We don’t have to work this way.

The red light started flashing in the call center. Jean dashed out of her office to ensure that all hands got on the phones. The call center was frantic. Customers were on hold. Wait times would increase. Abandons would increase. Jean urged — “Get on the phones!” “Finish those calls!”

Jean was the manager at a busy call center. She had to meet two masters. One was the Call Stats – average speed of answer, call duration (aka “talk time”), and abandons. The other master measured Sales Results – net new customers, product sales, and premium service upgrades.

Most of her job consisted of handling problems and dealing with irate customers. She was a manager, not a leader.

Let’s take a look at how we turned this around.

Managers tackle performance. Leaders nurture people.

Jean was boxed in by the classic functions of “management” — scheduling, controlling, and coordinating. These tasks are focused on the work, but not on the people who do the work. Leadership is more than having a higher rank and authority. Leadership is the privilege of engaging the hearts and minds of the employees.

We need to be very concerned about employee motivation.

The pandemic has revealed major cracks in our ability to manage. The Great Resignation, or the Great Reassignment, shows that employees are leaving managers who don’t care. Employees want more workplace and process flexibility, more meaning, and more opportunity for growth.

What do employees want?

Employees who find meaning in their work report being 2.8 times more likely to stay with their organizations and are 2.2 times more satisfied with their jobs. More motivated employees are more productive. Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.

We have known about employee motivation but have not acted on this tested research. Here’s a refresher: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that once people have the basics of sustenance and security, they long for fulfillment and recognition. Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory revealed that improving some work conditions do not spur employees to do more work. Perks are expected, not motivating.

In essence, employees want Care, Say, Growth, and Meaning.

How do Leaders provide these employee motivators?

Here are some examples of how leaders put this to work.

Care and Say.

In the 2009 economic downturn, a capital equipment manufacturing company avoided the typical solution –to improve the bottom line, lay off employees. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, believed that layoffs lead to a broken family and a crumbled community. No one lost their job, and as a result, the company created a culture of Trust. Knowing that they wouldn’t be fired, employees stepped up in a big way. They increased LEAN suggestions from thirty a year to one a day. Experienced employees were willing to share Job Sheets which cross-trained other to do their jobs.[i] Conscious leadership inspired employees to be more efficient and to train others.

The Barry-Wehmiller story is an example of how an organization became more adaptive. As our world becomes more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), companies need to adapt quickly. Ideas and improvements can come from everywhere in the organization. The concept of the Adaptive Organization was built on observation about observation. When processes were tightly controlled and managers provided close oversight, employees felt constrained to follow the rules. However, when managers were prevented from overseeing the assembly line (in this case, making cell phones), productivity improved by 10-15%. Employees felt that they could improve the process and teach it to others.Take away traditional management practices and employees began to flourish.

Growth and Meaning.

Kris Schaeffer & Associates changed the culture of the call center where Jean worked. She was in one of their 35 call centers. We transformed them all.

First, we developed training that had a more people-centric approach toward employees and customers. Front-line managers were now charged with training their own employees and then were responsible for keeping those skills alive with refresher courses and skills tests. The more training they did, the more that these managers mastered the skills that they were teaching. Managers were being transformed into leaders who asked questions and listened.

Having the leader also serve as the trainer shifted their relationship with employees. Now employees could look to their leader for answers. Leaders became coaches. There were no more Quality Control audits by someone who didn’t work on the call center floor. Leaders did the monitoring and conducted regular feedback sessions. Employees could discuss what they wanted help in. This increased the quality of the performance dialogues.

There were other changes in the job design. Silos between Service and Sales were broken down. Employees were cross-trained, and rewarded, for sales even when the customer was calling in for another purpose. As a result of having a more flexible workforce, scheduling was easier and the call center met call volume demands because they could quickly shift from one function to the other.

Each employee now felt aligned with the company’s purpose – To have customers become raving fans by providing total customer care. Employees became the one point of contact with the skills and authority to help the customer with all their needs. Customers were happy that they didn’t have to be passed around to various employees to handle their issues. Service satisfaction scores increased. Sales increased.

Leaders create a culture of C.A.R.E.

A company’s values are not the platitudes on the wall. They are the actions of every employee. We developed people-centric training that became the company’s culture. Leaders taught it to employees. Leaders used it with employees. Employees used it with customers.

The culture of C.A.R.E. is Curiosity, wise Advice, Respect, and Empathetic listening.

Profits are the results of better leadership.

The call centers had tremendous success. They were small, yet mighty. They had only 10% share of their industry yet they sold 25% of the premium upgrades.

But sustained business success cannot be maintained without a consistent people-centric approach. The best evidence of that has been reported in Firms of Endearment – “conscious” businesses make 14 times the S&P500 over 15 years.

Leaders take a holistic approach to running a business. They are not afraid to make a decision that’s good for employees because they trust that when employees are respected and cared for, they produce better results.

A conscious company doesn’t have managers. It has leaders at all levels.

This story is told in Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, 2015, Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia.

Here are practical leadership tools based upon research with 20,000 employees. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Change, 2017, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky; and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World – 2009 by Ronald Heifetz 

Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profits from Passion and Purpose, 2014, Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth, and David Wolfe.

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