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5 Ways to Engage Your Front-Line Staff


By: Peg Ayers, MBA, CCXP

The Front Line

Customer Experience. Employee Engagement. Profitability. What’s the largest single influence on all of these things in your business? Chances are, it’s your frontline associates. The people who are dealing directly with your customers. The folks who are making decisions about how they do their work, what they do and don’t do for your customers, how much they help each other, what processes they follow and which ones they don’t.

You’ve got that well under control, right? You have a good staff of supervisors and managers supporting the front-line. You all have lots of reports that tell you how things are going. Surely that’s keeping everybody on the straight and narrow. Or is it?

Are the lines of communication open in your organization? Only 17% of workers strongly agree, according to a recent Gallup study. And only 27% strongly agree they’re getting feedback that helps them do their jobs better.

So what are the supervisors and managers doing?

A walk around your office might give you part of the answer. How many leaders are staring at their computers? How many are out with the people? Don’t be surprised to find the majority, perhaps 100%, at their desks. One recent Taylor Reach client cited the fact that their Supervisors spent a minimum of 6 hours a day at their desks, working on reports, paperwork and emails. According to The Radicati Group, Inc.,T the average person receives more than 120 emails per day! Is it just workload that’s keeping supervisors and managers at their desks? If you found a way to eliminate some of those computer-based distractions, would the management staff be out interacting with their people? Maybe not. Because, as it turns out, they don’t want to.

Research indicates, more than one-third of managers (37%) say they are uncomfortable providing feedback to employees that might elicit a bad response. And a frightening majority of managers, nearly 69%, say there’s something about their role as leaders that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees.

Among the areas that make managers uncomfortable:

⦁ Demonstrating vulnerability;
⦁ Recognizing employee achievements;
⦁ Delivering the “company line” in a genuine way;
⦁ Giving clear directions;
⦁ Crediting others with good ideas;
⦁ Speaking face to face rather than by email.

About 20% of the managers surveyed chose each of these and many chose more than one. If your managers are bothered by speaking face-to-face, giving clear directions and recognizing your employees, how can your front-line be engaged?

Does Engagement Matter?

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report says only one-third of American workers are actively engaged at work. Only 21% say they are managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. If we aren’t communicating with the front-line staff, can we be shocked that nearly 8 in 10 are not motivated by the way they’re managed? If we aren’t convincingly sharing the company vision, how can we inspire them? If we don’t give them credit for their ideas, why should they think? If we can’t give them clear direction, how can they get it right?

Does engagement matter? Research says it does. The Gallup organization finds significant improvements in absenteeism, productivity, employee turnover and profitability in highly engaged organizations.

Image source: Gallup

“Organizations have more success with engagement and improve business performance when they treat employees as stakeholders of their future and the company’s future. Success means focusing on concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development and promoting positive coworker relationships.” – Jim Harter and Annamarie Mann, “The Right Culture: Not About Employee Happiness,” Gallup Business Journal April 12, 2017.

 

Leaders are Trained, Not Born

While some may take more naturally to leadership roles than others, all need training to develop the needed skills to truly connect and communicate with their people.

“I guess I’m just amazed that in this modern day and age in which there are so many good books, TED talks, Twitter feeds and Harvard Business Review articles about what leadership really is, some people still think they are leaders simply because they got a promotion.” – Simon Sinek (2016) Together is Better New York: Penguin Random House LLC

How to Create a Highly Engaged Workforce – Start at the Beginning

To create a highly engaged workforce, we need to start at the beginning.

1) Streamlined, Interactive and Engaging Onboarding Process:

Involve peers, direct supervisors, middle managers and top executives with new hires in their first few weeks. Make sure every interaction showcases your organization’s culture. Map your process to point out the strengths and weaknesses and show where to make improvements.

A study of 264 new employees published in the Academy of Management Journal found that the first 90 days of employment (often called the probationary period) is pivotal to building rapport with the company, management, and co-workers. When support levels were high from the team and leaders, new hires often had more positive attitudes about their job and worked harder. When support and direction were not offered, the inverse occurred, leading to unhappy and unproductive employees who didn’t make it much further than four months.”Maren Hogan

2) Help Front-line Associates Manage Their Performance:

Don’t leave front-line staff guessing. They need actionable data, daily, on where they are currently and how to improve. Gamification is a great way to help front-line associates own their performance and involves people at every level of the organization.

Gamification methodology is rooted in the principles of behavioral science: motivation, reinforcement, reward and behavior modification. In the contact center, gamification is about agent engagement and the use of game mechanics, recognition and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to drive and sustain desired behaviors. And it’s fun.

3) Develop Supervisor Candidates From Front-line Associates:

Remember that being a stellar associate will not make a person a great supervisor, as the skills required for frontline work are different from the skills needed to lead and manage. But you can develop supervisor candidates from appropriate front-line agents with voluntary pre-supervisor development activities. These should be organized and ongoing. Make career pathing a critical part of regular coaching meetings with front-line associates.

Perhaps our interest in acquiring talent is human nature. We love the thrill of the hunt as well as the chase – it’s exhilarating, and if we catch our prey, we feel rewarded. Having collected the prize, the thought of owning it, maintaining and nurturing it does not give us the same heady dopamine spike we felt during the hunt. And so it is with retention. Having selected top talent, it becomes hard work to draw out its potential, develop its capabilities further and satisfy it to make it want to stay. – Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith

4) Teach Supervisors How to Lead:

Choose new supervisors well, and provide useful, engaging training, upon promotion and ongoing. Supervisors are often promoted because of front-line skills and then expected to learn supervisory skills by osmosis.

Few organizations train front-line Supervisors on how to supervise, and even fewer provide new Supervisors with contact center management training.

One of the more difficult career situations … is being promoted from within a department to become the manager of that group. – Lisa Quast

5) Develop Leaders at Every Level:

Help leaders in your organization understand how to deal with others, when things are going well and when there’s conflict. Leaders at all levels struggle with how to manage conflict. Their efforts to avoid it often lead to ineffective communication and poor results. The fear of conflict is misplaced. Debate and healthy ideological conflict around issues and options is critical to expanding our understanding. Only when conflict becomes personal, about people does it become negative. Personality, style and drive testing and assessments can help leaders understand the personality traits and predispositions. This can, in turn lead to strategies to address and compensate for our predispositions. Assessments such as Myer-Briggs and DISC can help identify a leader’s personality, style and drive and systems such as TotalSDI put conflict in the context of values, allowing for a fundamental shift in the way we perceive conflict.

The Taylor Reach Group can help to improve engagement with your front line, develop more effective supervisors and leaders and much more—contact us today!

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