Providing Quality Service with Technology

"I'm off to a campus!" Those are words that either signal great trust among central office support staff, or cause apprehension.

This all came to a head about two years ago for a mid-size district (in another state, not Texas!) whose schools were spread all over the county, it seemed. A friend who works in that school district shared a new initiative implemented in her district--walkie-talkie phones with GPS for staff. The problem, she pointed out, was that several technology specialists were checking in every morning, then disappearing for the day. The concern among top administrators was that these specialists were going home, running errands across town, which in a large urban center can take hours. 

The solution, they decided, was to issue these push to talk phones to address the gap from what was happening to what should be happening. Though the problem wasn't rampant, morale was low among the specialists who knew what was going on but felt like they could do little but grumble anonymously. Rather than confront the issue, leadership decided to implement a costly solution paid for with precious district funds--push to talk phones with GPS built into them. The phones' GPS signal allowed the district administrators to track where every specialist was at during the day, except when the specialists left their district-issued phone at work on their desk.

In many districts, this would be a non-issue. That is, it would be handled quickly and expediently. The process is one you're probably familiar with:
  1. Survey your customers to ensure that service is provided in a timely manner and establish a baseline.
  2. Let everyone know that you're going to hold people responsible for this after a certain period of time.
  3. Document the problems as you can, including following up to see if work orders are taken care of.
  4. Meet individually with offenders and go through the district process identified in admin procedure.
But for fun, what's another approach? Let's try the Crucial Confrontations approach on and explore it below. If you think I'm off on my interpretation, let me know in the comments!

In school districts, we've seen a growing realization that technology can't be used to manage classroom behavior. Simply, you don't use content filtering, enact complex policies to control something that isn't a technology problem in the first place, right? 

Is technology the real problem the folks in the scenario are facing? One of my favorite books for dealing with these kinds of issues is Crucial Confrontations. The approach can be boiled down to a 3 step approach that goes something like what follows. For fun, I'm going to write it up as a narrative.

Step 1 - Safely Describe the Gap
"John," Maria began after they had both seated themselves in a private meeting room. "When we met last week as a group, we agreed that we would start the day here to pick up assigned trouble-tickets, then go out to campuses. At the end of the day, we would head back and check into the office, update the database to reflect completed jobs. Do you recall that conversation?"
"Yes, I do," answered John.
"Earlier today, Ms. Martinez (Principal) called and shared you'd signed in after lunch. Since you arrived after lunch, there wasn't time to finish the job and she pointed out that you told her you would have to come back later this week. Since this was the only campus you had to visit today,  I was wondering what happened. Did you run into a problem of some kind?"
The goal in this step, as I understand it, is to describe what the gap in what was done and what was expected. How you begin this conversation, per CC, is whether this is a first-time occurrence, a recurring trend, or flagrant violation of your relationship with the staff member. The authors of CC use a simple approach called CPR-Content, Pattern, Relationship.  In the first incidence, you deal with the content of what happened. The scenario above is focused on the content. If this scenario occurs more than once, you have to establish that there is a pattern of behavior that has developed. If the pattern continues, then the entire relationship suffers, and you change your focus to deal with that.

Step 2 - Identify Why the Problem Occurred-  Motivation, Ability or Both
The importance of this step is to identify what is motivating the person, whether it's the consequences of what has to be done (or not done), a lack of ability that prevents him from getting it done, or both. For example, in the scenario above, it may be that John has other circumstances outside of work that require his time elsewhere. The consequences of failing to be present in that situation (e.g. sick mother who needs attention) appear greater than the consequences of being tardy in meeting the needs of the school (the organization's needs).

Another possibility may be that John doesn't have the skills to get the job done or a personality conflict. He may find the work he's about intimidating and he's putting off dealing with it as much as possible, prolonging the time away from dealing with the issues. To get through this step, Maria has to remind John of consequences that matter to him. Here's a scenario that attempts to capture that:
"As you know, we've agreed to provide a high level of customer service to our campuses. When you don't meet your appointments, it puts me in the awkward position of trying to fix a problem you are responsible for. While I can make a temporary adjustment to your schedule so you can take care of your mother, we need to have more open communication about when you aren't going to be able to meet your commitment to the organization, or put another way, when your personal commitments are going to take you away from work. "
An observation: This problem isn't about technology issues, is it? It's a leadership issue. As leaders, we have to be brave enough to hold people accountable, diligent enough to follow up and set deadlines for completion of work.

Step 3 - Wrap up conversation by determining who does what by when.
Since the goal of the conversation really is close the gap between what was agreed upon and what actually happened, it's important to set measurable outcomes. One of the ways that is suggested is to set expectations for who will do what by when.
"Maria," John started, "I appreciate your time and understanding about this issue. To review, after I leave here in the morning to sign in, I will head to my assigned campus and arrive no later than 8:30am to resolve trouble-tickets. I will finish the job in a timely manner and log it via the web interface, as well as ask the person who submitted the work order to complete a customer service survey about the quality of the work."
Again, if this single event is a pattern of behavior that continues, damaging the relationship between Maria and John--essentially, Maria no longer trusts John to honor his word--then it's time to step up the documentation, consequences, and move to reprimand and/or termination per District procedure.


Note: This is one in a series of blog entries exploring the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Director of Technology. Please be sure toread the whole series! 

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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