SOCAP International

A Guide to Developing Leaders From Within

This often-overlooked step may be the key to a more successful contact center.

Quick Takes
Start Developing Leaders

Use these steps to effectively grow leaders from within your organization:

  • Recruit from within, if possible. An ideal path for a contact center leader is to begin as an agent.
  • Use the daily GROW model of development: Greet employees, review results, organize the day, and work your plan.
  • Design the leadership development opportunities.
  • Train using in-house or external training modules, depending on the situation.
  • Develop their “soft skills” as well.
It’s surprising how so many client and outsource contact center leaders aren’t making the important investment in their front line managers and team leads. These leaders are typically directing, supporting and influencing a minimum of 12 to 15 agents, which in turn are the face of your brand, service and/or product. It appears that many don’t realize the return on investment directly related to properly focusing on this key role.

The role of the team leader is instrumental in effective development and retention of talented front-line agents. And while the tasks of the leader role will vary depending upon the size of your organization, there are some consistent elements common to most team leader roles. It is very apparent how much impact these leaders have on our business by simply looking at some key functions of our call center leaders:

  • Resource planning/people and performance management
  • Data and call analysis
  • Working with center manager/director/executives
  • Working with data
  • Resolving escalated issues and queries
  • Managing the health and safety of the team
The role of the team leader is instrumental in effective development and retention of talented front-line agents.

Here are some best practices and strategies that you can implement today in your leadership and growth strategy.

Leader Development Path

An ideal in-house development path for a contact center leader is to begin as an agent to gain knowledge of the organization’s customers and services. It provides an excellent foundation for future decision-making skills, fosters the respect of new agents (as they know their leader has done and can do their job) and shows the organization’s commitment to promoting from within, which is excellent as a motivational incentive for all aspiring employees (providing unsuccessful applicants are adequately supported). The contact center director or executive should be responsible for the effective support and development that is necessary to enable the agent or advisor to make this step up.

To put this leadership path in motion, a front-line agent who is an aspiring leader can develop into the role of the contact center coach. The skills of a coach need to be: job excellence, listening, questioning, supporting and encouraging. Talented coaches can be helpful in integrating new starters into the team and for listening to calls and giving feedback to agents. While the coach should never replace the team leader in all of these activities, they can fundamentally lift some of the nonmanagement workload from the team leader.

And while team leaders are often “grown” organically from the front line, the best agent or advisor does not automatically make the most talented team leader. The skill-sets that are required for effective team leadership include the ability to give feedback and manage poor performance. This is not always easy to do when the new team manager has previously been a peer of the group he/she has now been tasked to manage. Experience and research in this area has shown that and ideally a new leader should lead a team that was not the one they were in as an agent.

The GROW model represents a daily process both within the development of call center leaders, as well as their guide to developing an effective team.

GROW: A Guide to Effective Development

Development models are common in organizations, but are often cast aside after the first few months. The GROW model, however, represents a daily process both within the development of call center leaders, as well as their guide to developing an effective team. Because of its cyclical nature and relevancy to daily and weekly activities, it stays top of mind and is used consistently.

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The GROW framework is a simple strategy that helps team leaders remember their priorities on a daily basis.
  1. Greet your employees as they enter the workspace. Ask how they are doing today; ask about something you know is important to them, like their son’s ballgame or daughter’s spelling bee. Develop a working relationship.
  2. Review the previous days results. Look for decline and improvement for each agent and act accordingly.
  3. Organize today’s plan and schedule the events of the day. Set aside agent developmental time (70 to 80 percent of a team leader’s day should be working one on one with agents and their development and improvement plans)
  4. Work your plan for that day and week.

Continuous Development

Similarly to team-lead growth and development, once the organization is clear on the role of the team leader and the progression path from the front line, the next stage is to design the leadership development opportunities. If there is in-house training department involved, it is important to work closely with them when developing content and training in order to stay relevant.

While leading a contact center with 500 agents and three large clients, the team I supported developed a program called Pathfinders, a career development program that provide a procedure for team members to identify and apply for “next level” positions within the organization. Those in the Pathfinders program increase their opportunity for promotion by completing the curriculum and tasks within the following career tracks: trainer, QAR (quality assurance rep), workforce management, team manager.

The curriculum allows qualified candidates (agents with performance at an “exceeds” level on an agent scorecard, for example) in good standing to interview for the program. If selected, the agent is assigned a mentor, has weekly offline time for job shadowing, training, online course work, meeting with their mentor and program checkpoints. There is some planning and financial commitment required by the center executive leadership, as time off-line does impact budget/revenue. However, the return on investment has certainly been proven.

It may not be possible for smaller organizations to develop a long-term leadership program. Instead the only realistic solution may be training modules coupled with support to transfer learning back to the job and ongoing coaching from the contact center manager.

Training

Training modules can be delivered in house by senior management if small groups of team leaders can be released together, or alternatively external training modules can be sourced. The numbers of team leaders to be trained will determine which of these methods is the most cost effective. In both cases the quality of the solution should be closely researched.

Advantages of hosting the training in house include the bonding of the peer group; sharing of knowledge, challenges and solutions; consistency of training experience (messages, time of training, i.e. not months between opportunities for individual team leaders to attend); and specific design to meet the exact needs in smaller groups, allowing greater trainer attention, interaction and clinic-style solutions to specific issues. Advantages of external training can include the opportunity to network with team leaders from other contact center organizations (if specialist solutions can be sourced) and a fast way to train team leaders in the fundamentals of leadership best practices.

In addition to development in the practical elements of the role, soft skills are also important to develop in team leaders.

Don’t Forget Soft Skills

In addition to development in the practical elements of the role, soft skills are also important to develop in team leaders:

  1. Leadership skills: including the ability to delegate, affirm and adjust performance, provide direction, foster teamwork, motivate others, work with human resource professionals to manage agent absence and persistent poor performance, among others.
  2. Organizational knowledge: including time and self-management; planning and organization; conflict management; setting and meeting goals, targets and timescales; using financial data and technical and functional expertise, among others.
  3. Communication skills: including the ability to speak effectively, foster open communication, deliver presentations, prepare written communications, run effective meetings, work across teams and departments, connect with the wider mission of the organization, among others.

In order for any learning to be effectively transferred to the job, it should be followed-up with effective coaching, support and opportunities to practice. In the case of the team leader, this is usually best done by the contact center manager or director, training professionals and with good peer group support.

If your contact center executives are looking for areas of overall improvement and finding ways to continue to drive a solid customer experience, they must not fail to invest in their team leaders and the processes they utilize to drive agent performance. Otherwise, the value of all other investments in technology, agent training and compensation will be diminished significantly.

So now a few questions for you:

  • Where does your organization rate in this area?
  • Have you focused on this important role?
  • Are your team leaders performing at a high level, spending 70 to 80 percent of their day developing their agents?
  • Has your organization helped them with a template for success?

These are good questions to ask when considering your often-overlooked internal key to a successful contact center.

James Cammareri

Cammareri_headshotBio: James Cammareri is vice president of business development at Knoah Solutions, responsible for new client acquisition, supporting client program implementations and client relationship management in the BPO Industry. He and his team have built strong client relationships with a philosophy of mutual business success through focus on employee retention, client satisfaction and economic success. Cammareri has 24 years of experience within the call center industry with emphasis in wireless, IT and telecommunications industries.