Are your objectives reactive or proactive?

Posted on by Nancy Slessenger This entry was posted in Objectives, Performance Management, SMART Goals, SMART Objectives, SMART targets, Time Management and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.



I had a very interesting discussion recently with someone who runs a help desk and it prompted me to think about the difference between reactive and proactive objectives.
This is a very important distinction because it has a huge impact on the results you get. Reactive objectives keep the status quo. Proactive objectives make improvements and take you forward. Both can be SMART objectives or SMART goals, but the long-term results are quite different.



Help desks and people who respond to problems


I’ve done a lot of work with helpdesks over the years. Here are some typical objectives:  

  • Answer all calls within 3 rings
  • Answer 50 calls / day on average
  • Resolve 80% of tickets within one week


It’s very tempting to think that when you are in this kind of role, where you are responding to the problems of other people all the time, that’s all you can do. But it’s not true.



In fact you have some excellent opportunities to make big improvements if that’s what you want to do. (I’m sure it is if you are reading this.)



Gather the facts


As is often the case, gathering the facts is always useful. Here’s what you need to do. Just get details of the issues that you are having to deal with and how many of each you get over a week or month. So your first objective is:


Identify the top 10 reasons that customers/users call us.


You plot all the reasons, and the number of calls for each into a graph like this.

Histogram showing calls to the help desk by category

Plot the graph in order of the problems that are the source of the most calls


Now you can see what’s going on. You can see where most of your calls or requests for help come from. So you can start setting yourself some challenging objectives. Like halving the number of calls you get.


You objective might be:


Reduce the number of calls about ____________ to under 50 per week by end March.

That might sound a bit frightening. But the truth is you can often do much better than that.


Almost all of the help desks I’ve worked with in the IT field have said that their most common call is from people who have forgotten their password. We’ve all done it.


So one particularly enterprising team set about training their colleagues in memory techniques for remembering passwords. It reduced the lost password calls by more than 50%. I still use one of those techniques to this day.



Your most frequent callers


Another way to analyse the information is to identify (for internal callers) who are you most frequent callers. You can probably do this without having to graph it. Personally I always like to draw and graph and work out the figures because that makes it easier to see just how much of an improvement you’ve managed to make.



Once you have identified your most popular callers, you then might set up a meeting with them to see what you can do to help them. This can often reduce your workload and theirs quite considerably and leave you time to make other improvements.




Get the measures right


Sometimes you are measuring the wrong things and you are therefore getting poor results. People in call centres often measure the length of calls, the goal being to make the calls as short as possible so they can get onto the next call. However, if you do this, you often get the same person calling back several times because their problem has not been resolved.


I suspect that some of the dreadful issues at the Stafford Hospital may be linked to having the wrong measures from some of the reports I’ve heard. So getting the measures right is vitally important.


I saw a great example of this when working with a client years ago who was a master at turning round call centres. He said it’s much better to have an objective of resolving issues on the first call than a length of call or number of calls goal. And guess what, it’s much more popular with the customers.




Sometimes you just can’t win


Though this brilliant manager never did solve the problem of the pensioner who used to phone every day to complain that there were too many clouds on the picture of the weather (I’m not joking).


If you have to deal with lots of interruptions you’ll find proactive and reactive ways of dealing with them on pages 16 and 17 of our booklet “Time Management Made Easy”. You use exactly the same principles as dealing with calls to a help desk.

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