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How to be an Effective Manager

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Stop me if you've heard this one before. A new team member joins your contact center. She is put through training and taught how to use her phone and your company CRM, how to de-escalate upset customers, and how to go through the necessary talking points on common calls. She is taught all about the products and services your company offers and how to overcome objections and answer customer questions. She graduates from training and is soon getting recognition for being a top performer. She is lauded for having the lowest Average Handle Time, highest Call Quality scores, and highest Schedule Adherence. Eventually, after months of being a top performer, she is promoted into a supervisory role. This is a common practice in many contact centers. And just as typical is the scenario where that top-performer-turned-Supervisor is asked to do her new job with little or no training.

Familiar story, right?

Of course, she is given training on how to approve timesheets, how to score a call, and, so very often, how to run reports, but she never gets instruction on how to actually manage her team members. Usually, the biggest jump in one's career is the jump from individual contributor to a front-line supervisor. This first jump is typically the most terrifying. Performance as an agent is not the best indicator of who will be a strong supervisor. And then contact centers make it worse by not giving any training.

Nearly every time I talk with other contact center leaders, the subject of manager training comes up. And I'm always surprised when leaders acknowledge the need for it, but they continue to hope for the best and promote team members solely based on them having the "best stats."

What does it take to be an effective contact center supervisor? It's all about the people. Specifically, a supervisor's job is all about getting results through other people, but where is the training on how to do that?

The best manager training program I have ever participated in is, undoubtedly, the training from Manager Tools

Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne created the Manager Tools podcast in 2005. At the time, I was running a customer service and sales call center for a large national bank. I had a great manager who supported me and my goals. I was also hungry for resources on how to be a better manager and had grown tired of the philosophical and fable-based management training programs that had become commonplace. I already knew who moved my cheese; now I wanted to know how to do the rest of the hard stuff great managers always seem to do naturally. Since I drove an hour to work every day, I searched iTunes for podcasts on the subject and quickly found Manager Tools. I benefited from great luck and timing, because my quest to be a better manager began shortly after Mark and Mike, both of which became successful executives after graduating from West Point and serving as Army officers, started Manager Tools. I started listening every week and was impressed that they were teaching actual behavior changes that I could implement that week.

Models, not metaphors

Manager Tools was (and still is) all about the specific behaviors I could learn that would help me be a better manager that week. It focuses on actual behaviors, or as Mark and Mike often refer to it, the "blocking and tackling" of being an effective manager. Manager Tools is exactly that: tools to be a better manager. Rather than telling philosophical stories or relying on metaphors, Manager Tools teaches real, duplicable models for every aspect of being an effective manager.

Effective Manager, by Mark Horstman

The Manager Tools podcast has hundreds of episodes that teach the most effective way to perform any managerial function. There are podcast episodes on how to write and deliver performance evaluations, succession planning, budgeting, employee retention, and nearly anything else you can think of. But at the heart of their teaching are the Management Basics, what they refer to as the Trinity.

The Effective Manager, the book written by Mark Horstman in 2016, was published years after the podcast began, and after tens of thousands of managers from all over the world had listened to their podcast and attended their live training sessions. The book focuses on teaching the Trinity and is an excellent introduction to the basics, especially for those that aren't used to listening to podcasts.

The Trinity

Don't let the name fool you; the Manager Tools Trinity is actually four things. Yes, four for the price of three. They are the four critical behaviors managers must do to manage their team effectively.

The Trinity will teach you to:

1. Build relationships and know your people through regular one on ones

2. Communicate about performance using feedback

3. Ask for more by coaching

4. Push work down by delegating

One on ones, the first of the models in the Trinity, is precisely what it sounds like, a one on one meeting between a supervisor and her direct report. But the one on one guidance developed by Manager Tools describes when to do them (weekly, always scheduled, rarely missed) and how to do them (direct report goes first, supervisor goes seconds).

Feedback has one purpose: to encourage effective behavior in the future. A manager can't be effective if he's not able to communicate with his direct reports about their individual performance. At my first Manager Tools Effective Manager conference, they asked the 100 attendees to raise our hand if we wished our manager gave us more feedback. Nearly every hand went up. Next, we were asked to raise our hand if we believed that our direct reports got enough input from us. Again, nearly every hand went up. If we all wish that our manager would give us more feedback, it is fairly likely that our direct reports would say the same about us. Many managers don't realize that. And, many managers still struggle giving feedback. The Feedback Model provides a clear and concise method of delivering feedback. For my organization and me, the Feedback Model was the most transformative of the Management Basics.

Every manager knows they need to coach their employees, but few will agree on the best way to do it, or even, what "coaching" means. Manager Tools teaches a simple model for effective coaching that will help develop skills in your direct reports.

Growing the organization's capabilities is every manager's job. And delegating work is how we do that. There is a finite amount of work any one manager can do, and to grow, a manager must be able to take on additional responsibilities. The delegation model is a framework to delegate work to your direct reports effectively.

Will This Work In My Contact Center?

I recently asked Mark Horstman if there was something specific to contact centers that makes the Trinity so incredibly effective in this environment. 

"Contact Centers optimize and focus the value of the Trinity. First, the work of a manager's team is similar, which means managers learn faster when they start engaging in the right basic behaviors.  Because team members are usually collocated, better relationships and better performance results affect more of the team more quickly." He added, "Because contact centers typically have clear and visible metrics/standards, those are more easily incorporated into weekly One-on-Ones and Feedback, and also into Coaching and even Delegation."

When asked if Manager Tools has specifically seen results in contact centers, Mark said, "When AT&T stood up thousands of employees in their contact centers in Florida 20 or so years ago, we helped them work on managerial standards and promotions.  We compared two groups of roughly 100 managers each over 15 months against managerial performance standards.  The managers in the test group - using the Manager Tools Trinity - outperformed the control group by roughly 20%." Mark went on to say, "I can't say that our tools were developed with contact centers in mind, but I can say that contact centers were part of our testing.  It's funny to me that many managers in other industries would look down their noses on contact centers, but they'd be embarrassed to see how much more effectively contact centers are measured and managed than their industry is."

Final Thoughts

I have used what I have learned from Manager Tools for nearly 15 years and have seen it deliver markedly improved results - more productive and engaged employees, less turnover, etc. It is a series of tools that my managers, supervisors, team leads, and trainers have all used as well. Lastly, and I do not say this lightly: a great deal of the success I have had in my career is because I have put into practice the things I have learned from Manager Tools.

My advice to anyone wanting to be a more effective manager, or wanting to help your managers become more effective: read the book, then subscribe to the podcast, start listening and putting what you've learned to use - your direct reports and your company will thank you. After reading the book, I recommend listening to the 4 part series, Rolling Out the Manager Tools Trinity. To get even more of the benefits, such as complete show notes and slides, and other perks, become a Personal License holder. Also, the Manager Tools team hosts conferences around the world and offer an incredible opportunity to learn the fundamentals in person.

Being a manager is important work. We can have such an impact on the lives of the people we work with, positively or negatively. Manager Tools will help you have a positive effect on those around you. We owe it to our company, our team members, and even their families.

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