A Global Customer Services Director recently came to us with a challenge: We have customer service teams spread all over the world, helping our telecommunications customers with technical troubleshooting. Some of them are really excellent, experienced agents, others are relatively new and still learning the ropes. Some are good with the technical side, others better at working with people. The question is – how do we get them all working to the same standard?
We proposed the RATER model, a five-point framework which describes how customers evaluate the service they receive. We have found RATER is a tool which everyone can learn from and improve, whatever their level of experience. In a previous post we introduced the framework. In this post we will add some information and provide tips on how to put it into practice, based on real experience we’ve had working with clients like the one above.
When you joined the company, what kind of learning culture did you find?
I think it’s really easy to answer this question, because when I joined my company, I can say that there was no learning culture. If I can take a step back, people have different understandings and definitions of the term “learning culture” . For me “learning culture” means there are people who like learning, there are learning resources and opportunities that people are encouraged to access whenever they need something or expect to need something going forward, and managers enable and encourage learning . Here, in all cases, there was nothing, so people were not, really empowered to learn. The second thing is that there were not a lot of resources available for learning. One of my priorities, and it’s also one of the reasons I was hired, is to create this kind of learning environment and then along with this also create a learning culture.
How were managers and the leaders in your organization seeing learning before you arrived?
I think, and this is only my perspective, that the management was saying, “Learning is very much needed” but when it came to the point where they had to invest they said, “We don’t have the budget for that”. On the one hand they definitely like the idea of learning. They talk a lot about learning and do want to enhance, improve and develop their employees. But actually, when an employee comes to them and says “OK we agreed that I need negotiations training” and they say, “OK go, have fun”, the employee has to find the seminar or resources. Employees would just Google something and then went come back with a course they had found that cost €20,000. For me this was the first problem because nobody knew if it was a good course quality-wise, who the provider was and if they were a fit, whether the investment was reasonable or if the training was needed. And then usually 99% of the managers said “sorry but we don’t have the budget for that”.
So how have you gone about building a learning culture?
What I did first was convincing management that learning and development really matters to our success as an organization. I used storytelling approaches to help them see why it is good to invest in learning, and how a company actually benefits from having a learning culture. Then I showed them that, even if they don’t want to spend a lot of money, using informal or on-the-job learning is still going to create a lot of benefits for the company. For example, using job rotation or on-the-job development does work and can make a tangible difference. Approaches like mentoring and internal coaching can and should be done. The managers in my company really bought into this idea. The first 2 or 3 things that I managed to do were ideas which didn’t cost a lot of money but were still very beneficial.
Another example where I actually created value and showed the management why learning helps an organization is when we set up the first e-learnings. We built these internally using a tool called EdApp https://www.edapp.com/. It’s a very good and intuitive tool and easy to use. There were a lot of templates that we could instantly just choose and work with. I worked with our technical experts and together we created e-learning activities on areas such as regulation, process management and . tendering, and product management. We then rolled the e-learnings out to 200 people and the feedback from the participants has been really great. Because of this tool we’ve been able to gamify the learning too.
What else have you done to continue building a culture since?
Communication is key. Whenever we have a new product or new system (e.g recruiting, performance management) we connect it to the learning. For example, in our performance management you have an annual meeting about your performance with your manager, and you have to talk about your development. Of course most people consider meeting a mandatory step and find it boring. I have worked with the managers to help them individually use this moment to create a better dialog with their employees, be more confident when giving feedback, setting goals etc etc. This combination of building a catalogue of recommended training providers and training courses, building e-learning, leveraging managers and looking for single moments where we can connect learning to the business process shows why learning is important in a company and is the first steps of building a learning culture.
When workers are suddenly sent home to work they will face plenty of challenges, especially if they’ve never done it before. Team leaders will face an additional challenge: Leading a team that is working from home. In this post we offer a range of tips and advice for how you can do that. To keep it simple and easy to implement we’ve stuck to a 3-step approach:
- Start by understanding the challenges
- Keep the team working together
- Lead your team as they work from home
What are the challenges?
