People Are Like Icebergs – Don’t Be The Titanic!

By Bernie O’Donnell

Have you ever hired someone who just didn’t work out the way you expected? What did it cost you in billing? Client satisfaction? Management time? How about sheer aggravation? Clients come, go, or stay and revenues rise or fall largely because of the effectiveness of managers as well as the efficiency and conduct of call center agents. A miscast phone agent can do more damage to your business during a busy hour than a good one can offset in a week.

As with most worthwhile things in life, exceptional employees do not come easily. First, exceptional employees are hard to identify. People are like icebergs. What we don’t see during the selection process is far more significant than what we do see. By the time we get close enough to see more, they are already on board and the damage is done. Enough bad staffing decisions, enough damage, and we become the Titanic. Does this sound extreme? Consider just this: according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 36,000 business failures last year were due to employee theft.

Hiring is a high-risk business. As a manager, one must be concerned about:

  • Discriminatory claims
  • ADA & other compliance
  • Theft (from you and your clients)
  • Negligent hiring lawsuits
  • Creating a hostile work environment
  • Employee created harassment
  • An employee’s ability to get along with coworkers

Just think, we haven’t even mentioned skills or an employee’s ability to do the job. Obviously, skills and experience are just not enough. We all know someone fired from Company A who became a superstar in Company B.

To have an uncommonly successful company, we must select people who identify with our organizational culture, values, and image. They must fit in with the way we do business; the way we treat our clients, handle projects, make decisions, and present ourselves.

The Right People: If client service is paramount then we need people who are service oriented, who get satisfaction from pleasing others. Yet, they cannot be so accommodating that they continually do “favors” for our clients at the expense of other clients or billable work.

We are in a constantly changing environment and we need people who adapt to change, who learn quickly, who see new opportunities for revenue, and who are trainable. However, they must still understand the importance of structure and comply with our rules. They also need to handle stress well while maintaining a sense of urgency. We want people who demonstrate friendliness and caring but are not so emotional they become counter productive or need to engage in extended conversation on every phone call.

21st Century Technology: Exceptional staffing is a tough challenge! Yet many organizations spend more time and energy selecting a new copier than they do selecting a new employee. But then, it’s easier to evaluate copiers; we understand the decision criteria because we have a standard and can easily measure each copier against it.

We must take the same approach with staffing. We must identify a standard by which we can compare applicants. That standard may be a current outstanding employee or one that exists only in our minds. But if we could capture those attributes on paper, including how they think, how fast they learn, their interests, and their core behavioral tendencies, we would have created such a standard. With such a standard for each position, we could improve our hiring process, pinpoint training needs, improve career development, and even do effective succession planning. These standards are called success patterns or models and need to be developed using top performers in the industry. You can do so internally, with outside assistance, or use a predefined model that applies to you call center.

Bernie O’Donnell is with Performisys LLC. Call them at 972-751-0997 for a complimentary copy of “Performisys’ 7 Steps to Exceptional Staffing.”

[From Connection Magazine October 2004]

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