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Call Center a Case Study in Employee Accountability

Employees who are trusted and given more choice over how they do their jobs are more engaged, committed and productive. People who know they are being trusted to be responsible do not want to let the organization down. The foundation of an accountability-based workplace is a high level of trust. To create a culture where employees want to take ownership of their jobs, managers need to trust employees.

Companies are realizing significant savings and increased customer satisfaction from automating their customer contact solutions. West Interactive leads the way by providing highly skilled services, in-depth knowledge, and state-of-the-art technology to optimize performance and return on investment.

To increase employee productivity, business leaders could learn from employees in the technical assistance center (TAC) for a diagnostic equipment manufacturer in Newark, Del. They took responsibility for their own performance.
Responsible employees are more engaged and productive. They willingly accept accountability for producing results and continually look for ways in which they can improve their performance.

The customer service representatives in the TAC, a call center, took their company from last in the industry in customer satisfaction to first place, in less than two years, because they decided they were responsible for customer satisfaction. They have retained that first place position for six years in a row.
Leadership Makes a Difference

Despite the fact that managers at the TAC were holding employees accountable for customer satisfaction, they had not accepted that accountability. Holding people accountable does not work.

The reason it doesn't work is that people cannot be held accountable by someone else. They have to choose to be accountable. People will only be accountable for what they choose to be accountable for.

Accountability requires ownership, so for employees to be fully accountable for the results they produce, they need to have a say in how they do their jobs, and have input into their goals.
Get Employees Involved in Goal-Setting

Many business leaders are afraid that if they allow employees to set their own goals, they purposely will set them low to make life easier for themselves. But that is not what happened at the TAC. When the management team got employees involved in discussing what needed to be done to increase customer satisfaction and to set a goal they thought was achievable, they set the goal far higher than their managers thought was realistic: 96 percent satisfaction.

Not only did they achieve the goal -- they exceeded it. Almost every month for the past five years, TAC has achieved 100 percent customer satisfaction. The reason is simple: employees own the results.

They understand that they have control over the numbers, and they have a say in what they can do to fix problems and improve systems to increase satisfaction.

Employees who are trusted and given more choice over how they do their jobs are more engaged, committed and productive. People who know they are being trusted to be responsible do not want to let the organization down.

Trust Is the Foundation

The foundation of an accountability-based workplace is a high level of trust. To create a culture where employees want to take ownership of their jobs, managers need to trust employees, and believe they will do the right thing by the organization.

It is also important that employees trust management, otherwise they will not choose to be accountable. Employees need to know they will get the support they need to learn how to excel, and that mistakes will be treated as learning experiences rather than opportunities for blame and punishment.

The most important factor in building trust with employees is for managers to understand that being trustworthy does not mean that employees will trust them. Most business leaders are trustworthy in a moral, ethical sense, yet many go to work every day and diminish trust with their people, unintentionally. Building trust is a skill that must be learned. There are four behaviors that must be present for trust to develop:

1. Congruence: Employees know what is expected of them, disagreements are discussed and resolved in a constructive way, individual performance is discussed and agreed on without having to rely on a formal process and everyone behaves in an honest, ethical way.

2. Openness: Information is exchanged freely, feelings and opinions are openly discussed and people do not have hidden agendas.

3. Acceptance: Differences are valued, employees feel respected for their contribution, and have input into how the organization can be more successful.

4. Reliability: People keep their commitments, strive for excellence in everything they do and can count on each other for support.

All four elements of trust must be present for trust to develop and be sustained. If any one of them is missing, trust is diminished, along with personal responsibility and accountability.

Most managers focus primarily on congruence and reliability -- running an honest, ethical organization and achieving results. What managers at the TAC did not realize is that while employees want their senior team to be honest and ethical, and run a financially sound organization, congruence and reliability are not as important to them as are acceptance and openness.

First and foremost in the employees' minds is acceptance ... how their managers treat them and their coworkers. They need to feel valued and respected, know their work is important and that their ideas will be valued.

Once managers at the TAC began to treat the customer service representatives as partners and listened to their ideas for becoming number one in customer satisfaction, things changed very quickly. Most employees want to be responsible, and they want to give their best performance.

Confront the Brutal Facts

Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Good to Great, addresses one of the factors that contributes to the success of many companies: their willingness to confront the brutal facts. Are there any policies, procedures or practices in the organization that send a clear message to employees that they are not trusted?

For example, a five-star hotel in Melbourne, Australia, regularly purchased behavioral profiles from Integro Leadership Institute LLC. The director of training's purchases were never more than a few hundred dollars, yet every purchase order had four signatures on it: the director of training, the HR director, the CFO and the general manager of the hotel.

This practice not only demonstrates a lack of trust in the director of training by assuming that she was not able to be trusted to operate within budget, but it also demonstrates a lack of trust in the HR director and the CFO. The general manager had to sign off on every purchase order produced in the organization!

Behaviors That Diminish Trust

Many managers diminish trust every day. Here are some of the more common behaviors that managers do not realize are diminishing trust:

Being solely focused on meeting his own needs; usually at the expense of his team members' needs

Using information as a source of power or withholding information from team members to ensure they know they are not important or trustworthy

Not communicating openly with employees about their performance so they never know where they stand, except for the "surprise" they get at the annual review

Treating mistakes as a crime rather than as a learning experience

Assigning blame without first checking the facts, rather than focusing on solving the problem and learning from it

Avoiding responsibility for their own actions or decisions

Treating employees as insignificant by not asking for their input and not listening when it is offered

Trust is the foundation of all relationships, and significantly impacts organizational performance. Any lack of trust employees or customers have for the leaders of an organization, based on all four elements of trust, is affecting its bottom line.

In Good to Great, Collins summarizes his findings with this very powerful statement: "When you have disciplined people, you don't need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don't need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don't need excessive controls."

So how do managers get employees to be so self-disciplined and passionate about what they do that they don't need hierarchy, bureaucracy or controls?

By creating a work environment where self-disciplined, passionate people want to work. To do that, managers need exceptional leaders at all levels of their organization. Leaders who are building trust, not destroying it. Leaders who know how to get the best performance out of everyone in their company. That requires a long-term commitment from the organization to developing its leaders.

By Keith Ayers
Rural Telecommunications
09/25/07 9:01 AM PT


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