Zap the Gaps  Zap the Gaps!

 By Ken Blanchard, Dana Robinson, and Jim Robinson

Unabridged audio, Recorded Books, LLC

 This is a management fable.  Ben, manager of a struggling call center at Dyad Technologies gets a new boss who lets him know the whole division must improve or she, and he, and the other managers will risk their jobs.  Average response time is over five minutes and should be under two.  Abandonments, callers hanging up without talking to a Customer Serviced Representative (CSR), are far too high.  And, first call resolutions are running well below the 70% target.  None of these facts are news to Mike, but he’s not sure how they can improve things.  In fact, his first idea carries a hint of blaming the CSR’s, saying they should stop chitchatting so much with customers and get the problems solved.

 Fortunately for Ben, this fable has a fairy godmother . . ., I mean Godfather.  Ben meets Mike when he fills in for his boss at a charity golf tournament.  Mike calls himself a “gardener”, but goes on to explain that he was a banker, but always loved to grow things.  So he started a landscaping business, added some nurseries and lawn and garden equipment and supply stores.  Ben knows the company which is very prominent in the area.  In fact, he used them for landscaping on his new house and liked their service so well he signed a service agreement with them.  After Ben opens up about the problem he’s facing, Mike offers some advice.  Their conversation turns into a golf date for the next day during which Mike illustrates some principles through the various kinds of grass on the golf course.  Ultimately, Ben engages with Sarah, Dyad’s vice president for human resources to implement some of the ideas for discovering new approaches that he’s gained from his talks with Mike.  As they run into difficulties, the go back to Mike, and he repeatedly helps them out.  In the end, the numbers start to improve, then improve more rapidly, until all the metrics reflect a high-functioning call center.

 That’s the story.  What are the management suggestions?  The are contained in an acrostic of GAPS:

 

G

Go for the “shoulds”

What are the results your organization should be achieving?  How are they measured?  What are the metrics?  The call center’s “shoulds” were average response time, abandonment rates, and first call solutions.  In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the unique metrics that each of the companies that made that rare transition used to focus their efforts.  In It’s Your Ship, Mike Abrashoff looked at reenlistment rates, crew morale surveys, combat readiness inspection scores, gunnery scores, etc.

 

A

Analyze the is

Determine what is actually happening in your team.  Who are the best performers?  How do they differ from those who are struggling?  It’s important here to do more than just identify the characteristics and behaviors of the successful individuals or teams.  You must go on to identify the characteristics and behaviors of those who struggle, and maybe even of the mediocre, so as to eliminate the ones in common and focus on those that seem to differentiate.

 

P

Pin down the cause

After you know what is happening, you must dig for the causes of the variations.  Do not “jump to solutions.”  Go deeper, looking at as many variables as feasible given time and resources.  Study not only the personal attributes of your team, but also the procedures, supporting technology, etc.

 

S

Select the solution

Finally, for each cause, select the most powerful and cost effective set of solutions.  Prioritize for impact.  Implement thoroughly and carefully, and then reassess as new data on your metrics are produced.

 Was Ben’s challenge a technical problem or an adaptive challenge?  In some ways, it would seem to be technical.  It did not really require that hearts and minds in the organization change, and it seems an “expert” could have been hired to come in and solve it.   But, the solution process Ben and Sarah followed was very like those suggested for “adaptive” challenges in Surfing the Edge of Chaos or Leadership on the Line.  They engaged the CSR’s, the front line workers, in a collaborative effort to improve.  They laid out the problem, stressed the necessity of improvement and the consequences of failure, admitted that they did not have the “answers”, and then aggressively listened to their folks.  Even if an expert could have come in, either as a new boss or as a consultant, and seen the things it took the group some time and effort to work out, would the implementation have been nearly as “owned” by the CSR’s if they had not been part of the process?

Note written:  June, 2003