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Does Your Contact Center Culture Need a Makeover?

How healthy is the culture of your contact center? Is it a positive, powerful, productive culture, all the time - or not very often?

Most leaders don’t pay a great deal of attention to their team or department or company culture. They’ve never been asked to do that. Few leaders have experienced successful culture change - and even fewer have led such a change.

The fact is culture matters. Culture drives everything that happens in your organization, good or bad. Having a high performing, values-aligned culture brings tremendous gains to your organization. A positive, productive culture boosts employee engagement (by 40 percent), customer service (by 40 percent), and results and profits (by 35 percent). I can prove it.

Contact Center Culture

How would you know if your team culture needs attention? My book, The Culture Engine, presents five levels of workplace culture health. They include:

  • Dysfunction - This is the lowest quality level, indicating a culture of low trust, inconsistent performance, and consistent frustration when trying to get things done.
  • Tension - This level indicates that trust is slightly better but still below minimum quality standards. Performance is improving but remains inconsistent. Disagreements occur regularly, but overt conflict is not as common.
  • Civility - This level represents the minimum standard of culture quality. At the civility level, leaders and team members are consistently treated with respect. Interactions are formal and professional. Performance is consistently good. Disagreements about ideas are conducted calmly without denigrating the leader or team member's commitment, skills, or role.
  • Acknowledgement - This quality level is reflected in the active recognition and expression of thanks and gratitude for effort, accomplishment, service, and citizenship. Team members do not wait for acknowledgement from leaders - they proactively thank each other. Customers are treated respectfully. The phrase "thank you” is heard often.
  • Validation - This quality level demands the active valuing of team members' skills, ideas, enthusiasm, and talents. Leaders frequently delegate authority and responsibility to talented, engaged team members. Productivity is consistently high. Cooperative problem solving and team work is the norm.

Most teams (and departments and companies) find their culture in the tension or civility levels. A few awful organizations find themselves firmly in the dysfunction level. Very few consistently behave at the acknowledgement or validation levels.

Current studies support the infrequency of powerful, positive, productive cultures on this five level system. TinyPulse’s 2014 Engagement and Culture Report found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work (!). Gallup’s daily engagement ranking shows only 31 percent of employees are highly engaged at work; that number has been stagnant for a decade.

Here’s one more depressing statistic: in SHRM’s 2015 Job Satisfaction and Engagement report, they found that the most important factor in employee job satisfaction is respectful treatment of all employees at all levels (rated "very important" by 72% of respondents). However, only 33% of employees report experiencing that respectful treatment at work each day (!).

The sobering data from all of these sources means leaders have a lot of work to do to create productive, meaningful work environments that treat employees with trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction.

Most leaders focus exclusively on results. It’s all they know. Their role models (bosses from their past and present) focused primarily on results. The metrics and dashboards in their organization measure and reward results, almost exclusively. These systems reinforce that results orientation: set goals, then measure accomplishment of those goals.

Don't misunderstand me: results are important! But when leaders put 100% of their focus on results, people may strive to accomplish those results in ways that may not be kind, considerate, or always ethical.

There Is a Better Way

Our best bosses created a safe, inspiring, productive work environment by making values as important as results. They gave us clear values expectations as well as clear performance expectations - and held us accountable for both.

How we - leaders and team members - behave to get desired results is as important as the results themselves.

To shift your team culture towards the validation quality level - and sustain that quality level every day - you must do three things: You must define your desired culture, then align all behavior to that desired culture, and periodically refine your culture as your organization evolves.

Defining your desired culture is as simple as formalizing your organizational constitution. This document specifies your team’s present day “servant purpose” (who you serve and to what end), values and behaviors, strategies, and goals. Most organizations have strategies and goals already defined, so that’s easy.

It takes a little more intention to create a servant purpose, values, and valued behaviors - behaviors that specify exactly how you want all team leaders and team members to act daily to ensure they are demonstrating your desired values.

Defining your organizational constitution is the easy part - that can be accomplished in a few weeks. Aligning all plans, decisions, and actions to that agreement takes time, energy, and intention. Typically, the alignment phase takes 18-24 months.

First, senior leaders must be role models of the values and behaviors. Only by embracing them will next level leaders and team members see the benefit of embracing those valued behaviors themselves.

Too few companies are intentional about values. Leaders think that people will behave nicely. Yet people behave badly (some worse than others) when the only thing that is measured, monitored and rewarded is results.

Don’t leave the quality of your contact center culture to chance. Be intentional. Define your desired culture, then live it, coach it, and embed it. There will be a lot less drama and a lot more productive fun when you do.

Questions to consider: How clear are values expectations in your organization? To what degree are team leaders and team members held accountable for both performance and values at work?