An immediate priority for leading a team that is working from home is to ensure that team members have the tools to do their jobs remotely. This includes both productivity and communication tools. As a leader you can approach this with the whole team by checking they have what they need and discussing which kinds of communication technologies work well for them. Not everything will work as it did in the office and as a team you may need to decide to use ad-hoc technologies as a temporary solution.
Some team members may feel isolated and this can have a serious impact on motivation. This is best discussed in a one-to-one setting. Individuals will all have different emotional and psychological challenges and you need to know what these are in order to help them. A simple question like, “How are you looking after yourself?” can open up a discussion and go a long way to making team members feel supported individually. Read more on this topic in our post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home.
Don’t forget to also look after your own needs and work through your own personal and logistical challenges. If you don’t address these, you won’t be as effective at helping other people with their issues. Get advice on how to do this in our post Three Steps to Adapt to Home Working.
How do I keep the team working together?
In the 1970s, MIT Professor Thomas Allen discovered that team cohesion is strongest when employees are physically closer. His ideas have been taken forward by some of the most successful companies who engineer ‘collisions’ between employees to strengthen bonding and group affiliation; simple things like coffee-machine conversations, team social events, sharing stories, etc. So, how can you do this with a team that works in physical isolation from each other? Here are some ideas we have seen that work:
- Set up daily check-ins or ‘stand-up meetings’ at the start of each day where the team shares their priorities for the day and any impediments they face. This can give team members a reassuring routine which is both work and socially focused and help to overcome feelings of isolation. It also gives you a helicopter-view of what’s happening each day.
- In team meetings always add an agenda item with a question like, “How is this arrangement working for us?” This helps to address emotional/psychological issues of individuals and build trust. Avoid closed questions (asking “Is everyone ok?” won’t give you much information) and use “us” and “we” to reinforce team togetherness.
- Monitor team communication patterns to pick up on problems, side issues and tone that team members are using with each other. This doesn’t mean using spyware! You just need to go over conversations that are happening on Slack, Teams and other conversation channels.
- Use video in team communications; humans bond much better to faces than to voices and non-verbal communication sends powerful signals of belonging and empathy. Seeing faces also puts more energy into calls, which helps to overcome feelings of isolation.
- Create and manage social interaction to replicate what normally happens in the office; have a virtual lunch together, share internet memes, play games together, just get people laughing and having fun. Social interaction is the base of creating trust in a team; you just need to do it a bit differently in a virtual work setting.
Which skills do I need for leading a team that is working from home?
You don’t need new skills to become an effective leader of a home-working team, but you will need to use some of them more. Here is a short list of where to focus your leadership skills:
You may have an open door policy in the office but that won’t work in a remote team. So, be explicit about when and how team members can contact you. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, check in with them and ask how they are. At the same time be careful that you also ring-fence the time you need for yourself and your own tasks.
This is probably the biggest thing your team will need from you, at least at the start. You may need to be flexible and change processes if necessary, for example lifting constraints on how and where data is stored and shared. Focusing on outputs rather than processes will help push the team towards purposeful activity and away from missing their old physical environment.
Make rules and hold people accountable to them
It’s important to establish some ground rules with the team, for example on which communication tools to use for different tasks, how and when to contact each other. You then need to monitor that the team is sticking to those rules and jump in when they are not.
Continue to manage performance
Research shows that employees value their performance being managed and they rate managers highly when it’s done well. This is still true in a home-working environment, but it will take more communication and more regular, smaller steps to address the distance and isolation. A practical start is to set some short term performance goals on adjusting to home-working at the beginning.
Be kind to yourself
You are not going to make this change successfully in one day or even one month. It’s ok to be frustrated, angry, impatient and it’s healthy to consider the emotions you are feeling and where they come from. It’s also important to understand the emotions of those around us – whether family or colleagues – and be kind and understanding of those people too. You can find tips and advice on dealing with the emotional side of home-working in the post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation When Working from Home.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us.