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Insider's Secret: Grooming Agents for Management Positions

Want a secret to being way ahead of the game in developing management skills your contact center needs? Identify and groom agents who are good candidates for supervisor and management positions as early as possible.

In too many organizations, this process begins too late (e.g., several years or more into an agent's tenure). And it assumes an overly-rigid, linear direction (e.g., tackle the role of agent, then supervisor, and only then receive more broad-based training for an analyst or manager position). But there are imminently practical ways to begin developing leaders now (see Mike Aoki’s recent article, Develop Your Leadership Pipeline).

Grooming Agents for Promotions

Sure, given the complexity in today's environment, it takes longer than it once did to become proficient as an agent. And for those who later move into management positions, experiencing the challenges, frustrations and opportunities of serving customers first hand—along with commensurate insight into the organization's services and processes—is invaluable. Moving an agent too quickly into a management role can short circuit this process and may jeopardize the support of peers.

However, we've noticed an interesting paradox: many of the organizations that begin the management grooming process earliest (e.g., as little as 12 to 18 months after the agent is employed) often find they can keep these individuals in agent positions relatively longer. After all, there's no law that says an agent has to move into a management role simply because he or she begins acquiring management know-how.  

And it's well documented that when an individual is learning and growing, they are more likely to stay put. (I'm referring to those agents who have a clear interest in someday moving into a management role.)

The advantages of grooming promotable agents for management positions while they are still agents are significant:

  • Their interest level in the contact center environment often increases
  • They understand the context of their current positions better
  • They are less likely to look for positions elsewhere
  • They are better equipped to contribute to operational improvements and innovations
  • They tend to inspire their peers to think like managers (e.g., cause and effect, customer experience, business impact, etc.)
  • Current managers get a better reading of which agents are particularly interested or capable in specific skills (e.g., forecasting, scheduling, training, supervision, quality analysis, etc.)

So, what should upwardly mobile agents begin learning about contact center management, beyond what they need to know to perform their specific duties? Potential areas of development include:

  • Customers/marketplace
  • Systems/access channels
  • Structure and strategy
  • Service level and response time
  • Forecasting and scheduling
  • Real-time strategies
  • Quality/process improvement
  • Recruiting, hiring, training
  • Coaching
  • Budgets
  • The contact center profession (bonus: here’s a fun article by Sarah Stealey Reed and Dayna Steele on professional networking)

I encourage you to think of a few specific people who are on the "management track." What would an understanding of these issues do for their job satisfaction and contribution to the organization? What would it do for management's ability to match managers with the right roles? What impact would it have on your contact center's culture and development? When you consider the payoff for both the organization and the individuals who are seeing these opportunities open up, this kind of commitment makes a lot of sense.