We’ve all seen management decisions that serve to make other people miserable. They make wonderful sense on paper, but once things get down to the individual level they don’t work. Whilst the causes are many and varied, one common cause is a simple failure to consider the human factor.
There’s a famous 1951 Disney short called ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion’. It’s a story that follows a mix up by a stork delivering baby lambs, who mistakenly delivers the young lion named ‘Lambert’. Lambert grows up amongst sheep, where he is completely useless.
Unable to bleat or headbutt, he’s miserable. For as long as he tries to be something he’s not, it’s no good. As you’d guess, Lambert eventually discovers what he is good for and is celebrated. (I figure we’re past spoiler alerts for this one.) Prior to that discovery, Lambert was teased and mocked by the lambs who didn’t understand him.
The moral of the story is that trying to make a lion bleat doesn’t work. Where there is a mismatch between tasks, and the nature of the people performing those tasks, you start creating a range of less obvious problems.
In this article, we’ll be covering the importance of understanding the human resources within a team (including yourself). In system design it is critical to know a team’s strengths, capabilities, weaknesses, and flaws.
In this article I’ll be covering:
Considering the human element
Just looking at the raw process is the kind of mistake that can be easily made in system or policy design. Every time you try to make someone do a task they aren’t naturally suited for; you’ll have friction in change management and reduced efficacy.
Some human questions
Every time we say:
- “The relationship-based person needs to complete this form”… we’re going to have a mismatch.
- “The process-based person is going to need to contact the client”… we’re going to have a mismatch.
These kinds of mismatches manifest themselves with those stages being completely poorly, delayed, procrastinated on, etc. Where that happens, often the first thought is we need tracking and management to ensure it happens.
Granted, sometimes that is necessary. But before we go down that road maybe we can think about it another way? Could we reassign that function to someone who’d prefer that work? Could that area be a focus for process improvement?
Some questions you can consider for your team include:
What do you enjoy most about your role? What tasks do you like doing?
We’d like to know what tasks or kinds of tasks you enjoy doing day to day, the kind of tasks that you seem to always get done, and the tasks that make you feel rewarded after doing.
What do you enjoy least about your role? What tasks don’t you like doing?
We’d like to know what tasks or kinds of tasks you don’t enjoy doing day to day, the kind of tasks that you seem to always get put off, and the tasks that you get frustrated by or are emotionally drained by.
This is something that often isn’t considered when we’re considering how to best improve practice efficiency.
Humans at scale
Once a business grows, and we have teams of individuals, the same process applies but we need to move up from individual strengths/weaknesses and consider it per role.
While any given role can be performed admirably by all different types of individuals, we can’t design process for an individual when there is a significant team of people in the same role. As such, we need to align to core competencies. Practically, this can be covered with a few questions:
- What are the core competencies for the role? (Should be a very short list.)
- What are the skills/attributes required to excel at those core competencies?
- What skills do not materially contribute to success?
Where the skills and attributes required for a given task align with those required to excel at core competencies, the fit is good. Where it does not, we should consider if some change is required.
Going beyond Cost to Serve to Total Cost to Serve
Cost to Serve Analysis is a useful exercise, helping ensure you have an awareness of who is doing what and what the direct cost of that is, especially if you aren’t considering improving the process and just wish to price it effectively.
Unfortunately, the typical Cost to Serve Analysis is a misleading exercise when it comes to process improvement, even when the objective is to reduce the cost to serve.
The classic cost to serve analysis is simple enough, and it goes as follows:
Time taken to do task (T) * Cost of resource assigned to task (C) = Cost of Task
SUM(Cost of all Tasks) = Cost to Serve
I think of things a bit differently. I think of it as Total Cost to Serve, factoring in the human element. This includes a few extra variables:
Cost of risk
Probability of error (PE) * Impact of error (IE) = Cost of risk
This is straight-forward at a high level, but it starts to be more dynamic as you to change who is responsible for tasks around. For example, giving a task to an underqualified staff member increases risk, potentially offsetting any financial savings.
Similarly, a task broken up into several steps can both increase and decrease risk. At several points, additional people being involved increases risk as incomplete knowledge is passed between humans performing the tasks. However, having one person completely own a process from end to end removes the benefits (and honesty) that another set of eyes brings.
This all requires careful consideration in designing process changes. Considerations that don’t present themselves in cost to serve analyses.
Cost of engagement (CE) * Impact of engagement (IE) = Engagement Factor
Engagement is the real human element here, expressed as Engagement Factor. This is a little like the concept of micromorts, where no single task is particularly disengaging, but cumulatively they can amount to significant disengagement.
An aspiring team member keen to get more client facing time will be more engaged by taking on increasing client facing tasks, improving output across the board.
A senior adviser who got into advice because they love helping people may find going through compliance checklists to be deeply disengaging, reducing motivation across the board.
Items that nobody wants to do, and everyone present is overqualified to do, is a great option for outsourcing. May be a little more expensive, but you may well find it’s worth the financial expense once you’ve factored in engagement.
Total cost to serve
Put ‘em together and what have you got?
boo. Total cost to serve.
((T * C) + (PE * IE)) * (CE * IE) = Total cost of task
(Cost to serve + Cost of risk) * Engagement factor = Total cost of task
SUM(Total cost of all tasks) = Cost to serve
How to use Total Cost to Serve
This isn’t something to enter in a spreadsheet or a calculator, although you’re welcome to. It’s more of something to consider at every step of the way.
When looking at a system, wherever possible try to consider:
- The risk of error in assigning a task to an individual. (This is particularly relevant when recruiting for a role expected to perform critical tasks. Underpaying may well be the expensive option.)
- Would someone else be happy to perform that task? Could the engagement win be worth it?
- Would the person doing a task hate it? Will it be the kind of thing they procrastinate on?
- Does a process have too many humans in the process? Does it have too few?
- Are you trying to make any lions act like sheep or vice versa?
– If you’re interested in reading more on the definition of risk you can see a nice total cost of risk definition via the Analytic Brokerage Platform.
– For more on micromorts, which I love as a way of thinking about daily risk taking: This unit of measurement figures out how likely you are to die from certain activities via ScienceAlert
– Not exactly related, but I love this meme all the same and had to share.
We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below.