Of the 8 core principles of More Human leadership, it’s #6 – Measuring, monitoring and managing with the right metrics – that presents the biggest “nuts and bolts” challenge to any leader. After all, after you’ve spent so much time and effort to set up the right values and build a great culture of accountability that should lead to greatness, how do you know you’re getting there – or better still, how can you show your team you’re getting there? The answer, as this leadership short story shows, is to think green. Lead well!
I’m the SVP of Operations of a Cable TV Company that operates in 4 states and has 22 operating divisions. We had acquired the properties in 2003, and had spent the first 5 years setting the stage for a drive to sustained growth and profitability. By 2008, it was time to really step on the accelerator and pull everything together….
The Mad Scientists
In the fall of 2008 our team had leveraged its past lessons well, and our operating statistics were all pointed in a positive direction.
Better still, we had a secret weapon that was guiding us along.
It was called the weekly operating dashboard report, and it was developed by our team to really tighten the screws on our service and quality levels, and provide more pertinent accountability standards to the field.
It was like we were mad scientists fiddling around with different chemical formulas.
We knew what metrics to start with: The Net Promoter Score (NPS) and what we called the Customer Fault Rate (CFR), which was the number of total customer issues divided by total customers.
After all, we had been posting these numbers weekly in many different places, and my favorite was our Intranet home page, where it was front and center. None of my staff could miss it, since they all would use the site at least once a day.
On my weekly staff conference calls, they were the first things we’d “recite” before the agenda kicked off. Jim, my Director of Operations, who would run these meetings, would sit down as the call kicked off, and randomly ask people “What’s the CFR or NPS today?” People would have to say them out loud on the call, but at least (since they couldn’t be seen) they would have the chance to go online and look them up if they didn’t know them, which was fine with me, because it still had the effect I wanted.
And, as I continued my travels to the field (I was going out about 2 weeks a month), they were all over the walls and bulletin boards, and I rarely encountered someone who didn’t know the latest numbers.
They were becoming what I had hoped for – a real focus for improvement. They HAD to be on the dashboard.
There was a lot of debate over what else we’d put on the report – since we were all numbers geeks and had a lot of possibilities to choose from.
Sean, one of my regional VP’s, nailed it when he put it this way – “Let’s focus on the customer pain points. That’s where we need to look”
Customer pain. Not an elegant way to put it, but it was effective in getting the point across.
We settled on 5 additional metrics:
- Truck rolls (where we have to visit the customers home to fix a problem) as a percentage of customers
- The Customer Mean Time To Repair – the average time it took us to fix the problem, from the time they called it in to the time we drove away from the house
- The Customer Chronic Rate – the number of times a customer called in two trouble tickets, over the total number of tickets
- Install Commitments Missed – the number of times our technician is late for an install, over the total number of installs (we graded ourselves hard here – even if we were a minute late, we counted it)
- Repeats on Installs – The number of times we needed to return to a customer’s home within 30 days of an install, because of a problem with the install, over the total number of installs
We surmised that if we could focus on these metrics, AND the CFR, we could significantly reduce “customer pain”, and increase retention and amp up the NPS score.
The dashboard would report these metrics by state management area (there were 3), and by the local management area (22).
There were a few overall network metrics added, like overall network availability (shooting to be up 99.9999% of the time) and network problem mean time to repair, and finally, the mad scientists had the report we wanted.
The Source of Truth
We also developed specific color coding for the results, based on performance relative to our goals for each metric.
If the number was green, it was ahead of the goal
If it was yellow, it was within a certain range of the goal.
If it was red, it was well below goal, and needed immediate attention.
After we had come up with all this Jeff, our VP of Network Operations, couldn’t stop there. He, working with Sean, came up with a supporting report that broke down every number, graphing them week-over-week, bar charting them, and even “Pareto-ing” them.
I really didn’t have much exposure to Pareto charts before this, and I was fascinated, so I looked it up online.
“A bar graph that displays variances by the number of their occurrences. Variances are shown in their descending order to identify the largest opportunities for improvement, and to separate ‘critical few’ from the ‘trivial many.’”
I stared at that last line. Separate the critical few from the trivial many. Bingo.
If I didn’t love my “data geeks” before this report was created, I really did now.
We had “hooks” into a ton of data, and we took full advantage. The Operations Dashboard report became the “source of truth” on our quest for continuous improvement – all 85 pages of it, produced every week.
Our local managers would post and discuss the report with the local staff, and a healthy competition developed between all the management areas, because of the report’s transparency (everybody saw every score in every place).
To sweeten the pot we came up with a formal competition based on key metrics found on the Dashboard and elsewhere, and annually awarded what we called the “Plympton Cup” to the best local system (Plympton was the last name of the technical manager whose system won the very first cup).
The Maxwells And The T-Shirt
I also couldn’t resist a T-shirt opportunity. It was almost an expectation at this point. Every time we launched a new metrics initiative, we had a T-shirt. On the last go-round, I did a takeoff on the old Styx song “Mr. Roboto”. Our marketing department had created a robot-looking character called Maxwell to push their sales campaign, and I affectionately began to call him Maxwell Roboto.
It didn’t take much prodding for me to go another step, and create T-shirts that featured Maxwell, and a slight modification of the famous line from the Styx song.
It said “Domo Arigato, Maxwell Roboto”
They were a hit, and even without my prompting, pictures of staff in the shirts flooded my inbox.
So expectations were high as we pushed the Operations Dashboard into the limelight, and the expectations to get everyone “into the green”.
What was the T-shirt going to be this time?
I knew it had to be green – that was the color we were shooting for.
But what would I put on the shirt? The Dashboard itself? Pretty unsexy.
I was stumped for a week, and then Maxwell saved me. No, not our friend Maxwell Roboto (now in mothballs in my T-shirt closet), but Maxwell Smart.
I had remembered one of the catchphrases from the old “Get Smart” TV show that featured that secret agent character, played by Don Adams.
It originated when Max’s boss Chief would explain the danger of a mission.
Chief: Max, you realize you’ll be facing every kind of danger imaginable.
Max: And loving it!
That was it – our team was facing long odds to go “all green”.
The T-shirt had its saying:
“We’re all green, and loving it!”
The shirts became prized acquisitions, because after all, it was a fantastic milestone to go all green. Well, all except for one place. The first group to get them was up in Great Falls, Montana. This tech team was a motely crew of long-time cable veterans who had seen everything, and were fazed by practically nothing. They just did their jobs with their customary pride, day after day.
And they did them well enough to go all green, consistently.
I always loved jousting with this gang, because they always said what was on their minds, for better or for worse. So when I arrived there to award the T-shirts, they were less focused on the shirts and more concerned with getting the latest stuff off their collective chests.Nevertheless, I was undeterred. Above all else, I was going to get out of there with a picture of me with this crew, AND the T-shirts.
“C’mon guys, put ‘em on”
“Nah….” (almost all together)
“Hey, this is a great achievement. You all should be proud. We are all proud of you, so maybe you can honor that pride by at least holding them up and posing for a picture?”
The motely crew capitulated, and I got my picture. And oh yes, it ended up on that same front page of our Intranet, right below the NPS and CFR.
I was all green with them, and you bet I was loving it!
By late 2009, our Cable company completed its trek from “worst to first” among its peers in operational metrics, and its NPS score was significantly higher than the industry average (and the average of many other service industries). Measuring, monitoring and managing with the right metrics (and a few cool T-Shirts) had made a huge difference.
And I’m still loving it. 🙂