I received a call from an old colleague we’ll call “Max Walker” who was catching me up on life and work. He shared his latest victory, which was uncovering what I’ll call “time management abuse to the nth degree.” The worst thing about this case is that the abuse was committed in plain site by a long-term employee.
This individual was responsible for answering inbound calls. The expectation for the role was to be able to answer a certain number of calls and maintain an average handle time for the calls below a set threshold.
On paper by these standards, this call center agent was one of their best performing employees. The number of calls they were handling was almost double that of any other agent and their average handle time was well within the acceptable range.
But there was a problem and here’s where Max’s got involved. This call center was consistently missing their certain department performance metrics. When Max was tasked with figuring out why that was happening, he saw this agent’s performance as an extreme outlier and dug further. When alerted the management team of his suspicions he was met with immediate resistance and defensiveness of the employee’s performance. This person was a proverbial machine – they were getting as much work done as two agents!
Here’s what Max uncovered. The agent was hitting their call volume alright – they were answering the phone and then immediately transferring the call back into the call queue. Then, they would sit and take the full 3 minutes of wrap up time that’s supposed to be for agents to complete notes and documentation before their next call, only there was no documentation to complete since they weren’t helping the caller. This made the agent’s “talk-time” or average handle time of the calls very low – significantly lower than all others. 3 minutes may not seem like much, but if they were answering 60+ calls a day at 3 minutes a piece, this was 3 hours of time wasted where they sat idle.
How does this happen? How could a long-term, faithful, and “good” employee game the system for so long with no one noticing? I’ll tell you how, the management team wasn’t managing to the numbers and monitoring their performance! I’m not talking about revenue numbers; I’m talking about workflow and production numbers.
DATA DOESN’T LIE
When Max produced a report to show them the other data points they should have been looking at, it became undeniable how grossly mismanaged the whole situation was. The sad part was, the management team had a production scorecard in place, they just weren’t using it consistently and weren’t looking at the full picture.
This begs the question – is it possible there’s a time or production thief in your midst right now?!
How would you know?
If all of this is starting to make you squirmy, don’t worry. I’ll break it down into easy steps for you to figure out and start monitoring:
STEP 1: SET PRODUCTION MEASURES FOR EACH ROLE
These should be objective data points that tell you, based on data alone, whether person A is doing better than person B. Examples:
- Documents produced within 2 business days of all information being available
- Documents produced without errors
- Inbound calls made to the firm
- Average time on the calls
- Plans delivered within 30 days of the initial meeting
Put these into a simple scorecard or dashboard to track and review regularly both globally and each team member. Remember Max’s company already had a scorecard in place, so let’s go further down to figure out where things went wrong
STEP 2: SYSTEMIZE DATA COLLECTION FOR EACH ROLE
It’s always better to have this in a system somewhere vs. a manual tracking sheet. If you do have a manual tracking sheet, do it somewhere you can monitor the versioning to see what’s being changed, when, and by whom.
Side tip for those of you using CounselPro™ 8, many of the list views that have been built in the program have these key data points. Our Tech Solutions team will be reviewing some of these reports at the upcoming Fall Summit if you aren’t leveraging them today.
STEP 3: COMMUNICATE PRODUCTION GOALS
This is the most important step and needs to be done with tact and care. Think about how you can articulate the benefits of knowing this information. Specifically, what do they stand to gain? If this isn’t messaged well, it can result in team members feeling like they are being micro-managed, watched, and untrusted. Talk with your coach about how to have this conversation if you’re not sure how to position things.
STEP 4: UPDATE, MONITOR, REVIEW
Now that things are all set, you need to review it regularly. For an individual’s scorecard, you’ll want to look at this ideally weekly, but no less than monthly to spot issues in a timely manner. If you’ll be using this data to assess their performance, it’s better to look at the data over a longer period of time like every month or once a quarter as it will help minimize off-days or blips that come up.
Watch for behavior changes, both positive and negative. This is where having well-balanced metrics becomes very important. As an example, if you put only turnaround time or production time on your scorecard, but not a metric to monitor quality, you may inadvertently create a behavior where the focus is on rushing documents out the door with poor quality. Having both in place will ensure you meet both timeliness and quality measures. This is where Max’s company failed. They had metrics in place but weren’t monitoring or accounting for ways they could be inflated or abused.
You need to try to break your system and look for ways the system or metrics can be fluffed. As an example, if a metric is being measured on creation date to finish date, could an individual wait to enter something so it looks like their handle time is shorter? You may not be able to prevent these types of behaviors from happening, but you need to at least have an awareness, and with time you’ll get a feel for what’s normal. This will enable you to quickly spot outliers and address issues quickly.
Last but not least, be prepared for push back! Most people are not crazy about having these kinds of performance metrics. High achievers are typically driven by having targets, but not all people are. This could seem intimidating and stressful for those who aren’t used to working towards certain targets. Ease into it and continue to expand things over time to reduce the initial burn.
As for the time thief at Max’s company, when confronted with the data they uncovered, that individual admitted to everything and told them they had been doing that for over a year! Ultimately that individual decided it was time for them to move on.
Director of Member Services
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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Phone: (858) 453-2128