July 25, 2014

Just say NO to manually adjusting data and reports – 4 reasons why

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Today, I have a gust post from Marci Reynolds.  Based in Boston, MA USA, Marci is the Vice President, Global Help24 Tech Support, at ACI Worldwide, an electronic payments software provider, and the author of the popular, Operations Blog. Visit her site or follow her on Twitter, @marcireynolds12. You may also enjoy her recent blog posts, How do you know when to pick your battles? and Experience the pain to drive organizational gain.

 

We have all heard the phrase; “you can’t manage it, if you can’t measure it”. I also believe that “you can’t manage, it if you are always adjusting it”.

When you work in a culture that is very numbers driven or reliant, there will always be pressure to adjust your data or reporting to account for outliers, one-offs, process errors etc. This is a very slippery slope. You can not eat a single potato chip and you can not make only one adjustment.

When data and reports are “clean”, i.e. with no manual adjustments, the data is objective and we treat all parties/divisions consistently and fairly. When we add in manual adjustments, we immediately convert objective data into “suspect, subjective data with inconsistencies. I am very uncomfortable making critical business decisions using inconsistent, manually manipulated data (and you be should too).

Here are 4 reasons why you should not create an adjustment culture in your organization:

1) We own the process errors, so we must own the results

In the organization I work with, we manage technical support tickets with priorities 1, 2 and 3 and each priority has a different time to close/SLA expectation. Occasionally, a priority 3 ticket gets upgraded to a priority 2, and we immediately miss the time to close/SLA targets and I’ve been asked to adjust our reporting. Should we? No. We own the case management process and it is our responsibility to either change the policy on ticket changes and/or to manage out abnormalities in the process.

2) If you adjust the bad errors, you must also adjust the good errors

Like many organization, we send out a customer satisfaction survey after we close each ticket/case that provides customers the opportunity to rate their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 considered the worst and 5 considered the best.  Occasionally we have a customer submit the survey with all ones (instead of fives), but with very positive comments, and the impacted teams will ask about removing these results from their averages. Seems fair- right? No.

As many times as customers incorrectly choose all ones, they likely choose all fives when they are very unsatisfied. To manage this situation, we’d have to assign team members to analyze every survey, identify both the good and bad errors and make manual adjustments. This is not a good investment of time and resources.

3) Adjustments are subjective and inconsistent

In three, prior sales leadership positions, I inherited teams that expected monthly manual adjustments to their results. There was a process flow in place, where the Sales Reps submitted their adjustment request, a Supervisor reviewed it and then either approved or denied the request.

In one role, I asked to be included as a second approver for the adjustments and was astounded at what was being both submitted and approved by the Supervisors. There was an instance where I approached one of the Sales Reps and asked why they submitted a specific adjustment and their response was “I threw it against the wall to see if it would stick..like spaghetti”. It did not!

In a prior Sales Ops, leadership role, I took part in an audit of all manual adjustments approved for 400+ sales reps. during a specific quarter to identify abnormalities, and I did. I found that specific supervisors were approving questionable adjustments that ensured that sales people either achieved quota or achieved bonus multipliers. I also found salespeople working together to help each other achieve quota by trading sales, which had the same result. The audit results were very disturbing and also made me (and HR and legal) wonder, what happened last quarter and the quarter before that. Yikes!

4) You create an adjustment machine that takes significant time and resources

You must consider the time to identify and correct good and bad errors. You must consider the time to understand the impact of the adjustments on results, performance reviews or bonus payouts. You must consider the time to manage adjustments consistently across employees, teams and geographies.

Managing adjustments could become a full time job ( or more) and may require resources that are at a high enough level to be objectives and identify and question possible abnormalities, that may piss people off. Do you want to invest $100,000 in a manual adjuster or $100,000 in another Tech Support Analyst or Salesperson?

But.. common sense should prevail

One caveat.. we do need to apply some common sense or management judgment at times, if the outlier is so significant that it has a material impact to a material number of employees. In these cases, I still believe that we should not adjust the reporting itself and instead, address these situations quietly and privately. There should be VERY FEW of these adjustments.

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