Leading Based on Needing

Using needs-focused leadership in your call center is a great way to improve agent performance and at the same time boost employee satisfaction.

With needs-focused leadership, your call center managers assume various leadership roles (which we covered in Part 1) and apply them based on the specific needs of the employee or the situation at hand. With this approach, your managers can provide the most appropriate response and better meet the needs of each agent.

We’ve found that using needs-based leadership is more effective than taking a single leadership approach. The key to using it effectively, though, lies in how well the call center manager can assess the needs of the agent, and decide which roles to assume in response. What follows are some basic questions a call center manager can ask to determine which roles should be applied.

For each agent, and each task to which they are assigned, the manager should ask, in this order:

1. Is there a performance gap? If the answer is “no,” the leader assumes the sponsor leadership role. If the answer is “yes,” then the manager moves on to the next question.
2. Does the employee lack knowledge? If the answer is “yes,” the manager will assume the “educate” role. If the answer is “no,” the manager moves on to the next question.
3. Does the employee lack skill? If the answer is “yes,” the manager will assume the “coach” role. If the answer is “no,” the manager moves on to the next question.
4. Does the employee lack confidence? If the answer is “yes,” the manager will assume the support role. If the answer is “no,” the manager moves on to the next question.
5. Does the cause of the behavior and/or performance problem need definition? If the answer is “yes,” the manager will assume the “counsel” role. If the answer is “no” then the manager moves on to the next question.
6. Does the chronic nature of a defined behavior and/or performance problem need to be addressed? If the answer is “yes,” the manager will assume the “confront” role. If the answer is “no,” the manager moves on to the next question.
7. Has the chronic behavior and/or performance problem been resolved? If the answer is “yes” then the manager is doing a good job assuming all the leadership roles and there are no issues to be addressed at this time. If the answer is “no,” the manger should begin again with Question 1.

Keep in mind that, just as employees’ needs have no clear boundaries, neither do the leadership roles. Often you will find yourself educating when you are wearing your coaching hat. Or you may need to counsel when offering support.

Also, don’t try to take a linear approach to the roles: Don’t think you can start at “assess” and go neatly through each step with each person until you end up at “sponsor.” Employee development is not that simple!

A word about oversupervising/undersupervising

It’s also important to maintain balance among the roles: Managers often have a tendency to oversupervise or undersupervise in any given role, so it’s important to train them to avoid this.

Oversupervision is providing what the employee does not need by staying in a leadership role beyond the time necessary. Imagine an agent who is skilled at using the telephone system. Then imagine a leader who, during each weekly meeting, gives a lecture on how to transfer a call. After each meeting he or she demonstration, yet the leader persists in weekly lectures and skill tests. This illustrates the leader who oversupervises. Oversupervisors never let up even though the skill is mastered. They don’t know how to move on.

When employees are oversupervised, they get angry and frustrated. They stop trying. They work at getting even. They stop making independent decisions, and their initiative goes down. They may withdraw or leave.

Undersupervision occurs in corporations when leaders skip roles and the primary needs of the employee are unmet. Suppose you hire a new employee and during new hire training all you say is, “We sell widgets over the phone. Here are the product’s features and benefits. I know you can do it. Now get on that phone and sell, sell, sell!”

Obviously, this example is an exaggeration, but it illustrates a leader who under-supervises. He or she may be a great educator (able to transfer the knowledge) but may never allow the employee time to practice the skills in a controlled environment (he or she skipped coaching).

When people are undersupervised, they fail because they do not get what they need. They get angry and frustrated.

When implemented properly, needs-focused leadership can go a long way to keep your agents happier, boost performance and lower attrition rates. The key to doing it effectively is to properly assess each employee’s needs, determine which role should be used, and maintain the proper balance among all the roles.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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