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Back Offices: It’s Time to Change the Work

Back Offices: It’s Time to Change the Work 11/19/2012
By Donna Fluss


Many back offices have been doing things the same way for so long that the concept of change rarely enters the discussion. When the topic of productivity comes up, the discussion often centers on how to do more of the same thing by speeding up processing, instead of looking for ways to change the job. It may (or may not) be a good idea to ask people to speed up the pace of their work. I’m familiar with back-office situations where people complete their assignments in the first two hours and then use the rest of the day to do what they want – unless managers come by, in which case workers pretend to be hard at work. In these types of environments, goals are outdated and need to be changed. At the other extreme, there are also highly structured work environments where employees may be struggling to get their tasks done in the designated time frames. In these situations, companies may have the wrong people doing the work, or the goals may be wrong. The point is that any back-office operating area that has not examined its work processes and goals in the past two years should evaluate them.

All departments should have a process for continuously evaluating the effectiveness of all aspects of their operation job. As this is not easy to do, companies should consider using performance management applications in back offices to track and improve work productivity, output, quality and, therefore, customer satisfaction. These solutions will, of course, provide reports, scorecards and dashboards to give managers insights into the department’s output, but performance management should ideally help managers re-assess the work that is being done in the department by allowing them to track and measure it at a task (or component) level for each worker. Managers need to rethink their work processes and workflows constantly so that they can see what is working and what needs to change. If they see that it takes employees two hours to complete their work each day – or if this is true for at least 80% of their staff – it should be clear that their goals are no longer appropriate. If the performance management application determines that 9 of 10 employees are meeting quality objectives, but the tenth never does, it’s obvious that there is one employee in need of assistance. And, if it’s the performance management solution that identifies the issue, complaints about favoritism no longer apply. Back-office managers should consider using a performance management solution under the following conditions:

  • Need to improve their department’s productivity and quality
  • Would like to change the way they are doing business
  • Would like to institute a culture of continuous process improvement
  • Need a more accurate method of tracking work output by worker and the overall department
  • Need a tool to rapidly identify performance issues and the actions required to address the opportunities
  • Would like to eliminate complaints of unfairness and favoritism

Performance management solutions are a highly effective method of fairly institutionalizing the concept of ongoing process improvement. Many good back-office managers are manually doing some form of performance management already. But as the stakes increase due to pressure from the top to cut costs and improve quality, leaders need new tools to help them achieve their goals. Performance management solutions provide the framework, automation and best practices to help managers change and improve their operating groups. For more information on how back-office performance management works, please see my recent white paper, “Improving Back Offices with Performance Management and Desktop Analytics.”