‘Adjust Your Steps’: When Confucius Manages Your Contact Center

You’ve just come out of another management meeting that should have been an email. Now, two minutes past your hard stop, you pick stairs over elevator, and get to your team huddle. You look down at your notepad, reading the line “Set goal 5% higher” over and over again. All eyes are on you. It’s the big moment.

You make your opening statement: “Team, we need to set our goal five percent higher.”

Janice, your newest recruit, looks somewhere between crestfallen and indignant. She is already having trouble meeting the current goal. She sees your new demand as unfair or unattainable. The result is that Janice will likely become effectively disengaged, which will affect her performance and might even drive her out of the organization altogether.

And she is not the only one. Any employee struggling to meet current contact center performance goals is going to be frustrated with higher ones. This, in turn, places pressure on supervisors and, eventually, on managers as well.

There is a serious risk of undermining employees, especially new recruits, when goals themselves are a source of friction.

A recent Gallup report, Re-Engineering Performance Management, said that “multiple meta-analyses demonstrate that the effectiveness of goal setting and subsequent performance is largely determined by: 1) goal clarity and specificity, 2) appropriate goal difficulty, 3) involving employees in the process, and 4) feedback and progress monitoring as performance occurs.” The problem is that, in too many companies, supervisors are only “messengers” for conveying very generalized performance goals, set for all employees by a relatively removed upper management level. 

Yet, there are many times when supervisors cannot – or do not want to – lower the bar on team performance goals set by management. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Confucius: when the goals seem out of reach, adapt your actions to reach them.

That is where adaptive workforce optimization (AWFO) solutions come in, ensuring each employee is seen as an individual, based on their particular performance outcomes, skills, personal attributes and preferences (their “persona”). Moreover, these metrics are assessed relative to other employees – taking into account factors such as tenure - and to task-specific demands.

For Janice, our frustrated novice employee, adaptive technology can reveal some encouraging surprises. She may actually be performing significantly better than average among employees of the same tenure, engaged in the same task, for the same type of customer. Clearly, this understanding can completely alter a supervisor’s workforce strategy.  

Sharing the Burden

Combining a more refined picture of employee performance with their professional persona, adaptive analytics makes it possible to more effectively leverage human resources. The higher-level goals set by management are tackled with a “divide and conquer” approach of automatically generated relative goals, specific to each employee and each task. 

Such adaptive system-generated goals take into account the multiple elements of an employee’s persona, specific work-item demands, predetermined performance indicators, tenure, relative ranking compared to other employees, and team-level results. In fact, the possible combinations involved reach into the millions – and are then multiplied across an entire workforce. 

Returning to our five-percent scenario, any change in a top-tier performance goal in an adaptive workforce optimization system would trigger the automatic adjustment of Janice’s specific goals, playing to her strengths and refining her skills. Taking the process further, a supervisor or manager would be able to lock in a specific goal, so that any other adjustments would not affect it.

This automated adaptive process can also obviously be a powerful planning tool. Before setting new contact center performance goals, management can run a very accurate “what-if” scenario that takes into account the real-world impact on employees and their capabilities. And looking at it from the other end of the pipeline, the impact of changes in employee personae on higher-level enterprise goals can be thoroughly tested to determine the best allocation of resources. 

Adaptive Action to Reach Relative Performance Goals

An adaptive solution for workforce optimization does more than define employee goals; it helps employees reach the goals it sets.  Such a WFO solution could be configured, according to predefined triggers, to interact with individual employees regarding their personalized goals in the way most likely to resonate with their persona and increase engagement. If an employee reaches or exceeds a goal, for example, the system might automatically send a congratulatory note with a reward redeemable at a virtual marketplace for real-world benefits (e.g., shift preferences, etc.). A different employee, on the other hand, might be rewarded for the same achievement with public recognition or added responsibility. Similarly, highly specific gamification might be used to encourage improvement for employees falling behind (e.g., trivia quizzes that adapt to performance changes, etc.).

Naturally, the relative metrics underpinning adaptive workforce management allow managers to optimize coaching with targeted, measurable and attainable objectives. In addition, an effective adaptive tool would further engage employees by giving them ongoing insight into their own performance, with a personalized dashboard displaying their metrics and goals in a larger context.

Adaptive WFO produces an intelligent team-level perspective, as well. Improvements in group performance and changes in task complexity lead automatically to updates in defined goals at all levels and as often as necessary.

As we have seen, adaptive technology enriches many aspects of our workforce environment. It can increase agent engagement, make coaching more effective, and measure performance more accurately. All of which puts the “super” back in “supervisor” as we optimize our efforts to reach contact center performance goals.

But underpinning it all, adaptive technology produces clearly defined, personalized and attainable goals, with visible successes along the way. This is key to delivering on management-driven goals and ensuring employees are personally engaged in the outcome, as well as skilled enough to do something about it.

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