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Broken glass: Reflections on improving leadership in your contact center

Woman looks at her reflection in the office window.

Have you ever shattered a glass and then accidentally stepped on a few pieces in your bare feet? After quickly finding a place to sit to assess the damage, you painstakingly pull out all the pieces you see. Satisfied you’ve gotten every piece of glass out, you put your foot down and clean up the mess. A few days later, you’re surprised to feel an annoying piece of glass still lodged in your foot! Using your phone’s flashlight, you continue your fruitless search to no avail. Finally, you ask for help. Your partner finds the annoying sliver quickly and removes the tiny thing that was causing so much ongoing discomfort. Instant relief!

I was thinking of that pesky piece of glass as I read through the notes from a recent consulting project. On the surface, everything seemed to be going well, but something kept poking at me — the recurring negative comments surfacing about a former team leader. So, I went back through and made check marks at every mention of this person’s name and noted what was said. When I read through the comments, I was shocked. This leader was someone the client had hired to lead part of their contact center, but they had left for what the client stated were “cultural differences.” As I dug deeper, I realized this separation was probably a good thing. Yet the contact center team was still carrying the aftereffects of this leader into their daily work lives. The leader was gone, but their negative impact had left shards of glass behind, causing lasting pain for the client and employees.

Unfortunately, these tiny pieces of glass had manifested into a very large attrition issue with a high level of employee dissatisfaction. There were prior red flags, but the executive leadership team had not pinpointed the reason for the discontent. Later, they noticed the attrition continued even after the leader was gone and had moved on.

So, what are those tiny, jagged pieces of glass that you should watch for after a poor leader has left? How can you help the organization heal when this occurs?

Here are a few warning signs that your company has yet to find all the sharp edges left from a previous, not-so-great leader:

  • You hear the main reason people are leaving is because they no longer believe in the organization’s culture or vision.
  • Coaching is no longer moving the dial. Supervisors and managers give employees consistent feedback, but when asked why performance is not improving, the answer is, “We don’t know.”
  • When asked how they’re doing, what barriers they’re facing, and if they have ideas for improvement, contact center agents’ answers are a quick “no” without elaboration.
  • The energy in the center feels heavy, with fewer happy people, and you just can’t put your finger on why.

In this client’s case, they had to ask for help, just like I did in pulling out the piece of glass from my own foot. TTEC Digital came in to assist and turn things around. We completed interviews, talked to leaders, and observed workdays at the organization. Midway through this project, we recognized opportunities to fix what was broken in order to repair relationships and the working environment.

Here are a few suggestions on what to do after a poor leader leaves and before the shattered glass spreads. It’s no surprise that most of them center around clear, consistent communication.

  • Act with honesty and transparency. It’s okay to acknowledge when someone leaves. If they were a good leader, thank them for being part of the team and your growth. If they were a poor leader, share your go-forward plan with your employees so they know you recognize the need for change. At TTEC Digital, one of our core values is “do the right thing,” which encourages all our employees to act with integrity, honesty, and respect in everything we do. It’s a value we strive to elevate with our clients as well.
  • Ask for feedback. Send a survey or request that supervisors take the temperature of their teams. Are employees understanding how you’re moving forward and how you need their help to do so? What are their ideas on how you all can collaborate to move forward? This ties into TTEC Digital’s value of “seek first to understand,” highlighting the importance of listening first so we can better address challenges and opportunities as they arise and see the world through the eyes of our clients, their customers, and our colleagues.
  • Follow up with your employees. Communicate survey results, announce action plans, and ask to be held accountable as you move through those plans. TTEC Digital’s “act as one” core value emulates this. We know we’re stronger together when we have one purpose and one team that has each other’s backs.
  • Executive leaders: be more visible! Walk through your center, talk to employees, and live the culture. Employees will follow your example. The TTEC Digital value of “lead every day” fits in well here. Courageous, authentic leadership translates into a positive impact on all.

And finally,

  • Be open to pivoting. Be ready for tough feedback and acknowledge when you have made an error in judgment. If your employees see you show vulnerability and honesty, they will trust you more as you continue together your organization’s journey. This will help you “reach for amazing” (another TTEC Digital core value) while sparking creativity and honest conversations in your workplace.

That small, annoying, and painful piece of glass can cause a larger problem down the road. Don’t let that happen. Be a positive, transparent leader and help your team clean up those glass splinters for a better future ahead for your organization.

Want to learn more about fueling exceptional experiences in your contact center for employees and customers?

Get in touch with TTEC Digital