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Workforce Optimization: A Systems Thinking Activity

What IS Workforce Optimization??

It's one of those BIG words you see all over the internet, from most every contact center platform provider out there. You see it as a suite of software solutions, but then just as frequently you see it as a strategy for running operations.  You see it described as being about your people and your customers, but then you also see it as being all about driving efficiency.

I sum it up by saying that Workforce Optimization (WFO) is about improving and aligning your processes so people can do their jobs better, customers get a better outcome, and the business gets better results!  And we have tons of terrific leaders, tools and technology working to deliver on this vision!


With all this WFO, why aren't we perfect?!

To achieve such utopian bliss of optimizing our contact center operations, we need data, measurements, performance feedback, customer feedback, and smart tools.  And in many cases, we all have that.  So why aren't we all perfect?   Part of it is because the relationship between those elements is not always considered or understood, and it's that interdependency of each area to another that determines the end consequences to both experience and performance!  

In other words, our operational environments, frequently reactionary, don't always operate within the framework of understanding those interrelated relationships. Meaning, every group, person, part, and process, is dependent on another, and a change to any element, affects every other.  Therefore, a system thinking approach is necessary for effective WFO, so we're considering the impacts of our decisions on different areas - preferably before implementation!

How do you know if you're in a System?

Ask yourself if you can you remove a part and have the remainder still work?  If not, it's a system.  In contact centers for example, if you schedule your workforce without forecasting, you won't be able to support customer demand adequately.  If you don't coach and develop employees, you damage their morale which in turn hurts your customer experience.  If you don't source tools that give agents visibility into their performance, then they are disempowered to do any self-diagnosis or adjustment.

Systems include Functional Areas, People, Processes, Tools, and Resources

Our entire operations can be viewed as a system.  That includes functional areas like Recruiting, Training, QA, IT and Desktop Support, as well as people - your agents, leaders, and support personnel, as well as your processes - like selection, onboarding, and training, your developmental processes like coaching and recognition, even your platform-use and customer handling processes.  And it's the resources that help people do their jobs and frame and measure expectations and performance, like your internal metrics and goals, your customer feedback collection methods, and so on.

All parts of your system - people, processes, technology, and resources, work together to both support and optimize each other

We know that conceptually, but systems break down when any one piece is not considered or misaligned; consider the following examples:

  • A tool should tell you that you have a performance outlier or show you a customer trend, but data is required to fuel that tool, people resources must integrate the data, and there has to be a training resource and process, so end users know to access the tool, and how!
  • A process like QA monitoring should tell you that an Agent is failing compliance requirements and therefore potentially losing incentive opportunities or causing penalties to the business.  But the monitoring form as a tool, along with recognition and rewards processes, have to work together to balance effort on accuracy, compliance, and behavior adequately. Otherwise, Agents will focus exclusively on requirements, at the consequence of desired service behaviors.  
  • A resource like an NPS Survey should give insight into your customers' feelings about their experience, but if there is no process to share the feedback with agents, then the learning or celebration opportunities are lost on Agents, and customers' concerns aren't mitigated for future interactions, which means we'll likely repeat whatever we did to cause the dissatisfaction.

Consider HOW You Make Decisions to Optimize!

Even if we have well-functioning processes, well-trained people, and valuable resources and technology tools individually, none of them work to their optimal potential when the process lacks technology, or the resource lacks a process, or the people lack tools!

So, the next time you decide how to create and fix a process, or align people to functional areas, or make tools and resources available to people, consider their effects on other parts of your system so you can create optimized outcomes for your workforce, and customers, instead of more to clean up!


Just like on WFO, there is a LOT of content available about Systems Thinking - check out a variety of resources to get different facets of definition and application.  Here are a few: