The Call Center world is an intense pressure-driven environment continually being shaped by pressure to ensure steady profitability and a secure competitive advantage.
Accountability and a basic fundamental understanding of Performance Management serve as two of the most power tools a Call Center manager has at his/her disposal. Specifically, accountability when used properly with practical down to earth communication can change the way a group performs and takes responsibility for their performance.
To understand accountability, think of it as a focal point of pressure and let's view pressure, as synonymous with the "demands of the business". Nothing exposes a strength or flaw like raw pressure. It is pressure that has the ability to create, empower, challenge or fracture, crumble and destroy. Pressure helps fuel the momentum and vision of an organization to fulfill obligations to employees, clients, and investors with high standards, clear-cut expectations and decisive accountability.
In the hands of the unworthy, accountability can be a tool for self-preservationist, a weapon for the positional manager, or simply a replacement for development. Used with skill, accountability can represent a turning point in any organization, and the corner stone of an improvement initiative.
Let me give you an example. One of my most successful leadership teams consisted of 10 core members, 8 of which were on some form of progressive action. Usually, you don't associate that level of performance management action, as descriptive of a successful team, but that's exactly what they were -- successful.
It was clear they all understood the expectation, knew the consequences, and made a choice, which in turn, didn't leave me one. I had an incredible relationship with each of them; they appreciated the honest, direct dialogue and they always knew exactly where they stood with performance. Their success made them grow personally, and professionally. I'm confident that if I didn't hold them accountable for their actions, they would not have realized their own potential. There were no hard feelings, no misunderstandings, only expectations, accountabilities, and total situation awareness.
Accountability should not be negative, but rather represent the strength behind the expectation. It is the empowering factor behind a directive or standard. John Maxell, Author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of leadership, said that change could only occur when one of three factors are met: the person truly understands the big picture and why the change is needed to such a degree, they willingly change, or they hurt badly enough that the change must be accepted. So, hence we see the birth of the easy way, or the hard way. The fact is if everyone took the easy way, there would be no such thing as the hard way.
With that fact understood, as a manager you must accept that your expectations will be ignored, follow-up will not consistently occur, and the process, vision, and company mission will be challenged. You must accept the inevitable, and make a decision. Your options: Lose control of your staff, and exist in the land of mediocrity until your business fails, your client is lost or you become the new focal point of all that "pressure"; or challenge and develop your team to increase their abilities, set high standards and expectations and expose them to their own potential. The choice is yours.
Believe in your team, and expect them to accomplish great things, and they will rise to meet the challenge. If your culture lacks a solid Performance Management process with clear-outlined accountabilities, resistance should be expected. An entire team with average or below average performance will defy change easier because when you apply pressure, it's evenly dispersed because they are all on the same level. Set a clear expectation; raise the bar. Your stronger associates will break rank and begin to rise to the top. These reps are motivated by success, and only need a cause to rally behind. Praise them, recognize them, and use them to establish your benchmark. Once you have proven that one can do it, you can then more confidently expect more results from your remaining staff.
Ensure that your conversations are direct, honest, with no sugarcoated words, or reserved dialogue. This level of communication will ensure that the message you send is the message received. If you ever proceed to progressively document an employee, and they are surprised, you must evaluate your communication process. Surprise or unawareness that he or she is not meeting standard prevents the employee from being mentally prepared, diminishes the effectives of the process, and will most likely not be a learning experience for the employee.
Be consistent, and be fair with your expectations. Inconsistency leads to frustration, issues of favoritism, and also diminishes the effectiveness of the entire process. What would be the end result if a child touched a hot stove, and sometimes it burned them, and sometimes it didn't?
Remove emotion from the process. If you take how you personally feel about an employee into a progressive counseling situation, it could impact what decision you make, which in turn could affect your ability to be consistent. View accountability as the end result of a process. An example would be how 2+2 will always = 4. Not sometimes, or most of the time, but all of the time. I'm not suggesting you disregard your judgment on the situation, but you must stay focused on the facts at hand and not irrelevant external variables.
I had a boss bluntly address the team after each social company outing. He would pull us together in his office and state very directly: I personally like each of you, but I hope you don't take how I personally feel and doubt for a second that I wouldn't make the call and whack you if I needed to. That type of communication might sound harsh, but we never had any questions on what his expectations were. There were no hard feelings, no misunderstandings, only expectations, accountabilities, and total situation awareness.
Aubie Pouncey has been in management for the past several years. In doing so he has developed his perofrmance management skills resulting in incredible success. He is a contributing writer for http://www.righttolead.com and he has developed a very success performance management process: http://www.accountabilityprocess.com