Using activity-based management (ABM) principles is one of the most accurate ways of measuring employee performance, particularly in the back office. Furthermore ABM ensures performance targets reflect best practices. Thus ABM tools is a catalyst for process excellence. When done right, the payoff can be tremendous. Unfortunately, companies all over the world struggle terribly to pull it off…
The thing is – it’s not rocket science. Companies shouldn’t be let down by their performance management (PM) projects and ongoing solutions. With strong executive support and a good team effort an organization can fully implement a cloud-based PM suite in <10 weeks. This solution then has the capacity to deliver a 20-25% performance boost within another 10 weeks. We’ve seen it and done it many times so we know it’s true. We’ve also seen the flipside where companies embark on a PM project and find themselves still mired in a mud bog ten months later. Cost overruns, frustrated execs, worn out project teams… Unfortunately this is very, very common.
Why is that? Why do companies struggle to implement and maintain effective PM tools in the back office? Where do they go wrong and what can we learn from the many failed PM projects out there?
Let’s take a closer look:
1. Asking Too Much of the Solution: A common problem we see is companies ask too much of their PM solution. We see it all the time: Buyers and sellers of PM get together and the ‘what ifs’ start flying. Customers start dreaming of their new analytical world. Sellers can’t say no – it’s not in their DNA. Before you know it eight months have passed, not a server has been installed, KPIs aren’t agreed to, the project team is over it, the CEO is sick of the excuses and the project is on life support. We saw it three times in 2015 alone. Multi-million dollar spends on enterprise-wide PM solutions that couldn’t get off the ground because they simply asked too much too soon. Let’s face it; companies invest in PM to improve the bottom line. Yes quality and service are important but buyers of PM want ROI and efficiency. Project overruns and delayed implementations aren’t helping but over-asking ALWAYS leads to this. Simplify and stop over-asking. Nail the basics, start with a few small teams, realize some benefit and then dream bigger.
2. Activities Poorly Defined: Companies quite often get waaaay too granular when defining activities. We recently worked with a mid-size health insurance company, an adherent of ABM for 15 years. Over time their activity lists just grew and grew and grew – like neglected alley weeds. One line of business had over 700 activities. 700! And we see it ALL the time. It’s absolutely impossible to manage. Task times are never right and supervisors are terrified of the work required to make ’em right. Many times business units will turn process steps into activities. With the client above we saw two such activities: Walk to Fax Machine and Print Letter. These are not work drivers. These are process steps. Organizations should make a concerted effort to limit the number of activities on the performance report to something manageable. We advise our clients to keep the list at 10 – 15 activities. That’s not always possible but it’s a great goal. Remember – you are implementing PM to manage performance and improve process. You are not implementing PM to replace all business reporting. And we are certainly not trying to account for every second of a staff member’s day. Keep the activity list reasonable in size and you’ve got a fighting chance.
3. Task Times Outdated: Failing to maintain task times is a remarkably common situation we see. On a recent project we worked with an administrative group in a P&C company. There were 36 people on the team and the average productivity was 167%. This had been going on for over a year. The highest productivity for a person each week was >300%. Now you tell me – how accurate is this? Was somebody really cranking out 120 hours of work in a week? Have you ever seen an entire department maintain such consistently high levels of output? The answer is obviously no. This was not reflective of true performance. Task time hadn’t been updated in years even though technology innovations and market conditions yielded leaner processes. This team also had over 100 activities defined – for 36 people! These two issues often go hand-in-hand (dated task times and activity lists in need of a haircut). When this happens, when productivity scores for an entire department are running this high for this long, just stop. If fixing it is too much to ask, just stop. The thing is, in about six weeks we were able to sort everything out. We consolidated activities, conducted side-by-sides, updated task times, partnered with business leaders to gain their buy-in and rolled out the changes to staff. It wasn’t a herculean effort. Bottom line: task times need to be maintained. We advise clients to evaluate task times once a year. You don’t need 4,000 observations of an activity to set an accurate target either. 15-20 is normally enough. Sit with a cross-section of B+ performers, do the obs, updated the task times. Pau! The investment is worth it.