ICMI Featured Contributor Article and ICMI Top 18 of 2018 Article
One of the greatest ways we build trust with employees is through review and discussion of their work performance. Our fairness, honesty, courage and advocacy during coaching contributes to our credibility, which affects employees' engagement, performance, and retention. It's hard to be direct and courageous when it comes to discussing peoples' work behaviors though, and there are several ways we can fail at it miserably!
Trust-Destructor #5 - Inconsistent or Absent Performance Feedback
As humans, we like and trust people who like and trust us, so we miss a really easy trust-generating opportunity when we're not consistently having developmental discussions. We naturally connect when talking with employees about strengths and challenges, and without that interpersonal exchange, or if too infrequent, we're saying through our actions that relationships and performance don't matter.
Sometimes coaching doesn't happen because leads or supervisors aren't skilled enough to navigate development discussions, which can lead to avoidance behaviors like procrastination or cancellation. Other times coaching gets missed because of staffing levels and call volume. And in many cases, coaching activities are obscured by lack of visibility into whether it's being done or not – how frequently, by and for whom, and on what topics. In all of these instances though, coaching is an 'optional' activity, which sends an unfortunate message to team members about the importance we place on spending time with them and discussing their contributions. McKinsey & Company noted years ago that front-line managers at best practice companies were spending 60-70% of their time on the floor, much of it in individual coaching.
Trust-Destructor #4 - Not Providing Historical Reference for Commitments, History and Progress
Columbia Professor and Adult Learning pioneer, Jack Mezirow, said, "A defining condition of being human is that we have to understand the meaning of our experiences."
In other words, as learners we need to be able to review and reflect on coaching conversations - topics, examples, commitments, timelines, and progress. If that information isn't stored and made accessible to employees, then coaching experiences are simply in-the-moment events characterized by 'he said-she said' perspectives of what happened and what was agreed to. Despite the coaching time investment, the inability to refer back, review and reflect, results in limited learning and minimal developmental value, and missed opportunity for building greater trust and engagement.
Trust-Destructor #3 - Not Following-Through or Not Recognizing Effort and Progress
Supervisors suffer from the lack of visibility into coaching history too. First, supervisors can be crippled from a time efficiency perspective – each having to expend their own effort and methods to track and organize coaching topics, commitments, and follow-up items. Second, they suffer from a coaching effectiveness perspective – each having to depend on those self-sourced methods to enable them to connect themes and notice progress from one conversation to the next.
Asking employees to work on something, and then never mentioning it again, is the quickest way to show them that their performance doesn't matter, and that what we ask has no consequence. And coaching on individual instances of opportunity instead of reserving crucial coaching conversations for true trends, is another unfortunate practice that dilutes coaching significance and damages trust.
Trust-Destructor #2 - Not Providing Effective Praise
I remember working with a frontline manager who once asked me, "Why would I give them kudos for doing something they are supposed to be doing?" Human beings seek to please and crave praise, so when we acknowledge what someone is doing right, we're telling them what we enjoy and want them to continue. It's positive reinforcement and at its simplest, it means that what we appreciate, they're more likely to repeat. (Not many people will continue to do a thing ongoing, that no one ever notices!)
How we acknowledge behavior is also key though; 'good job' and 'thanks' are nondescript and overused, so when said, they don't create any feeling and therefore don't build any emotional or relational value. To acknowledge someone's actions or behavior with feeling is 'praise', and to provide effective praise requires that a comment be both specific, and genuine, in order to be felt - and it's when it's felt, that it inspires in people the desire to do the behavior again. It's a positive upward spiral that works really well in tandem with positive expectations. (That being said, we have to be careful not to effusively praise in every instance, else it becomes over-saturated and can likewise damage trust).
Trust-Destructor #1 - Not Evaluating Coaching Effectiveness
Even when contact centers expect coaching and ensure time for it, the number one way to destroy employee trust and engagement is to not evaluate and develop the quality of the coaching being delivered. We QA CSRs on their customer interactions, but are far less likely to QA coaches on their coaching interactions. Why is that?
We tend to believe that since managers know what needs to be done and how to do it that they also know how to coach, but coaching requires different skills than managing, and most people aren't inherently good at coaching aptitudes and skills. (HBR.org; Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman). Few contact centers have skilled coaches dedicated to evaluating and developing front-line leaders' coaching effectiveness, but that is exactly what's needed to stop sacrificing employee trust and avoid breeding increasing employee frustration, confusion, anxiety, dissatisfaction and ultimately, attrition.
The future of success in your contact center is contingent on how you impact performance in ways that are both immediate and sustainable. And it doesn’t matter whether your agents are on-site, at-home, full-time, part-time, or temporary – you must deliver on performance.
Coaching is one of the most significant tools we can use to deliver on the engagement and performance of our people – but we must develop our processes, our people and leadership skills, and our technology tools, in order to overthrow the pervasive challenges to achieving greater coaching effectiveness and supercharging contact center performance!
Melissa Pollock Customer Success at AmplifAI