Christmas carols and back-office donkeys.
Every year since 1928 at exactly 15:00 GMT on the 24th December the most amazing thing happens.
The voice of a solo choirboy singing the opening lines of the Christmas carol "Once in Royal David's City" is broadcast around the world.
It's estimated that millions of listeners tune in to hear the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. (450 radio stations in the US alone carry the broadcast).
For many of those listening, this moment marks the beginning of Christmas. Amidst the chaos of preparation (potato peeling, and present wrapping included) there is a moment of peace; a connection between generations past and to come.
The power of the human voice to inspire and move; it really is extraordinary. If the voice of a young child can move the hearts of millions, what can your own voice achieve?
One of the hardest challenges for those running operations is to be able to effectively tell the story of their teams. We spend so much time dealing with the few things that go wrong that we take for granted all that the team does to make nearly everything go right.
This was made shockingly clear to me when a member of my team told me that we were just "back office donkeys".
How can we use our voices to better tell the real story of service operations?
Building purpose and self-belief
In service operations we don't process widgets or push the keys of a computer, we make things happen for clients that help their lives individually and society as a whole. Processing a payment is helping a supermarket stock the shelves, someone move into their dream home etc.. Handling an insurance claim in a professional, empathetic and timely manner is standing with an individual at a difficult moment in life.
But do our teams really understand the connection between what the do and the value it brings?
Every day members of your team will be going out of their way to provide exceptional service to clients. Companies such as Southwest Airlines and Zappos have created legends for themselves by taking these stories and putting them in the hearts and minds of their people. It's not always who they are, but it is always who they want to be. Achieving this requires a systematic approach and determined effort.
Telling the story to the board
If the challenge of building purpose and self-belief within our teams wasn't enough, we also have to tell our story effectively to our boards. How efficiently are we operating, how well are we controlling risk and how good is the service we provide?
Of these components of the balanced scorecard it's often the efficiency story that is the hardest to convey.
So much changes in our operations; volumes rise in some processes and fall in others. Automation achieves significant efficiency gains, but additional regulatory controls creep in and push the unit cost higher. SLAs move changing the resource that we need to meet service commitments. These and other changes all impact differently on the hundreds of processes that we govern. In all of this noise have we become more or less efficient?
Attempts to create top-line metrics (for example, transactions per FTE) flounder on the issue of aggregation. When we mix high volume, low unit time transactions with more complex low volume, high time work then a small percentage change in the high-volume transactions can cause significant swings in an aggregated productivity measure. Looking good or bad becomes a matter of luck.
In my view, telling the efficiency story requires us to communicate process efficiency (the unit time of effort it takes to undertake a transaction) with run efficiency (given the process you have, how efficiently are you using your people).
Neither measure is straightforward to calculate. You need to be able to capture all the work that is undertaken (across all of your operations), the resource you used to complete it and be able to attribute work to end processes.
The Voice of Service Operations
Working with ActiveOps, I now get the chance to help operations leaders from across our clients tell their stories and get the recognition they and their teams deserve. Seeing back-office donkeys shed this perception of themselves and stand tall as operations professionals is one of the great joys of my career. It's something that we continue to invest in research and development in - using our voice to help you use yours.
“Stuart has over 28 years of experience of leading change in service operations. His career has spanned project and programme management, strategy, consulting and leading operations divisions and functions. After 17 years with HSBC working in the UK and India, he moved to Abu Dhabi heading operations for ADCB.
Stuart joined ActiveOps in 2016 and leads its Customer Success function.”
Stuart Pugh, Chief Customer Officer, ActiveOps