Carolyn Blunt looks at the mistakes team leaders need to avoid if they want to get the very best from their agents.
Feel like you’re being pulled in lots of different directions? You’re not alone.
If you find it challenging to know what to say to certain individuals in your team when they are late or underperforming, it’s perfectly normal.
Finding an effective way to give feedback or coach, while not destroying morale, is important.
After all, advisors need to feel supported, encouraged and recognised, not abandoned after induction, criticised and demotivated.
However, the risk is that we bite our tongue, say nothing for fear of demotivating the individual or, even worse, sending them into a sulk that results in absence!
But what’s the alternative, blurt it out in a way that sounds harsher than you intended? Soften it up in the misleading ‘Feedback Sandwich’ that leaves them confused – or worse, just thinking they are doing great, when you end on a positive?
It takes a calm, objective approach to have ‘courageous conversations’ effectively.
Here are some common mistakes you definitely want to avoid:
1. Speaking in anger
Firstly, never approach the subject when your emotions are hooked. Noticing what that feels like is a key part of emotional intelligence. You will feel rattled, annoyed, irritated, passionate, or any other form of ‘red’ emotion.
Instead, wait for those temporary feelings to pass and the heat to leave the situation.
It is important, though, to let the individual know that you will want to talk about it. For example, if they are late, rather than them thinking that you haven’t noticed, while you silently fume behind your monitor screen, simply acknowledge the situation.
‘Carolyn, I noticed you were ten minutes late for shift again today. I’m going into a meeting now, but I need to talk to you about this later. Ok?’
Then think about the objective of the conversation. What is the end goal you want to achieve? What are the possibilities that can happen from this action? What is their track record like? Is this a first or 100th offence? How can you support them to achieve the standards needed? How committed are they to doing what is needed?
Finding a calm time and space to discuss the issue adult-to-adult will help you deliver the best end result.
2. Being inconsistent in your leadership and attitude
I often talk about two very important principles in leading people:
- Consistency – Being the same person every day, not moody or unpredictable depending on how much sleep you’ve had or how stressed you may feel.
- Authenticity – True to your own personality, not trying to be someone else or just copying ideas from a book, being clear about your own values and principles and recognising when someone behaves in a way that contravenes them. This can trigger an autopilot response that you may not even consciously recognise. For example, if you are sensitive to the feelings of others and always think carefully before you speak, then you may find the loud, brash chatterbox more irritating than the next person does.
Understanding personality differences, strengths and weaknesses and the need for variety is important. Otherwise, once we start to be involved in making recruiting decisions, we can inadvertently recruit a team of clones if we are not careful.
This can result in ‘group think’ – in other words, we all think in a similar way, which makes problem solving challenging as we may not see all the possibilities.
Being able to recognise the need to flex your style and bring out the best in others, while still remaining consistent to your authentic personality baseline, is a skill that will result in you being able to exude charisma and appeal to the majority, not the minority.
You will get the best out of your team if they feel you are tuned into them as individuals. Pay attention to what matters to them. Strike up conversations in the topics that interest them, not you.
3. Lacking self-awareness
If you have the opportunity to gather anonymous feedback on your leadership performance then grab this scary, but fantastic opportunity. Even the most self-aware leaders can benefit from a 360 feedback exercise.
But even in the absence of any formal survey process, you can encourage a culture of openness – and feedback – with your team.
At the end of coaching sessions, offer the opportunity for the team member to give you feedback. Ask if there is anything you can do more/less/better/different.
If they are reluctant to give you any feedback, then this doesn’t mean you are perfect! Think about what that could possibly mean. Find other, less direct, ways to encourage this type of sharing. For example, anonymously in a survey monkey questionnaire, using slips of paper in an envelope at a team meeting or a suggestion scheme.
Creating a culture where people feel able to speak up about areas for improvement is vital for a creative and continuously improving team. Letting people know that you are human too, and helping them believe you are all on a journey of development, will encourage openness and personal growth for the whole team. You don’t have to be ill to get better!
4. Getting stuck in a rut
It’s absolutely normal to get stuck in a bubble in your own contact centre.
The most innovative and high-performing leaders look upwards and outwards to gather best practice, ideas and information to bring back to their organisation. The fact that you are reading this article is a great example of that!
The ability to make time to formulate a clear vision, identify the areas you want to work on and then go find answers will set you apart from the crowd. Networking with industry colleagues, listening to keynote speeches and reading on your daily commute can make all the difference.
You will understand the similarities between Customer Effort and Net Easy Score, and the difference between ‘multichannel’ and ‘omnichannel’.
5. Overlooking the need to set clear goals and action plans
Life rewards action, not intent.
Every evening, set 3 goals for the following day – what will define tomorrow as a success? These three things should be the main focus of your priority, get them off your plate early in the day so you are not sabotaged by distractions or firefighting.
If I track you down at the end of the working day and ask you what you achieved today… Can you articulate it? Or will you just say “I can’t remember, but I know I didn’t stop all day and never had any lunch”? That is evidence of working reactively rather than proactively.
Lots of people come on training courses with me hoping for a magic bullet. They think that somehow by attending a training course on ‘Time Management’ they will magically have more time to do the things they want, or instantly be more organised.
Of course it doesn’t work like that; things only improve if you take action. Changing behaviour takes concerted effort, sustained over time. This is much easier with a coach or mentor to support you.
Find someone whom you can ask questions to, drawing on experience is often far quicker and less painful than trying to figure answers out for yourself or making decisions based on guesswork.
For more information about becoming a better team leader, sign up for Training Tuesdays – a new online training course by Real Results Training and Call Centre Helper designed especially for team managers and potential team managers, starting on Tuesday 19th January 2016.
With thanks to Carolyn Blunt at Real Results Training