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In fact I sincerely wanted to help them find positions where they could excel. The lack of trust on their part and the acute resistance to change was so strong that structuring for integration to the point of even defining what conditions needed to be changed to overcome shortcomings and design a new position for them was not possible. As trust was not present and despite my best attempts to earn it through being genuinely concerned about them, all attempts were seen more as patronizing and less about attempting to help them. On the occasion that they did ask for pay increases, I told them they would need to get their cumulative customer satisfaction scores up and also call volumes. Not interested in the position or excelling at it, these employees refused to improve and when let go, saw it as very personal given my continual efforts to help them improve their performance.
Management Theory Potential Solutions
Clearly what was needed was more of a systematic and cohesive development plan that didn't first concentrate on nurturing trust, but more on shifting their perspectives to see an integrative model approach to conflict resolution as the best possible alleviate the frustration they felt with their jobs (Brownlie, Hewer, Wagner, Svensson, 461-47).
In attempting to counsel and guide them out of their frustration, I had actually been fueling the part of the contended defense model, further strengthening their approach to conflicts at work through a conventional stance. As a result, trust was eroding and the perception of opportunities to take greater control of their jobs and the metrics that could have been used to prove their mastery of it were rejected. Inevitably when the company began to experience reductions in sales and had to cut costs, the lowest performers were let go, ironically fulfilling the scenarios that these employees' Contended Defense Model had scripted through perceptual bias. I specifically had failed to recognize the strength of these lower performing employees' Contended Defense Model (LaBrosse, 101, 102) and the significantly different perceptions they had of their jobs as a result.
What would have been a more effective strategy on my part and a potential solution for ensuring my entire department attained job ownership and also was able to excel on the metrics of performance for their positions would be to rely not on one-on-one discussions which were only seen as patronizing, but to focus instead on observing the patterns of what made these employees excel at certain tasks and not in others. There were those specific tasks completed in serving Internet-based customers where the quick response and ability to increase response figures very fast were their strongest contributions to the company. Yet on e-mail and over the telephone, their responses and customer satisfaction figures were quite low and even prompted Human Resources to inform me they would need to be put on probation if they did not improve. The pattern that began to emerge from this integrative thinking could have led to only placing them on a single type of customer service channel, specifically orientated to quick feedback and rapid closure. My highest performing customer service representatives were those capable of completing closed service calls regardless of the channel they were inbound from. Delay in gratification from closure did not bother them; they seemed to have created their own casual model of how their total efforts contributed to the higher satisfaction scores, yet the lower-performing members of the team did not. Further, from a pattern analysis of their behaviors and their tendency to rely more on interactive, not interpersonal feedback, their tendency to enjoy working completely alone, only with a computer would have also become evident. As customer service is by nature an interpersonal career, been with more foresight to rely on integrative model-based approaches to redesigning their jobs so they could have excelled at the metrics of performance they felt the most in control of (Chen, Chen, 279, 280).
From these accumulated observations it also became clear that their perceived lack of ownership was more about wanting to retain their own identity in what they perceived as a faceless customer service organization, again relying on Conventional Stance to the Contended Model Defense (LaBrosse, et.al.). Clearly more effort in understanding and appreciating how significantly different their perspectives were of their positions and the need they felt to not conform led to the development of a hypothesis that low performing call center representatives needed to be screened for their level of affiliation need, level of frustration with fast vs. slow feedback, and the need for creating more integrative management and coaching strategies with these subordinates.
In retrospect, these employees could have been also turned into high performers by concentrating first on their innate strengths and showing them through frequent feedback how their role was unique. Their perception of being faceless and just another customer service representative, which led to their sense of not being in control of their jobs, could have been countered with a more effective strategy of integrative management and learning that concentrated on challenging them to change their casual model of customer service work. Specifically the role of customer service representative not being seen as negative or even lower class but of one that is integral to customers getting their goals accomplished as well. The casual models of these low-performing employees had become so engrained in their Contended Model Defense (LaBrosse, 104) that any attempts to break this perception was rejected and seen as insincere and patronizing.
The challenge of any manager is to break the causal model that low performing employees have so they see themselves as being capable of enhancing their own identities and excelling at their roles at the same time. Causal models of these employees, as observed from discussions and daily interaction, saw customer service work as being the most unattractive work in the company and an area that was full of frustration and no validation or satisfaction.
Breaking this Contended Model Defense that the lowest performing customer service representatives had would have best been first been better accomplished through continual assertive inquiry on my part and continual causal modeling as well. As these employees saw themselves as faceless, lacking any individuality and therefore having no ownership of their jobs, it would have been far better to have looked at casual models of their behavior over time and started to find integration points with their perception of the job and the company. The offers of assistance were largely ignored because the employees had no idea what they needed help with. Using assertive inquiry in conjunction with causal modeling, the employees could have eventually seen there were opportunities for them to continually grow and find uniqueness and identity in their work. Their low performance scores were not due to lack of skill, it was because their insistence and lack of willingness to change from their strong reliance on the Contended Model Defense that made any strategy for change in the short-term nearly impossible. The development of change management strategies for them based on integrative modeling, tailored and scaffolded by their unique strengths, would have been far more effective. Scaffolding or the development of individualized learning programs that isolated on their strengths (Najjar, et.al.) aligning specific metrics of performance to the strengths would have been far more effective and potentially saved them their jobs in the company. Further, this would over the long-term create an opportunity for reciprocal assertive inquiry as well, giving them the opportunity to learn how they were perceived in the company and their potential there as well. In short, by relying more on a tailored and scaffolded plan for each of these employees, not punitive in nature but more aligned to assist them with their unique strengths as they applied to the customer service role, their performance over time could have vastly improved. The causal link between these factors and the generation of trust would have been much longer term, yet the foundation based on assertive inquiry and causal modeling would have been an excellent start.
The ability to transform these employees' performance also is directly related to the ability to give them opportunities to gain mastery of specific aspects of their job, in addition to providing plenty of opportunities for originality in how they approach their jobs. First from a mastery level, each of these employees had a specific skill in this area, with structuring of solutions being their collective strongest skill set. Skillfulness however was not present as the Internet-related inquiries simply required a rapid response, often short, and with the control over closing out the complaint on their own. This element of control over closing out a given complaint became a mild form of recognition between customer service representatives, as they compared the speed at which they could complete Internet inquiries. it's as if the low achieving employees only found this…[continue]
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