How colors can make you more productive

I started driving in 1978 after my second attempt at the New York State driver’s exam.  Nobody passes on their first attempt – you can look it up.  Ever since then, the colors green, yellow and red have held a certain power over my behavior.

Signal LightWhen a traffic light ahead turns red, it triggers an urgent sense to act.   Yellow triggers a similar behavior, but not quite as urgent as red.  And if it’s green, just keep driving - there’s no urgency.  The colors green, yellow and red have a clear meaning for virtually anyone who’s ever driven a car.

Author Anthony Tjan in a Harvard Business Review article, Make Priorities Clear with Green, Yellow, and Red, says “The easier something is to visualize and digest, the more likely it is to be understood and used, and few things can be easier than green, yellow, and red.”

So, what does this polychromatic discussion have to do with Shared Services?   Service Level Agreements (SLA’s), that’s what.

One of the more important Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) in Shared Services governance is SLA Compliance – the percentage of cases that are closed within the agreed upon timeframe.  So it’s important that agents are always working on the right cases to maximize SLA compliance.

When agents are required to make decisions on prioritizing cases, it ads to their mental workload.  But when those rote decisions are eliminated, life gets easier for the agents – not to mention, more productive.

The “home base” for a service center agent is their dashboard.  The role of the dashboard is to present a comprehensive picture to the agent of their work to be done, and to present it in a way that’s easy to interpret without investing a lot of mental energy.

The second role of the dashboard – and equally important - is to prioritize the work for the agent.  The less mental energy an agent has to invest in prioritizing their cases, the more energy they’ll have available to actually do the work that serves the customer, and the more productive they’ll be.

The agent’s dashboard is comprised of gauges that are colored – you guessed it – green, yellow and red.  These colors correspond to the age of the underlying cases, relative to the SLA and deadline of each case.

Cases in the red zone are overdue, and should be worked on immediately.

Cases in the orange zone are still within the SLA, but have exhausted the majority of their available time, Dashboard Agentand are approaching the deadline, much like a yellow traffic light that’ll soon turn red.  These yellow cases should be worked on after resolving the Red cases.

Green cases are well-within their SLA’s, and can be worked on last, or after the red and orange cases have been resolved or closed.

The value of the color coding is that representatives don’t have to think about which cases to work on –  instead, they can move more quickly from one case to the next. 

By leveraging the power of green, yellow and red, the agents no longer have to invest time and energy to prioritize their work – the dashboards do it for them – and instead go directly to doing the work.  This is a big step toward increasing productivity and streamlining service delivery, thanks to the power of color-coding.

And by the way, the reason I didn’t pass my first driver’s exam was because I drove too fast through a yellow light.  To this day, I still swear it was green.