How should you go about instigating change in your call centre? Richard Armeson opens the lid on the mystery and offers up five key tips for senior managers who truly want to make a difference.
One of the few things that is constant in call centres is that things will always change. And while change can be revitalising for an organisation, it can – in practice – be a daunting task.
The burden of handling this responsibility effectively will fall on managers who may already be stretched or overwhelmed by the challenge of the changes facing them. It is their job to balance the needs of the business with the emotional impact that change will have on their team on a personal level.
But just how should changes be made effectively, with least impact on all concerned?
Before I share the ‘secret’ with you, let us explore a couple of things.
Firstly, when people speak of ‘change’, they are referring usually to processes and actions. You’re usually able to see changes or even touch the results of change. Hence ‘change’ is invariably something external to your body.
However, before you are able to embrace any change fully, an internal process of adjustment has to happen. This is called ‘transition’. And it’s vitally important to note that ‘change’ and ‘transition’ are different things and often work at different speeds. A good example of this is when something like a new shift pattern for your call centre is introduced. The change happens overnight, but the transition can take considerably longer.
Consequently, the secret to effective change management is this: in order for change to be effective, transition must happen. In other words, if individuals are not helped to adapt and accept the change, the change won’t have the desired impact upon the organisation.
Picture the scene
One way of looking at this is to imagine the London Marathon. Picture the scene at the beginning of the marathon. There are thousands of people at the start line stretching back as far as the eye can see. Imagine this represents your organisation and that the senior managers are at the front, right by the start line.
When the starter’s gun goes the people at the front are off and running. Meanwhile, the people much further back, running for charity in a large chicken suit, have to wait a good 30 or 40 minutes before they even cross the line.
If you compare this marathon analogy to organisational change, you can see why senior managers sometimes cannot understand why it takes the rest of the organisation time to come to terms with change. This is because they’ve been thinking and talking about the change for a long time before it was announced, so they’ve already had time to do their own internal transition long before the rest of the organisation has even begun to think about it.
The managers and leaders at the start line have the easy part of transition in being ahead of the pack. Their responsibility therefore is to actively lead the change and, at a minimum, provide the following ‘five fundamental factors’:
1) Clarity of future direction
When change happens in organisations, having clarity around the future direction enables the workforce to:
- Be involved in moving forwards
- Feel inspired by the vision
- Receive positive, optimistic and consistent messages
- Understand that the best aspects of the past are still retained
While all four points are important, the key one relates to ‘consistent messages’. Too often I have seen management teams communicate messages about change that have been contradictory. When this happens, people feel confused and can be forgiven for thinking: “If management can’t agree on what is happening, why should we believe in it?”
2) Senior management commitment to change
Senior managers need to be seen as strong, inspirational and unified in acting in accordance with the messages being communicated about the changes. At times of change, people are looking to spot any inconsistencies and will examine the senior management team’s commitment to the organisation in detail. If cracks appear in the senior team’s actions and beliefs about change, it gives permission for everyone else to have doubt. Failure to act as change champions will have a big impact upon the organisation.
3) Perception of the planning and implementation of change
I have seen examples of meticulous, detailed and well-thought-through plans. Yet because they were handled by a small group of people perceived as being remote and inaccessible, the majority of the workforce were not only unaware of what a good job they were doing, but also highly resistant to their suggestions. Again the organisation had failed to anticipate and embrace how others might react to the change. Remember the ‘secret’?
4) Line management style and skills
How skilled are line manages in dealing with change and transition? This is arguably the most important area, as line managers will be interacting with agents on a daily basis. Their actions and skills will either help or hinder people in the process of transition.
Ask yourself: how good are line managers at:
- Giving information and explanations about the change that are consistent with each other?
- Involving their teams in putting forward their thoughts, ideas and feelings about the change?
Feeling engaged and involved is key and, in a call centre, the line manager is invariably the person who needs to make this engagement between agents and senior managers happen.
It may seem obvious, but communication is key to everything happening smoothly. Well-thought-through and timely communication is vital to helping people understand what is happening. It is also worth considering communicating your messages about the change in a number of ways and via different channels. This can help people to better understand what you’re telling them, and ultimately get their buy-in.
One of the biggest failings I have experienced in call centres undergoing change is where senior managers make an announcement to the team that they will communicate with them about the change on a certain date, and when that date arrives they have nothing new to say, so they don’t say anything.
Leading change is a fine balancing act between the need to implement new processes or physical elements while remaining mindful of the emotional reactions these changes can create. So communicating when promised is crucial.
A final thought
If the ‘five fundamental factors’ and the ‘secret’ are used carefully, then change and transition can be revitalising for any organisation. It can remove mental and physical barriers that have held people and ultimately the call centre back. It can open up new ways of thinking and can build trust and loyalty.
So if you are about to embark upon a programme of change remember the secret: in order for change to be effective transition must happen.
Also check to see if you have your chicken suit on before you start running the race!
Richard Armeson is a thinking engineer with business development and training company Go MAD Thinking. He has an extensive background in both people and organisational development
Tel: +44 1509 891313