Tag Archives: office efficiency

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).


SOFTWARE ALERT: Avoid Microsoft Office 365 (at least for now)

Without the usual new product fanfare, Microsoft has unleashed Office 365 on the public. I suspect underplaying the launch points to Redmond wanting unsuspecting buyers to pay for their beta testing.

Don’t get me wrong. OS365 is a powerful concept for small business people who travel. All your apps in the cloud – but more importantly, you can keep all your files up there in your own, almost no cost SharePoint site. And Outlook can reside up there permanently, preserving the data history you lose when you travel without bulk transfer of Outlook data from desktop to laptop when you leave – and the reverse when you return. Of course, we can use LogMeIn or one of the many remote access tools. But they’re slow – and more importantly to me, they take a bite out of an already small laptop screen. Squint time.O365 would resolve all these issues. Easy traveling. If you could even load it. I got as far as trying to preserve my normal e-mail address while switching. Unfortunately, MS has designed a URL ownership verification system that requires adding some text to your URL record, whatever that is. As a “convenience,” to reach your URL registration manager you must use their utility which takes your URL and finds the registrant, often your ISP. But in my case, it popped up the wrong group. And when I finally found the list of values this utility works from, there wasn’t a single URL manager listed I’ve ever used in my relatively long history of business Internet presence. Plus, there’s no manual override.

To solve this and other problems I’ve already encountered, subscribers are supposed to access some magical O365 community that will provide all the help you’ll need. Unfortunately, I suspect this “community” is a ghost town. No one answers. Not even any acknowledgments of receiving your requests, the way the big boys do it.

Promising app? In theory, you betcha. But for now, looks like O365 will be yet another broken promise from Microsoft.

Does redesigning process to cut waste produce similar outcomes to redesigning process to improve customer experience?

Before you protest, I do understand that waste-cutting process approaches can be applied for the benefit of customers. But here’s the difference I’d like to highlight.

Waste-eliminating approaches change internal operations – albeit increasingly to benefit customers. In contrast, customer-experience focused approaches changes what happens at points of customer contact and works its way back inside the company, almost in concentric rings. While customer-sensitive, waste-focused process approaches work from inside the company outwards towards customers, trying to add more customer value at every step – customer experience process methods move in the opposite direction.

I’ve designed process both ways, depending on context. But I do find the outcomes radically different – with customer-experience-based process design triggering far more organizational change and involving much more application-layer technology support (which is not appropriate for every context).

How does my experience square with your hands-on process work? And I hope this doesn’t sound exclusionary, but this is such a ground-level experience that I’m especially interested in comments from experienced process practitioners who have “been there,  seen that” for themselves.

Are Outside-In Practitioners Becoming Overconfident of Their Future?

Hey – I’ve been through this entirely too many times. At the start of the relationship marketing movement; when B2B database marketing got serious; when “micromarketing” started; with TOC (Theory-of-Constraints); and in spades with CRM. All sure bets practitioners could take to the bank. All supposed slam-dunks coopted by parochial economic interests – whether by advertising agencies, media outlets, Six Sigma & Lean, CRM software companies, etc.. Looking back on this history makes me fear O-I is ready for a face-plant.

We’re hearing too much ungrounded exuberance, too many excessive claims, too many ungounded predictions about O-I. And saying that market conditions will force business to go Outside-In  ignores history. Let’s face it straight up. O-I will succede if we make it sufficiently attractive to companies, not because the market “forces” companies to go O-I. And accomplishing this will require much more from the O-I community than the community’s yet prepared to give.

We’re changing market phases now from “Innovators” to “Early Adopters.” To get there, we have to do more than prosletyzing the O-I concept. And to reach some of the penetration levels O-I aspires to, we’re going to have to move on to “Early Majority” clients – which will require an execution level the movement’s not yet close to.

To get O-I into the meat of the marketplace, I believe we have to accomplish four, difficult tasks:

1. Do it right:  Migrating from inside out to Outside-In is a three-step journey: a.) aligning strategy to customers (which requires finely honed planning skills); b.) aligning process to strategy (which we’re best at); and c.) aligning technology to process (which the movement often ignores). Sure we can accomplish quick wins with process change or a customer experience initiative – provided the company already leans O-I, like Best-Buy, Fed-X, Trader Joe’s and USAA . But delivering Outside-In enterprise-wide, to its fullest capabilities requires all three alignment elements, not just one.

2.  Train O-I practitioners across the alignment spectrum:  We have lots of O-I practitioners trained in aligning process to customer strategies. Almost none trained in aligning strategies to customers. And way fewer trained in aligning technology with process. We need to provide training in all aspects of O-I. We’re not doing it.

3.  Focus on the steak. not the sizzle:  It’s easy to toss off claims that O-I is the greatest thing since sliced white bread. It’s another thing to make it work. And making it work in organizations not already O-I of their own volition demands properly and persuasively framing the long-term benefits of the inevitable organizational change required to migrate to O-I, rather than pumping the bellows. We need to stop discounting organizational change requirements and start confidently justifying them.

4.  Over-deliver instead of overpromising:  Overselling sweeping, non-specific benefits or offering growth, profitability or expense-reduction bromides hurts Outside-In in the long run. Face it, helping clients achieve broad-based O-I success requires a “grind it out” mentality. We create value incrementally, step-by-step. Enterprise-wide, O-I does not create whopping revenue gains, profitability gains or expense reductions in a flash – or even a year. Double-digit improvements? Very often. But not quantum leaps. Puffery destroys credibility. Remember, our clients are customers. Overselling them on the benefits of Outside-In is very inside-out.

