Summer 2014 On Target 2018-07-25T16:12:19+00:00

The Role of Workforce Management in Business Performance Management

By Marshall Lee, Carewise Health, & Justin Ziegler, American Express Global Business Travel

You are unique. Who else in your organization touches business process, finance, the contact center, leadership, agents, the executive team, support services, IT, and so much more?  Who else sees the associates daily intake and output of time and labor? Who else is in a position to see the impact of individual, group, and process performance real-time and in simulation? Those in workforce management or workforce planning are most certainly unique. Have you ever wondered how you and your team can help inform and make the big decisions?

Business Performance Management is essential to the function of any organization. By design, performance management guides an organization toward a goal. The larger progress is measured by metrics which are Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. Ideally your KPIs should be a literal guide to indicate the core successes or failures of performance. For example, a company with a goal of being a competitive claims processer has supporting goals related to quantity, cost, and quality. These subsets of targeted goals are addressed by KPIs. They should define if the organization and individuals are helping to drive success in those areas. You are unique in part because in that organization you could help target each point.

Performance management at the agent or macro level centers on reporting from varying sources. Some are provided by workforce management or resource planning; others may come from different teams. There can be a variety of stakeholders in the audience for the reporting. Seldom do all audience members view the metrics and data from identical points of view.  These differences in interpretation can lead to discrepancies in how the data is used to manage. Ultimately what makes reporting successful as a part of Business Performance  Management is the development and defining of the KPIs that set the scope of what is to be considered success within an organization.

Workforce management is an intersection of theory and practice providing a unique perspective to support both the reporting and definition of the organizational KPIs across an enterprise. Let’s explore ways your team can have a positive impact on and drive Business Performance Management. When a team understands how to facilitate the process of defining  and managing to KPIs, the value add is immediate. Most workforce management teams already support performance management in some way. They track and trend volumes, handle  times, and deviations from forecast. In many cases, these same teams produce the scorecards/performance tools by which efficiency or quantitative KPIs are managed. For these teams to evolve to full performance management partners, they first have to understand and work in the departmental scope of influence. Having an expert workforce management team is the foundation of success. Understanding how your own expertise fits into the total equation then lets you view the big picture more clearly.

The most basic scorecard includes metrics around handle time, schedule adherence, and quality. These metrics are at the core of agent qualitative and quantitative stats: are you fast and good? When someone in workforce management understands and masters the most obvious piece – efficiency – they can better understand the full impact of all statistics. A group can be  fast but have low quality scores. The appearance is efficient, but in reality the first contact resolution rate is so low there is a higher overall work load. A workforce management team can take this to Quality and Education and see if there is a way to partner to slow down calls in order to reduce volume. The net effect may mean an adjustment to AHT that should reduce volume. Knowing your area in workforce management and using your vantage point allows you to build to beneficial synergies with other teams.

Look at another scenario involving occupancy – service levels are 10% below target. Occupancy rates are hovering around 60%. They have been about 60% for a while now. This scenario sets off a red flag. Management and senior leadership all want to know why service levels are less than optimal while it appears no one is busy! What is going on in workforce  management? We’ve all been in a situation like this. All the relevant data isn’t in the hands of the decision makers. So the immediate assumption is that schedules must be off. This could  be the case. What about adherence? Anyone with the workforce management view of things can tell you one data set will not provide enough of a story to deliver the needed message. In a  workforce management analysis, you would start with adherence scores. If adherence is within acceptable limits then look at scheduling efficiency. If scheduling efficiency is also correct,  it may be time to check agent skilling and configurations. In the end, while the “simple” steps may make complete sense to someone in your seat, they may be completely foreign to your average manager, business analyst, or executive.

So how does one take a team that is viewed as mostly “scheduling” and transform it into the pacesetter in performance management?

First, you have to prove you know what you talking about. Don’t just define a problem – show you can innovate a solution. Create reports and dashboards that demonstrate your core expertise. Begin by looking at your direct scope of influence. Does your team do traditional workforce management: staffing, scheduling, forecasting and real-time? Do you handle payroll? Do you do scorecards? Do you do budgets, training, or help with QA? Take stock of those items that you touch.

Once you identify all you do, move to the next phase. Ask yourself “How do I know we are on target as an organization?” What should the data say if we are doing well? What is the desired outcome? For example:

If:

  • I have 12 FTE worth of cost to facilitate contacts before cutting into the profit margin.
  • I have 3000 calls a week with a mean average handle time of 300 seconds.
  • I have a service level of 90% in 30 seconds I have to achieve.
  • With my arrival pattern, I have a peak of 14 erlangs 2x a day.
  • My forecasted shrinkage is 27% based on all available information.
  • I am open 60 hours a week 9:00-9:00 Pacific Time.
  • With a perfect schedule, I would need 300 hours of coverage.

