Paul Griffin, a Contact Centre Operations Manager, draws on personal experiences to highlight how best to create a culture of accountability in the contact centre.
Why would I start this piece, a piece about contact centres and creating a culture of accountability, with the words Indiana Jones?
Well, when I think of Indiana Jones, I think of a man on a quest, who chases myths, historical artefacts and legend.
“Indy” goes to massive lengths to find them, sometimes making mistakes, sometimes getting hurt. Along the way, he experiences great adventures and pushes himself to the absolute limit to get to them.
As leaders of people, we chase the goal of making our teams accountable for their performance, the understanding and retention of knowledge. Like Indiana Jones, accountability is our holy grail within operations, the dream, the “blue sky”.
Accountability – it’s one of those words, isn’t it? We use the term a lot, we know what it means, what it looks like, and yet when it comes to creating a culture of accountability, it is so difficult to achieve, and we push ourselves to the absolute limit to get to it.
Like Indy, we come so close to attaining it so many times, and yet at the crucial moment, it slips from our grasp.
A long time ago, when I was a Team Leader in an organisation, I ached for my team to be accountable. I felt like I spent my entire day answering the same questions, delivering the same coaching sessions, having the same conversations with my direct reports time and time again. I felt like I was stuck on repeat and my days felt exactly the same. I could not understand why. I worked hard for my team, and had great relationships with them. I thought of myself as approachable and fair, and made sure that the team were incentivised.
Yet, other Team Managers seemed to have so much more time on their hands to get involved in projects or to facilitate their own development; yet I did not feel that they were any better than me – I just could not understand it.
One day, during a discussion with my line manager, I explained how I was feeling, my comparison was that of a runner, sprinting at full capacity, and yet standing still – not getting anywhere.
My manager asked me the strangest question that could have been asked at that time in the conversation:
“Is there a manual for doing your online shopping?”
I remember thinking that my manager had just ignored everything that I had been saying, and the expression on my face must have said exactly that.
My manager laughed and asked the question again; “Is there a manual for doing your online shopping?”
I just looked blankly and said “no”, leading my manager to ask another question: “So, if you can’t find the item that you are looking for, do you just stop your shopping?”
“What do you do?”
“I keep searching until I find what I am looking for.”
“And why do you do that?” was the final question that my manager asked before the penny started to drop and I understood the coaching session that I was going through.
I realised that I kept searching online because there is no one to ask, there is no “manual” for doing my online shopping. I keep searching until I find the item that I am looking for, and then I gain satisfaction from doing this myself.
“The reason that you feel the way that you do is because you give your people the answers, Paul,” my line manager explained.
“They do not need to go and search for solutions for themselves as they know that you will provide them. They do not need to make a note of the answer that’s given, or where you got the information from, as the team know that you will give it again next time round.”
“As long as that continues, your team are never going to be accountable for their performance, or for retaining the information that you share with them.”
I could not believe it – the answer was obvious, perhaps too obvious. I was so focused on trying to make sure that I was constantly approachable for my team that I was actually preventing their development by being so accommodating. In giving the answers, I was, in effect, the solution. I was the answer and I was the one preventing my team from having the autonomy to get the information for themselves.
I made an immediate decision to start to address this and so I started to use tools like the GROW model to challenge my team in considering how to find the answers to the questions for themselves.
Phrases like “What do you think?”, and “Where can you find that?” became a regular response to my direct reports, along with three words that are so crucial to any coaching conversation when trying to get someone to think of all outcomes: “And, what else….?”
Initially, the new approach was hard for everyone. I became very conscious of my responses, to resist the temptation to provide the solution in order to save myself some time. I started to embrace the concept of taking the “short-term hit for the long-term gain”.
At the same time, my team struggled to understand why my approach had changed. Why was I being “awkward” by not answering their questions? Why had I changed the way I lead the team – there was nothing wrong with the way it was done before?
As I communicated my change of approach, explained the rationale behind the change in mindset, highlighted how important it was for people to know how to get those answers for themselves, tolerance within the team started to improve, but so did the thinking in my team’s approach.
When coming to me with queries, the team explained where they had already looked, or what they had already read, knowing that my initial question would have been to challenge their thinking and how they could obtain the information.
The number of repeat questions I faced started to reduce, and I also saw the team sharing best practice and helping each other. People became more aware of their own performance, as they knew how to “self-serve” to understand how they were tracking against their targets.
My one-to-ones with the team became more proactive, with individuals preparing for discussions with their own agendas rather than turning up empty handed.
Coaching sessions started to become more dynamic as we were able to explore new ground rather than trekking down the same old route week in and week out, because knowledge was being retained. I had time to facilitate my own development through involvement in opportunities outside the day-to-day management of the team. In short – I found my “holy grail”.
I encourage and empower Team Managers to use open questions in their day-to-day leadership of their teams. Coaching is not just that once-a-week discussion about a call, development is not just that quarterly discussion around a PDP. As leaders, we owe it to our teams to constantly coach, regularly question, and informally challenge.
In order to create a culture of accountability, we need to help people to understand what they are accountable for, and give our teams the autonomy to be accountable.
That’s a tough thing to do, as the answers will not be immediate, the response will be one of impatience, and there will be initially some resistance. But, in empowering our people to think openly and freely for themselves, with the communication, reassurance, guidance, coaching and development of us as leaders, like Indiana Jones, we will find the holy grail and make our teams accountable for what they do.
Thanks to Paul Griffin, a Contact Centre Operations Manager at the RAC