Outside-In has cleared the “Innovator” phase. But we’ll need to change what we say and what we deliver to make substantive progress penetrating the “Early Adopter” segment of companies. And then we’ll have to make even more dramatic changes to enter the mainstream and penetrate the “Early Majority.” As a community, I believe we have a whole lot of hard work ahead of us before we can  bring Outside-In to the corporate masses. Are we ready?

What do you believe?

Moving Beyond E-Mail

Beyond good company-customer communication, effectively serving customers requires intense internal coordination and collaboration–and not just in the front office but between front and back offices and within the back office. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Internal communication continues getting the short end of the office process stick, even in communication-intensive business sectors such as banking, which we’re about to use as an example.

Changing internal communication requirements

Back when I was a pup, internal communication meant: a.) yelling over cube tops; b.) sending ubiquitous memos; c.) staggering from desk to desk with piles of green bar reports; and d.) just flopping down in someone’s office or cube and flapping jaws. Then, in my young adulthood, we expanded our repertoire with: e.) 8 ½ X 11 reports plastered with graphs and charts; f.) floppy disks (many of them infectious) and g.) printed slide presentations (a handy format for those who don’t write). Hey, it worked. Sort of. But in my wisdom years on came remote workers, mobile workers, outsourced workers, unidentified flying workers–which required a new communication medium.

E-mail tried to fill the void

Along came e-mail, and more e-mail, and more e-mail–business messages mixed in with baby pictures, wedding pictures, pornographic pictures, social invitations, love letters, rejection letters and lots and lots of gossip. Before long, in-boxes filled to overflowing, forcing recipient to constantly flush stuff out to make room for new stuff. You could almost imagine bursting in-boxes disgorging messages the way overfilled storm sewers blast manhole covers high in the air, leaving messages streaming down the street.

Only overflowing e-mail pipes aren’t funny. Critical messages drown in the flood. Coordination and collaboration go downhill. Internal tensions increase. Staff spends measurable portions of every day, some reporting 25% or more, deleting unread messages, reading a few, responding to even fewer and storing some to read “later” (LOL). And for the capper, time spent wrestling with e-mail coupled with work inefficiencies caused by inadequate internal communication drives up staffing requirements, often by double-digit percentages.

Banking too much on e-mail

If you think I’m stretching a point, let me describe a recent consulting engagement with a regional bank–which mirrors our similar experiences with other consumer FIs (financial institutions). How was our bank client handling internal communication when we arrived? Just as described above, with e-mail, e-mail and more e-mail. And while this bank provided good customer experiences at points of direct contact, problematic internal communication was more than a fly in the ointment. Customers were experiencing process inconsistencies, policy variances, excessive back office cycle times and mixed brand messages–while the bank was suffering from metrics issues, compliance problems and especially “over-employment” stemming from over-reliance on e-mail.

Mapping internal information flow

As customary, we dove into the snarl by assessing and mapping how customer-related work and information (synonymous in a knowledge worker environment) were moving from person to person and function to function. Here’s a high-level representation of what mapping showed.

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More like knitting than well-designed workflow/information flow.

Defining the problem

Specific problems we had to address included:

  1. Pushing messaging at recipients, which led to an overwhelming onslaught of communication.
  2. Sending many irrelevant messages, because senders lacked time to properly parse mail contact groups.
  3. Using a text-only medium, in an environment requiring visual expression (attachments are fine, but viewed even less than text).
  4. Messages competing for scarce attention, which meant most messages got little or none.

If we could address just these four issues, good things would happen.

Designing the solution

Fortunately, we didn’t have to start fixing from scratch; this was virtually déjà vu all over again.  And in virtually every case, the core solution includes:

  • Bringing people to information, rather than pushing it at them.
  • Creating an intranet communication nexus.
  • Combining index and search navigation to allow people to access what they need and only what they need–and access it quickly.
  • Leveraging web graphic and media potential to communicate marketing campaigns, training information and both workflow and individual work process documentation.
  • Creating employee accountability for religiously visiting the site for new information relevant to them.

Here’s how the “to-be” communication flow looked.

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The concept is simple. Every type of information has its own intranet “bucket,” with partitions for marketing, HR, training, process, policy, news, etc. Where necessary, buckets have precise, indexed links that allow quick access to information. Search is always an option, but inappropriate for retrieving granular content such as process and policy.

Every morning when employees boot up (and we’re all shutting down at night to be “green,” right?), a welcome screen lists all new information for the day. Employees are accountable for following appropriate links to need-to-know information for their function. Effecting that does require training plus willingness to apply consequences for non-compliance, but it’s a small price to pay for bypassing e-mail and communicating effectively.

Oh, and by the way, in addition to greatly improving internal communication, this “fix” will allow the bank to repurpose about 15% of employees into more value-adding work.

Not bad, eh?

One caveat

For organizations relying on technical or finely parsed content, as banks do, creating and maintaining content consumes lots of time and resources. However, when you consider the ineffectiveness and costs of the e-mail alternative, it’s most definitely worth the effort. You betcha, it is.