Based on these assumptions, I need to keep cost at or better than 12 FTE and I need to hit my service levels. I have my business goals. Next I need to define my KPIs. KPIs must be  quantifiable, measurable, realistic, and relevant. With this in mind:

KPIs:

  • Average Handle Time: By Organization / Team / Agent
  • Forecast accuracy: Is the volume and AHT within a reasonable range given the available information?
  • Adherence: Is the plan being followed? Are folks where we expect them to be?
  • Occupancy: Does our staff utilization rate come close to the workload/staffing for service level?
  • Is our cost in line with budgeted FTE?

Once we decide what should be measured we need only define reasonable targets that indicate we are on track. Now you have the ability to use data to quantify and guide the organization and team members toward a goal. By defining KPIs and empowering everyone to manage to those numbers, you have given the tools needed to help meet the big picture goals. The last piece of your puzzle is education. Everyone must be able to get the same messages from the data so that all goals, targets, and trends are understood. If you do this, workforce  management will have evolved into a partner in total Business Performance Management.

Doing this may in fact make your job easier in the long run. Not speaking for everyone, but many of us get in an uphill battle just to get others to understand that reasoning for agents (and managers) to follow the agent schedules. By helping the management team and decision makers understand the data provided, and then using it to guide success, you help them turn it into information they can act on. Hopefully with your guidance they will then do so in a way that supports your agents, business, and the workforce management team.

This is simple enough. But remember you are unique. It has been six months since you have delivered an agent, team, and organizational level dashboard, scorecard, or performance management tool (PMT). You have been right so far; in managing to these metrics we have seen continued success. So much so in fact there have been successful sales. Your call volume will go up by 15%. However, high administrative costs negate any new FTEs. What can you do? Are your KPIs still relevant? You know that the cleanest ways to decrease staffing needs are  through decreased volume or increased ability to handle volume. Since volume will go up and you can’t add people – someone must find efficiencies. Your team simulates that if AHT can  be reduced by 45 seconds and shrinkage reduced by 5% then you should be able to handle the new volume. Now using your view – you become an internal consultant.

Here is where you unlock the power of your unique position, from which you report and inform business performance. From this vantage point you can now guide business direction,  process, and efficiency. You use your tools to identify ways to reduce shrinkage and speed up a contact. You suggest shorter team meetings, push-training, refreshed call flow, etc. – You find ways to reduce shrinkage and AHT or run simulations with some changes. No longer is data just delivered. You help chart the course for further success. This is an area where many  workforce management teams can add value in ways they do not today; becoming business performance consultants. No one else can do this as quickly and completely as you can.

To get started you need to capitalize on being unique, but don’t be removed. If your team does not currently have interaction with the performance management process get to know the people that do. Get to know the stake holders better. Then start the process by defining scope, goals, KPIs to deliver in reporting. Then when you see KPIs move out of range offer insight  to root cause. Include suggestions for issue mitigation. Don’t just report problems or successes, offer insights into solutions or plans to sustain progress. If your team currently provides  reports but does not join in on the evaluation or KPI goal setting, reach out to your users and start including “notes” in reports. Provide a brief overview of what workforce management can bring to the table. If your team is already providing reports and interacting in the process you are most likely further along than many out there. There are still items you may be able to expand on. Evolve what you currently provide. Find what would be considered additional value adds.

Advising KPI adjustment can fit into what you already do just by adding a little thought and commentary. There was a group with an adherence goal of 98%. No one was meeting it. It seemed that no matter how many times they coached the agents they could not get down to this “achievable goal.” After a few minutes of research, it turned out the average handle time for a call was around 20 minutes and the group and activity was scaled in such a way that most agents did not have much if any time in between calls. The basic math showed that 98%  only allowed less than 10 minutes per day of non-adherence. Breaks and Lunch provided a minimum of 3 opportunities for an agent to be stuck on a call when they should be doing  something else. A little reporting later and it was determined that 63% of every break or lunch started while the agent was on a call and there was no allowance built into the tools to deal  with this. In short, the adherence goal was made without any thought to the reality of the business. Now the staffing expectations are more readily in line with realistic business goals. This is the power of informing the process not just reporting on it. You are unique – you can see these dots and connect them.

Much has been written along the way by wise folks and a few MBAs. You can find many resources on Business Performance Management theory. But you are unique. You can see and  interpret all of the inputs and data points. Just remember that the success of a business is determined by reaching its goals. You are unique in that you can help draw the map and be the GPS to get to the destination. As long as you remember it’s ok to adjust the route you’ll be fine.

Marshall G. Lee serves as Workforce Manager at Carewise Health. He may be reached at  marshall.lee@carewisehealth.com. Justin D. Zeigler is Sr. Planning Analyst at American Express Global Business Travel. He may be reached at Justin.D.Zeigler@aexp.com.