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It gets better…


Last week, I wrote a blog post about how training was better than working.  It was, if I’m honest, a bit of a space-filler.  I was coming off the back of a lot of workshops and was tired; the previous five posts had been earnest, well meaning pieces about the importance of challenging unhelpful paradigms about training.  Last week’s was a bit of fluff - something a little light and humorous, to change the mood.  To “sell” it on Twitter, I summarised it as a post wondering whether the purpose of training was to make things worse.

It was a throwaway comment, referencing something mentioned in the post but not intended to be the central point of the piece.  The comment was intended to be provocative, something out of the ordinary to encourage people to read it.  But having made the comment, I started to wonder whether I hadn’t, unintentionally, made a good point.  Whenever we try to do something new we tend to be quite slow and hesitant; we can often be clumsy until we get enough practice to become proficient.  We’re trying to do things in a different way and that will, almost inevitably, slow us down.  Whatever issues we have that we’re trying to address will probably get worse in the short-term while we put in place the longer-term fixes and get used to using them.

My favourite example of this was a client who ran an IT call centre.  His team spent, he estimated, around 40% of their time dealing with needless calls - the callers could have fixed the problem themselves, usually by turning the computer off and then turning it back on again.  This 40% of his calls was getting in the way of the calls they really needed to deal with - it was sapping his team’s effectiveness and morale and was causing him to frequently work late.

After we spoke for a while, he took a new approach.  He investigated the data to find out exactly what was going on and he found that a significant portion of these calls were about three recurring problems and came mostly from two divisions in the company.  He had to do that data analysis in his own time (it gets worse before it gets better) as he was too busy during the day.  Then he spent some time on PowerPoint, drafting a one-page leaflet, which basically told people how to handle these three problems.  He produced that leaflet at work, but had to stay late to do (it gets worse before it gets better) because he was too busy during the day.

Finally, he attended management meetings in the two divisions - and elsewhere - to give out the leaflets and reassure people that his team weren’t trying to avoid work and that this new process would save callers time and resolve their problems.  When I caught up with him again, he estimated that he’d reduced those calls from 40% to 20%, over a period of six weeks.

There were so many opportunities he had to abandon the project, decide it wasn’t worth it, go back to doing what he was doing before.  It would have been so easy for him to backslide and just complain about these calls.  It’s not easy to stick with what you know is right, even in the face of opposition. It’s not easy to practice a new skill, even though it slows you down in the short-term.  Very often things get worse before it gets better.  But it does get better - if you stick with it.

One Response

  1. It gets worse before it gets better

    Thanks for this posting Steve.  It is nice to see the practical implication of a theory or saying; I expect I will pass this on at my next Management team meeting (or elsewhere, should the need become apparent sooner.)


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