Sandy Kemsley's Blog - Building Incentives Into Processes
Sandy Kemsley

Building Incentives Into Processes

By Sandy Kemsley

Read Time: 6 Minutes

Building Incentives Into Processes

Around 2011, I started looking at how business processes that involved people were becoming more flexible and collaborative, since many of the predictable parts of the process were being automated, which left the messier ad hoc problem solving to people. What I noticed is that there were problems with the adoption of systems used to handle these more flexible tasks. In some cases, the processes weren’t designed for the flexibility required for collaboration, because organizational culture tended to lock down worker environments rather than allowing them to adapt to the situation at hand. Also causing adoption problems was that workers had few incentives to focus on business goals when they were just rewarded for getting their bit of the work off their desk as quickly as possible.

In this time of process disruption, when we have the opportunity to retool all of our processes, how do we align our intelligent automation systems with incentives and business goals?

Remote work changes how work is done, and intelligent process automation is helping by sending people the right work at the right time, letting them collaborate with their colleagues, all while maintaining security and compliance. This changes how work is managed, since old-style offices that relied on a manager walking around to make sure that everyone looks busy just aren’t a good fit with remote work. And it changes how employee performance is measured: if your employees are rewarded on results rather than the number of widgets that they process, you don’t need to be watching them every minute.

adding incentives into your processes

I’ve written previously about the need for both vertical alignment, so that each of your top-level business goals can be directly traced to one or more operational activities, and horizontal alignment across the entire customer journey process. When workers are performing knowledge work, the performance metrics need to take into account that knowledge work is best when it is goal-driven, collaborative and adaptable. Measuring how well a worker performs a task that contributes to a business goal is much more important than measuring how many minutes they spent in each desktop application each day. This means understanding how their actions roll up to business goals, whether they are using a reasonable degree of collaboration to perform their actions, and whether they are using “outside the box” problem solving techniques or even changing the entire business process to adapt to an unusual circumstance.

Your intelligent automation systems need to not only provide this type of flexible environment for knowledge workers, but also measure how they’re using it to improve the quality of their decisions and work.

Sandy Kemsley's Blog - Building Incentives Into Processes - trusting their employees to perform quality work, especially for remote workers

In general, I recommend against over-monitoring workers’ behaviors, which can create false incentives. Some companies have been sold on the idea that measuring each click and keystroke is more important than trusting their employees to perform quality work, especially for remote workers; this is almost always an indicator that there’s a misalignment between business goals and employee metrics. To quote Peter Drucker, “what is measured, improves”, so if you measure keystrokes and time spent in different applications as a proxy for productivity, that’s what people will spend their time on even if it doesn’t contribute to business goals. Instead, measure the goals achieved by workers, such as problems resolved, time to resolution, and customer satisfaction with the result. This doesn’t mean that you’re not concerned with efficiency and productivity, but you also need to be measuring the quality of decision making and problem solving as it relates to higher-level business goals and customer satisfaction.

All of this may require changes to organizational culture. If you have a strictly hierarchical and rule-following management style in your company, people are less likely to collaborate and use their own judgement in solving problems. Work may be driven by rigid processes that don’t allow people to solve problems in the most effective way.

I wrote a paper back in 2014 on how incentives need to change for knowledge workers, which included the observation that although most companies and management understand that dynamic, goal-driven processes can result in big improvements, they just don’t have the organizational culture to support that type of work. Even if executives think that they want collaboration across silos, managers’ rewards may be based on efficiency performance targets, which means that the managers will enforce more transactional incentives for their teams.

It’s accepted by now that intelligent process automation needs to be designed with agility and to allow collaboration directly within their work platform as part of the process. An agile operating model allows processes to change on the turn of a dime, and a collaborative operating model assumes that people will work together to get things done.

When you’re designing metrics for these agile, collaborative processes, consider what should be measured at the team level as well as the individual level to reward people for working together on problems. If your management is worried that this will mean that people spend too much time socializing and not enough time solving problems, then your metrics are wrong. If you have metrics that are driven by higher-level business goals, then people will collaborate with others when it’s the best thing to solve a problem, not just because they’re feeling social. Having vertical alignment between business goals and individual metrics ensures that everyone, right from the CEO down to the front-line workers, are responsible in some way for achieving the business goals.

The key to designing metrics and incentives is to figure out the problems that the workers are there to solve, which are often tied in some way to customer satisfaction, then use that to derive performance metrics and employee incentives. Don’t forget that incentives can be both financial and non-financial. Some of the measurements will end up on people’s performance reviews and may contribute to a pay raise or promotion, but others are about personal satisfaction in doing a job well, or in helping others to achieve their goals.

Read Sandy Kemsley’s blog post: Making experience matter by building the right incentives into processes

Are you looking to align automation with incentives and business goals for your organization?

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