languages. Their goals are many and varied, and their skills are both diverse and specialized. No mere mortal could be expected to stay awake long enough or travel far enough to give daily personal attention and direction to everyone. However, we do have the technology to empower great management feats.
Visual management is a concept we’re very fond of here at S4RB, because it combines some relatively simple technology with management principles in a very powerful way.
In a nutshell, visual management is what happens when you present important operational data to teams or individuals in the form of dashboards for chosen key performance indicators. Our approach is to put these dashboards online, in the cloud – collections of charts that tell a clear story and that can be accessed any time, anywhere. Sharing the right information with people in this way enables them to see how they are performing, whether they are on track to meet their goals, and what they need to change in order to improve their performance.
Or, to put it another way, when presented with the right information, teams can make their own decisions about what needs to be done. In a limited way, they can begin to manage themselves based on quality insights. The manager’s job is made much easier when their team members are exposed to visual management. The whole team shares one common view of performance and management is by exception; supporting those team members who need it most.
Spotting opportunities for product improvements
To take just one example from my own recent experience, a large retailer had access to several years’ worth of data from their call center. The information was used to manage complaints, but the private brand team had never tried using it to spot opportunities for product improvements - there was just too much to wade through.
Building a fairly straightforward online dashboard that showed users a few key numbers from the data at-a-glance instantly allowed quality managers and suppliers alike to start identifying important and actionable insights: which products were under-performing, common feedback relating to packaging, top opportunities for improvement, and so on.
Information that used to be ignored is now viewed and acted on multiple times each week, leading to demonstrable product quality improvements that drive positive brand perception, customer satisfaction and sales.
The call center context
Visual management has been successfully applied in many different contexts, and has the potential to be a highly effective tool anywhere workers need to know how well they or their products are performing. This includes areas that we may not traditionally think of as data-driven.
Call centers are a crucial point of customer contact for many businesses. And the quality of service that callers receive has a huge impact on the success of the company as a whole. Reputation, repeat business, profitability and more are affected by how well the call center carries out its functions. With so much at stake, it is therefore surprising that visual management is not commonly employed at call centers.
Rather than waiting for a manager to run reports, read and interpret them, then come up with actions that individual employees should take, visual management could allow call center agents to gain key insights at-a-glance, and to take immediate action.
- Number of refunds or gift cards issued
Compared to colleagues, am I too ready to offer financial compensation, rather than working with the customer to reach a more satisfactory resolution to their issue?
- Most commonly called-about issues
What could I learn about in order to better serve callers with common complaints or queries?
- Average time to resolution for low/medium/high severity calls
Am I responding within the appropriate timeframe and meeting customers’ expectations?
- Customer experience score
This one is really important! The danger with focus on efficiency and resolution time is that it can be at the expense of customer experience. Therefore, are my callers reporting a positive experience having spoken to me? If not, what are their complaints and how can I change my behavior in the future?
The performance areas that it is most beneficial to measure and act upon will vary from one call center to the next, but the principle of empowering employees to take decisive action to improve their performance is one that has immense potential for good.
We’re always going to need people to set goals, develop strategies and tactics for achieving those goals, and to motivate those around them to do their best work. Visual management is just a tool to help managers enhance what they are already doing. But it is a powerful and – arguably – essential tool in a working world that is increasingly busy and complex.
Selecting the right visual management metrics – whether you’re a manufacturer or a call center – will drive efficiency and quality in a way that delights customers and managers alike.