The transition from front-line agent to team leader can be a difficult one. Here are ten steps you should take when considering an agent for a team leader position.
1. Involve them in ‘pet’ projects
The kind of employee who gets considered for advancement is probably involved in activities beyond their core duties. These might include coaching staff, organising social events, or creating in-house instructional materials.
This level of engagement shows that they are willing to participate. It also demonstrates that they enjoy their work, which is crucial if they are going to inspire others.
Projects also help the employee develop a diverse skill set. If they could benefit from more strings to their bow, talk to them about their interests. New leaders coming up from the front line often bring fresh and surprising perspectives to their roles.
2. Use a script to train coaching skills
Teams leaders need to be able to coach their workforce, but coaching skills are tough to crack. One way to get them up to speed is to practise with them using a script.
There are several benefits to scripting a practice coaching session. A script is easy to follow and guarantees that the most important areas are covered. It can also form the basis of a useful conversation about coaching techniques.
Observe the candidate helping other staff and give them feedback using the same coaching script. In this way, the candidate experiences first-hand the techniques they are applying to others.
Once they have got used to the script, make sure that they are able to go “free form”.
3. Make sure they know the job inside-out
Team leaders need to be an authority on internal processes.
Identifying gaps in their knowledge will pay dividends. If their team cannot count on them as a resource it could undermine their authority as a leader.
If you want to be able to test this, ask existing team leaders about tough queries they have fielded. Your candidate should be able to reflect on how they might have handled the same situations.
4. Develop confidence with the ‘scale of accountability’
This three-step system is a useful way to accelerate learning.
Initially, an agent learns by asking you questions, which you answer. This is step one.
Over time, you can expect more independence from them. When they ask you questions, give them several possible solutions. Ask them to pick one and discuss its merits. This is step two.
Step three on the scale is when you ask them to volunteer their own solutions. When they come to you with a question, ask them what they think the answer is, and why.
Go through these stages at whatever pace suits the candidate. You will find that they rapidly develop the habit of implementing their own solutions.
5. Buddy candidates with new starters
A good leader will develop not only themselves but those around them. Being a disciplinarian is not as important as being a teacher, so observe how the candidate teaches.
Buddying candidates with new starters will give you insight into how they help others. New staff are especially in need of confidence and support, and they often run into unexpected issues.
Watch how potential leaders handle these issues; do they step in and resolve them, or do they help the trainee find out for themselves?
6. Ask them how they might reward or motivate staff
Developing an agent into a leader won’t only benefit them, it can benefit your whole company. By asking them to think up some new reward schemes, you are drawing on them as a resource. It is also a test of their creativity and their understanding of their peers.
Give them a specific target, perhaps three motivational schemes they would introduce as a leader. Talk through these with them and get an idea for how practical the ideas are.
The scheme can be their first project in the new position.
7. Let them shadow you
Let’s face it, not all of the skills of management can be taught. A lot of what your candidates need to know comes through experience and your example.
They should shadow you in meetings, and observe you handling interviews and escalated complaints. That way they will see exactly the balance you strike in being firm but fair, and get a chance to study your interactions with the staff.
8. Test their knowledge of the company
Modern companies are large and complex operations. Most front-line staff only have a limited understanding of how other departments are run.
This helps companies avoid overburdening employees but means that agents can develop a very specialised knowledge base. They may lack understanding when communicating with other departments or with colleagues in different roles.
Potential team leaders should sit in with a variety of colleagues. This will extend their awareness of the various systems of the business. Ideally, they should already have working relationships with existing team leaders and managers. If not, now is the time to build them.
9. Ensure their complaint handling is top notch
“I want to speak to your supervisor” is not an agent’s favourite phrase, but it does come up. Sometimes it falls to a leader to resolve calls personally.
This means that complaints handling is a key skill for any team leader. Most complaints they deal with will be the more serious ones that have been ‘escalated’. For new leaders, this can feel like walking the high wire without a net. They will need to act with the utmost professionalism.
To achieve this, ask candidates to review recorded complaints and see what improvements they suggest. You could also run through especially difficult role-plays to make sure they maintain that professional attitude under pressure.
10. Discuss the needs of a team with them
As well as being responsible for their staff’s output, a leader is responsible for their team’s well-being. Issues like sickness and absence, discipline and rewards are all topics you should discuss.
They will need to be able to do more than just parrot company policies, though. They need to understand these issues and have their own thoughts on interpersonal subjects.
Get candidates thinking about the day-to-day environment of their team by asking them about their own working life. Perhaps they were unhappy in a previous job, or they admired the approach of a particular manager.
If they can understand and respond to the thought processes of others, they will go on to become a highly effective leader.
With thanks to:
Glendon Evarts, Senior Call Centre Manager at Appco Group
Jim Wright, Call Centre Manager at Simple Financial Solutions
Liam Anderson, Quality Management Consultant at ZOOM International