The value of Workforce Management

Tell me – have you nailed it? Are you ending on- or above target performance this year with your ambitions regarding the staffing of your contact center? Yes? Good for you; no need to read further now, thanks for reading this introduction.

What did you say? Your answer is “No”? You are overstaffing to compensate your previous understaffing? Service levels are all over the place? I could speculate about some of the awful symptoms your contact center might soon face, or is facing right now. But I won’t, don’t worry. You do however, have some reason to keep reading though..

Written by: Edwin van der Hilst

“We could of course let employees schedule themselves and let the traffic tasks be done by the team leaders, that way we can make the WFM team near obsolete! That would save us tons of money!”


Most contact centers I visited the last few years are struggling to get it right. Objectives set early in the year frequently fail to be realized, volumes don’t go down (as we hope or predict nearly every year) and productivity keeps fluctuating. And in all this, there’s usually a guy or girl (let’s call him/her “Phoenix”) that challenges the management team in saying: “We could of course let employees schedule themselves and let the traffic tasks be done by the team leaders, that way we can make the WFM team near obsolete! That would save us tons of money!” Phoenix is usually not a member of that team by the way, it’s most of the time a manager from operations with the clear ambition to create self-steering teams, enlarge employee-engagement which reduces absenteeism & attrition and increases productivity. Phoenix is ambitious, and right too; you do save tons of money when employees can schedule themselves and traffic management is the responsibility of the team leader. So, let’s do what Phoenix says right? Sounds logical and progressive; two ingredients that are making this plan popular amongst management ánd employees


Self - steering vs situational leadership self

First of all, I’m a great enthusiast of self-steering teams. I think it is great when people are given more responsibility than their primary task: helping customers. However, the situational leadership model we all know states that the phases you have to go through as an employee and perhaps even more as a team are: directing, coaching, supporting and then one goes to S4; delegating. The self-steering team, in my opinion, needs a base of those kind of employees; so in a normal distribution graph, you need about 70% of your employees to be “S4’s”. One could cope with some S3’s and S2’s, but S1 employees don’t thrive in these environments because there is nobody there to give directions or there is simply not enough focus and time to give to them in the first place. Also, the images one will have with this model usually don’t have S1’s in them.

4-pie-chart 2.0

The reality

The reality however shows that most of our teams are not built upon a foundation of S4 employees. S4 employees are promoted to management positions or leave the company on their own. Those who stay are the S3 employees that are given the chance to grow towards S4, as for the S2 towards S3 and so on. The risk of delegating tasks to employees who are not ready for it is that the task is not performed correctly, either completely or partially. This could lead to more stress and catastrophe where eventually some “red” manager (think of the DISC model, see below) will intervene with a directive project or approach to fix the problem, pushing all S3’s back to S2 or even worse to S1.

Zappos as an example for succes?

So we need to help people to evolve towards the S3/S4 way of working and we have to keep them aboard. Let your HR department figure out a proper development program on that one. By implementing “self-steeringness” in a team or department where people aren’t ready, you are merely implementing a structure change without embracing the change in behavior which is needed. Business Insider wrote some nice articles about Zappos. At the online retailer, implementing holacracy has turned out to present some tough challenges. Nearly all companies that try to implement self-directed work teams run in to problems after about six months. Quote: “The fundamental issue? People just didn’t self-regulate as well as the companies had hoped. Teams weren’t good at disciplining themselves either. “We’re human beings; we just don’t do that,”(Zappos holacracy unlikely to work) Now in 2015, Forbes also mentioned the confusion at Zappos, Quote: “It’s either the future of management or a social experiment gone awry.” (Is holocracy succeeding at Zappos?) So, as soon as Phoenix comes to your doorstep and mentiones “self-directing” as a way to lower the cost of WFM, be cautious and let Phoenix show you the data that proves holacracy works.

Penny wise, pound foolish?

Remember why we have workforce management. Why do we have all these planners, forecasters, capacity planners/managers and traffic managers? We have them for a reason, right? Once upon a time hired all these people but do the problems they were supposed to solve still exist? What were the problems anyway?  Chances are that the planning structure existed before you joined the company and therefore you don’t know why your company ever chose to work with WFM in this manner. Of course, you can make up some of the arguments right? Things like: More overview, a result of decentralization or centralization, more efficiency and so on. The problem is; do you exactly know what your WFM team is worth? Do you know how much money is saved from inefficiency each year? That is it; you can’t tell exactly can you? And Phoenix of course can tell you exactly how much your company would save in euro’s, pounds or dollars when the WFM team is streamlined. So for the decision maker it is hard; do you choose an exact cost reduction where you don’t know the impact or risk? Or do you choose to keep those costs and still not know the impact? A logical mind would follow Phoenix, but your gut will make you ponder about this one.

Workforce management isn’t luxury! It is the blood through your veins, it is the electricity in your house; you cannot do without it.

Workforce Management (e)valuated

Think of your own household and personal spendings: When trimming down expenses, you always choose to first stop spending on luxuries. Go to the movies a bit less often, make fewer visits to your favorite restaurant and so on. The moment that WFM seems to become this kind of luxury in your organization, you should sound the alarm bells! Workforce management isn’t luxury! It is the blood through your veins, it is the electricity in your house; you cannot do without it. Counter Phoenix by showing the added value of WFM in clear numbers. One planner or forecaster more or less will cost you X amount of money. If you can’t prove the added value of WFM, who can and will? Evaluate your process, try to build and compare different scenarios based on historical data (e.g. this is our average performance on metric Y during year A when we did not have a planner, this is the same metric during year B after we hired our planner). Make the process insightful, nobody understands what happens in a black box; explain, elaborate and prove that you guys are adding the value the company needs for the next hundred years. The bold approach would be to claim more WFM resources for next year, after all; if for example 5 planners have an efficiency of 80%, why won’t 6 planners make it to the 90%?

Let WFM be the enabler for evolution

A positive response to Phoenix would not be to either counter-attack, pointing our the pitfalls of the Zappos-like organisations; or to produce deep-dive analytics proving the revenue of WFM. Rather, a positive response is to go back with a question: “Great idea, how can we in the WFM team help you get to your goal?” And what is that goal? Employee satisfaction? Cost reduction? Customer Experience? All three goals are main objectives, each with appropriate metrics and targets, for Workforce management. The WFM department was once built on those three goals; improve customer experience, efficiency and employee satisfaction. WFM is the tool with which to achieve your goals – it is not a barrier that is standing in the way of those goals. And so, as in every fairytale, all ends well. Good luck improving your WFM insights and achieving your goals!

About us

Spril is a leading Dutch company in Workforce Management. Whether it is customer contact, healthcare or government; we are there. Our enthusiastic team of WFM professionals is available to help you excel in this profession. We do this with training, consultancy, analysis and interim solutions, in the Netherlands, Belgium and abroad.

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