Scale and Consistency

May 8th, 2007 by Meri in Management, Productivity

One of the things that becomes a problem as your company (or product or service) expands is how to ensure a consistent experience across the board. Whether it’s that you’re operating in multiple countries or just spread across multiple servers, quality of experience can start to vary, not just for your customers but also for your employees.

This is why in huge companies, “procedure” can come to dominate. You want to make sure that all your employees get equal access to career progression, training, personal development. So you mandate that all your people managers follow certain procedures — annual reviews, work plans, etc etc. You want to make sure that anyone who calls customer service receives pleasant, friendly and above all useful service. In an attempt to standardise quality, you give people scripts, mandate that phones must be answered within a certain number of rings, and so on.

Many of us have felt the impact of these kind of procedures — the call centre guy who can’t wait to get you off the phone, because a “successful” call must be finished in less than 3 minutes; the manager who sits you down for a stale, scripted “career discussion” that makes you feel more like leaving the company than going for that next job or promotion.

My theory? These procedures are written in with the best will in the world. The need to write them down is the problem however — the “spirit” gets lost. People become slaves to the letter of the rules.

Have you seen this happen? Ever seen it combated in an effective way?

2 Comments

  • Writing things down provides a record of knowledge, ideas and principles. If your writing is good enough, the spirit will shine through to someone reading properly.

    Deciding that a successful call must be finished in 3 minutes isn’t anything to do with writing things down; it’s an example of a silly rule that’s far too specific to be useful, and should never have been suggested, verbally or otherwise. The only way I know to combat those is have smart people making the rules.

  • I’ve seen a lot of these rules coming (and blessfully going again) during the times of strict TQM – some are still alive now. Procedures, standards and rules create measures – and a (illusive) feeling of security (“I have everything in control, since my key findings perform well”).

    Procedures with measurement and performance in mind have their values: 3-minute-calls, personal behaviour measured in percentages, evaluation of you last years’ performance by cost center profit. These values – and this is my point – take over and replace the “real” values of your company and create a deep gap between the internal and external recognition of your company.