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How to be the Best Team Lead Your Agents Ever Have

Have you ever left the office with your head in a spin after a day of heavy fire fighting but without any feeling of real accomplishment?

Are you busy all the time but find it hard to know what you have achieved off your strategic to-do list? Have you got a strategic to-do list?  Or do you mostly feel like your job is that of a glorified babysitter?

When I ask people to describe the great bosses they have had they say things like they were ‘down to earth’, ‘approachable’ but also ‘professional’. 

My last great boss commanded respect.  People wouldn’t dream of taking the same silly little quibbles and gripes to him over and over.  He wouldn’t allow that.  He would ask questions, make them recognize that they had the answer within themselves or knew where to go to get it.  They would think twice before they approached him with lazy questions again. 

By being nice and helpful are you sending out a message that it is ok to bring issues and squabbles to you when really your team should be capable of resolving it amongst themselves?

Often, in our eagerness to please as a new manager, we take some of the mantras of leadership, (such as being genuinely interested, listening and being approachable) too far and allow the team to steal precious time and take advantage if they are that way inclined.

So being the best team leader your agents have isn’t about bending over backwards every minute of the day.  If you try that approach, you’ll soon feel like you are being pulled in a million different directions.  People will take advantage of you and your boss will be disappointed when you don’t get through the other work you need to do.

Here are some solutions for the coming year.

Be firm but fair with everyone.  You don’t need to show power or control, in fact you want to think about how every action  demonstrates that you put the organization and the team before yourself, but not at the expense of getting the job done. 

Be open and honest, if the answer to a request or idea is no then explain why.  If you have to do some digging to get to the real ‘why’ then do it. Your team will still like to know that you tried for them and they appreciate knowing some facts and figures.

Show respect, both for yourself and everyone else.  Your values and how you behave are watched by everyone around you.  If you abuse yourself by not getting enough sleep, being unhealthy or by being negative then this is really demoralizing for your team.    Why would they want to aspire to follow in your footsteps?  Being a manager in this place is clearly not worth it.  They may even feel sorry for you and carrying that sympathy is only taking their energy away from the customers that they need to serve on the phones.

So once you have your own head and heart in order, let’s think about your ability to raise the performance of your team.  According to research we all have about 20% extra discretionary effort within us.  Whether we chose to give it or not on a daily basis depends on a number of things.

Is your team giving that discretionary effort or is cruising allowed?

As an effective manager you must give feedback –both positive and adjusting, so that your staff know the standards required.  Positive feedback should be specific, public and genuine.  Look for some way to praise a member of your team every day and rotate the team member receiving the praise fairly.  You may have to go looking for things to praise but it is a good habit to get into.  Ask their internal customers for feedback, earwig into conversations, and ask for ideas, opinions or volunteers.  All of these create opportunities to praise. 

Everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job so don’t hold back –it is the easiest and most cost effective solution to an immediate feel-good factor for your staff.

It may seem a little strange to be discussing corrective feedback when we want to be motivating and inspiring our staff but ask yourself this question: If you don’t give corrective feedback what happens?

You may have a team member who cruises below standard and yet for whatever reason, you don’t address it.  Your star performers pick up the slack but slowly and surely they become (quite rightly) disgruntled at having to do so.  Other team members start to think ‘if they can get away with it so will I’ and a culture permeates where it is okay to have longer lunches, arrive a little later, leave a little earlier, spend hours on social networking websites and make long personal phone calls.  All of these erode productivity and ultimately the team, department and organizational performance. 

If you dislike giving ‘criticism’ think of it as ‘adjusting feedback’.

Frame it this way: the team member has drifted slightly off course and you are going to adjust them back on track.  Giving this feedback now will mean they have not deviated too far from the norm.  Wait a while and you will have a bigger problem on your hands.  For more insight and skills on how to give Feedback I have a whole e-masterclass at www.catli.co.uk

Think about your team.  Do you set standards of performance or standards of excellence?

Every manager has elements of their role that they like and elements that they like less or even hate!  Think about the three words: People, Task and Process.  Which are you spending your time on?

If someone has a preference for ‘people’ they will be concerned with ‘helping’ others and would hate to be seen as ‘cold’ or ‘unfeeling’.  They will empathize and be considerate but can become totally immersed in people issues, leaving the other parts of the triangle (task and process) neglected.

If someone has a preference for ‘task’ they will be focused on achieving results, have a strong sense of urgency and be assertive.  However, others can see them as competitive, controlling and blunt.  They might be so focused on getting things done that the people and process elements can be overlooked.

Those with a preference for ‘process’ need to get things right.  They are focused on correctness, order, logic and have a strong sense of fairness and personal integrity.  However, they would rather be right than be popular!  If they are too task focused they can be seen as unemotional, detailed and cautious.  They will go out of their way to minimize risk and conduct lengthy analysis if needed –even if the task and people elements are suffering.

Are you too focused on your natural preference?  What could you be neglecting? 

How might your team’s performance be different if you changed your focus?

Are members of your team rewarded when they have the same focus as you?  This misunderstanding can be at the root of the perception of a ‘difficult performer’ since we all like people who are similar to ourselves –life is just easier that way. 

Where people are led by a manager of a different preference there must be a level of flexibility on the manager’s part to meet the needs of the individual.  Failure to value people in the way they like to be appreciated can lead to higher levels of staff turnover.

Often managers fall into the trap of recruiting a team of ‘clones’ which can mean everyone gets along great but serious ‘gaps’ in the skills matrix occur.

Investing time in developing self-awareness and wider skills in non-preferred areas for you and your team may stop the continuous cycle of recruiting and replacing people or sorting out squabbles. 

This can leave you with less fire fighting to do and more time to focus on the strategic elements of your role that were the reason you became a manager in the first place. 

I have a special bonus offer for readers of this post.  To access my FREE ‘5 Keys to Contact Centre Success’ video please visit: www.contactcentersuccess.com

You can also connect with me on Twitter @carolynblunt or visit my page on Facebook www.facebook.com/realresultstraining .

Carolyn Blunt is a renowned trainer, business owner and writer. Her business, Real Results Training, specialises in soft skills training, particularly contact center training, customer service, communication skills and leadership. Real Results Training is an approved center for Institute of Leadership & Management qualifications. Carolyn Blunt has been voted Most Respected Person in the UK Contact Center Industry 2012 by readers of Call Centre Helper Magazine. Carolyn has recently written the new book titled ‘How to Deliver Effective Social Customer Service’ to be published by Wiley in September 2013.