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Training Front-Line Managers

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You might call them Leads or Supervisors, but most often these positions which manage the front-line—manage agents—are a vital link in a contact center’s management network. Since contact centers often promote from within, we also need to consider the specific training and development supervisors need to do their jobs well. If we think about training front-line managers, we usually think about processes, procedures, and systems, but a good supervisor needs more than this knowledge to be successful.

Three areas that are critical for front-line management success are often overlooked completely. These three areas are building trust, understanding the power of influence, and how (and when) to talk about performance.

Building Trust

Build Trust

Trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces, as proven in study after study. It is one thing to say that a supervisor needs to build trust, but that’s not very helpful unless they know how to build that trust.

First supervisors have to understand that it is their actions, not their intentions, which are important in building trust. They then can start understanding the three personal qualities that build trust.

  • Authenticity: being the best version of who they really are without being fake.
  • Knowledge: learning new things, understanding how things work in reality, and being willing to change as circumstances warrant.
  • Credibility: doing what we say we will do or renegotiating our commitment when necessary.

Knowledge of these three qualities are all well and good, but to be effective, supervisors need to see how they apply to real-world situations. Situations such has making a mistake and having to apologize, or sharing a change in company policy with which the supervisor does not agree, or providing feedback and coaching performance.

These are all opportunities to build or break trust with the team and with individuals.

Working with supervisors on building trust in the everyday situations they encounter helps them be a better front line manager.

The Power of Influence

Some new supervisors may think that since they are the “boss” now they have more power than when they were an agent. Any experienced supervisor or manager can tell them that they actually have less power now, but they have a whole lot more influence.

As an agent, they had power to impact their own performance and to help customers on every contact. As a supervisor, however, they have to work through other people—their agents. Everything a supervisor does influences their team—when they arrive at work, how they interact with other supervisors and team members, whether they break the rules of the contact center or abide by them, how they dress, how they present themselves—everything. New front-line managers need help to see all the many ways they influence their team members.

In addition, front-line managers need to understand how they can use their influence for the benefit of the team. They do this by getting to know people outside of the team so that when they need help, they know who to go to. They build relationships with other team supervisors, with managers, with the help desk, with HR, with Training, with reception, and with anyone else in the organization (not just within the contact center). The wider and deeper the network a supervisor has, the better they will be able to support and help their team, and the more they will understand about what other parts of the organization need from their team. This makes them a more effective front-line manager.

Performance Management

The third area that is often neglected in training front-line managers is how to manage performance. This is not just about doing disciplinary actions or doing coaching, although those are very important ingredients in performance management. Nor is it just about pulling reports and reading those reports. It also includes having different types of conversations with agents about performance—informal ones that say you are noticing what is going on, transitional conversations that move from noticing to monitoring, disciplinary conversations for when people are not changing as they need to, developmental conversations where you help a good agent get even better or help them grow into future opportunities, and the performance appraisal conversation for a more formal assessment of progress and developing a longer-term plan for improvement.

Besides the types of conversations between supervisors and agents, Supervisors also need training on identifying root causes, focusing on correction rather than punishment, enforcing the agent’s responsibilities rather than depriving them of choice, giving praise, giving corrective feedback, being direct about expectations and issues, focusing on behavior rather than who the person is, when and what to document, dealing with issues while they are small, approaching agents in ways that will make them more receptive to feedback, enforcing the consequences of agents’ choices, and so much more related to performance management. It goes beyond steps or paperwork to how to truly impact performance.

I’ve thought a lot about the areas where front-line managers need training as I’ve just finished updating the third Agent Coaching Series course in ICMI’s Online Training Pass. The full series is a good tool for training new and existing supervisors on managing other people, giving feedback, and coaching agents, especially training them in some of these often-overlooked skills that are so critical to their personal success as well as to their team’s success.

If we are going to have front-line managers who can effectively manage the front-line, we have to invest in their development as managers rather than leaving it to what they pick up on their own. Front-line managers/supervisors/leads are too critical to a contact center’s success to leave their development to chance.