Change agents

Management and staff must buy in to the need to continuously improve the operation
Roadblock:
A self-managed staff of dedicated and knowledgeable customer service reps was resentful over a new tracking system developed by IS. The number and the average length of their inbound calls, as well as how many calls each of them handled, were being measured for the first time. They viewed that new monitoring system as a criticism of their work pace and as a method for “checking on us.”
These reps had established and maintained long-term relationships with the company’s distributors whom they serviced. This “new emphasis” on how quickly they handled calls flew in the face of their long-standing approach for solving and preventing problems for customers. The message this new system sent to the customer staff was, “You’re not working as hard or as fast as you should.” As a result, the already stressful environment became more so and the previously committed reps felt less so.
Problem:
The company and its leaders depend on this group to function autonomously in handling the daily tasks at hand. Because of their knowledge and experience, the team members know how to get the job done without a supervisor or team leader. What they don’t know how to do is to think proactively and work toward continuous improvement. Therefore, the tracking system – established to provide a baseline for future planning and staffing – appears as a threat to them personally and to the group’s identity as a self-managed team.
Solution:
The senior manager’s first task is to coach the team on the need for continuous improvement in the department’s operation. The same problem-solving skills they use with their customers should be directed toward their own department. How can the job be done differently? What tasks could be handled by others? What additional responsibilities might be appropriate? What resources are needed to work “smarter and not harder?”
Next, he must help them understand that the company expects more than “just doing the best job we can do each day.” Expectations should be set for proactively addressing procedural problems or obstacles. Measurements should be established, not to “catch” nonperformance, but to measure progress toward mutually agreed-upon goals and to provide a means for gaining and giving recognition for jobs well done.
The manager should engage his people in designing the measurements and tracking results on their own. The team members’ involvement is the best approach for gaining their commitment.
If the senior manager is unable to coach these dedicated customer service professionals because of other demands on his time, an alternative solution is required. The human resource department or other company leaders could encourage them to “step up to the plate” and to view this as an opportunity to function autonomously. Each one of them will have to stretch and grow. Training in decision-making, creative thinking and time-management could be provided. Because they lack position power in the organization, training to develop their abilities to influence others would also be beneficial.
If neither the manager nor the team members are able or willing to implement changes to bring about continuous improvement the company is left with two choices: be satisfied with the status quo or replace these committed people with others who are more tuned into today’s business realities. Change in work habits and methods can be difficult, but not as wrenching as dealing with the aftermath of lost opportunity.
Solutions to Roadblocks identifies situations that are true obstacles to the performance of people. This series is provided by Performance Consulting, a Brookfield training and consulting firm. Small Business Times readers who would like a “roadblock” addressed in this column can contact the author, Lois Patton, at 781-7823 or via e-mail at lorapat@aol.com.

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