Saturday, April 28, 2012


Brech identifies the role of management as encompassing four main elements:
  1. Planning – determining the broad lines for carrying out operations, preparing methods by which they are carried out and setting standards of performance.
  2. Control – checking actual performance against standards to ensure satisfactory progress and performance, and recording as a guide to possible future operations.
  3. Coordination – balancing and maintaining the team by ensuring a suitable division of work and seeing that tasks are performed in harmony.
  4. Motivation – or inspiring morale. Getting members of the team to work effectively, to give loyalty to the group and to the task, to carry out their tasks properly, and to play an effective part in the activities of the organization.
Brech’s four main elements are a satisfactory starting point to understand the role of management; however, the success of management relies upon the accuracy in which the above four elements are executed. Drucker emphasizes this point when he defines the differences between effectiveness and efficiency. ‘Effectiveness is the foundation of success – efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’ A good manager can plan, lead, coordinate and control work efficiently but a great manager will understand the effectiveness of the work that is being done and how that effectiveness influences the customer’s perception of the service.
The quality of management within an organization significantly influences the culture of the organization. Schein maintained that the major factors influencing an organization’s culture are:
  • what leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis;
  • how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises;
  • observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources;
  • deliberate role modelling, teaching and coaching by leaders;
  • observed criteria by which leaders allocate rewards and status;
  • observed criteria by which leaders, recruit, select, promote, etc.
What is the one noun which links all of Schein’s findings together? The answer is ‘leader’.
Of course by the term ‘leaders’ in call centres we are referring to managers, those who have significant influence over the work of trainers, agents, planners and recruitment. Some theorists argue that leadership and management are two completely different roles. Kotter for example argues, ‘Management is about coping with complexity. . . Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change.’ However, in a call centre leadership and management are intertwined; they should not be separated. Call centre managers have to have a vision about how they feel the call centre should work to meet the organizational objectives and they have to deal with the complexity of making those visions a reality. In this chapter we are not going to separate the roles of leadership and management as they are both equally important.
Schein identifies that the conscious and unconscious behaviours of managers determine the organization’s culture. Therefore, the greatest influencing factor in any organization is the behaviour of its managers. This works on all levels. Of course senior managers and directors have the greatest influence but team leaders and functional managers such as those running call centres exert significant influence on the culture, productivity and wellbeing of the call centre.
The importance of management and its relationship to development was reinforced further in a study by International Survey Research, which reported that levels of employee commitment in the UK are significantly lower than in most of the world’s major economies. This lack of commitment is resulting in a lack of competitive advantage for the UK in relation to other global giants. The study conducted by ISR stated that the four most important factors in determining the commitment levels of a workforce are closely linked to the quality of support and ability to do their role. The four key factors are:
  1. employees’ assessment of the quality of their company’s leadership;
  2. employees’ evaluation of the development opportunities their organization provides;
  3. employees’ judgement as to whether they are sufficiently empowered and trained to carry out their work effectively;
  4. employees’ ratings of the people management skills of their immediate supervisor.
If we examine the above findings we see two of the main factors are related to leadership and management skills (1 and 4) and the remaining two are linked to training and development (2 and 3). If we link all four factors together we come to the assumption that instilling learning within the organization, in particular management development, is pivotal in the productivity and success of the individual companies and the wider economy.
For call centres this is fundamental. It is common knowledge that the majority of call centres believe their staff commitment levels are too low, resulting in high turnover. The objective of the traditional call centre production model is to maximize volume and minimize costs, and high turnover is acceptable, even encouraged. The work organization is designed to minimize skill requirements, discretion and job cycle time, thus ensuring turnover of staff is not critical to the overall objective. However, in the modern call centre, this mass production model is obsolete. The integrity, discretion and knowledge required to do the role results in the time taken for a new agent to become proficient as anywhere between six and 26 weeks. A modern call centre cannot operate efficiently and effectively with high sickness absence rates and high turnover as a result of low staff commitment. If organizations are to compete on quality and customer loyalty as well as price, the investment in management practices that maximize the skills and abilities of the work force must become a priority.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Call Center Management is not simple

A whole industry has been established around the idea of simplifying management. To read some of the literature produced by motivation coaches and solutions providers we can assume management is easy and if managers do not find it easy they are doing something wrong. Those involved in management development must first of all understand the complexities of management in order to define what exactly the development needs are. Perhaps the most realistic definitions of management are those that admit that it’s a complex and messy job:
Managerial work across all levels. . . is characterized by pace, brevity, variety and fragmentation. . . It is hectic and fragmented, requiring the ability to shi continuously from relationship to relationship, from topic to topic, from problem to problem. 
Management relates to all activities of the organization and is undertaken at all levels of the organization. Management is not a separate, discrete function. It cannot be departmentalized or scrutinized. An organization cannot have a department of management in the same way it can have a department for other functions, such as production, marketing, accounting, or personnel. 
So the first conclusions we can make about management is that it is far from simplistic, it can cover everything and it effects everyone and to a greater or lesser degree we all need to be able to manage. What we also know is that in call centres there are managers. These are the people who have a greater responsibility for coordinating the work of others as well as their own. They are the ones responsible for the workforce planning, performance measurement, motivating employees and ensuring agents have the information to actually resolve customer queries.
The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), a US-based call centre consultancy service, defines call centre management as, ‘the art of having the right number of properly skilled people and supporting resources in place at the right times to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level and with quality’. This definition of call centre management is weighted towards the responsibilities of workforce planning; what can be described as the management of the tangible aspects of the organization, ensuring the department is running efficiently. However, as we know this is only one aspect of management; it fails to recognize that management in practice involves coping with contradictory demands, pressures and politics. The call centre is a great example of contradictory demands and call centre managers have to manage the constant tension between the sometimes opposing goals of service efficiency and customer service effectiveness.
The majority of a call centre manager’s work is not spent on workforce planning; in fact a significant proportion of this type of work is undertaken by specialists with the assistance of automated so ware planning tools. The majority of a manager’s time is spent on ensuring the intangible assets of the call centre, such as, knowledge, capabilities, group dynamics and culture are effectively being utilized to improve the effectiveness of the service to the customer. The ICMI definition of call centre management fails to recognize motivation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Management Development in Call Centres


Prior to defining the management development practices in call centres it is important to first of all define what exactly is meant by the term ‘management’ and place it in a call centre context. The starting point of any training and development project is identifying the training and development need. For example, the training and development need in an induction course would be for employees to be sufficiently trained in the organization’s systems, products and culture to effectively answer customer queries. In management development this may be slightly more difficult to define and it may involve the identification and development of individuals with the potential to manage departments or functions in the future. In addition, it may be the development of individuals who can supervise people to undertake predefined work processes, and also be the strategic development of individuals who are already in existing management positions.
Those involved in the design of management development should start by asking the following question: ‘What exactly is meant by management within our organization?’ A clear understanding of what is expected from managers within a call centre will allow trainers and educators to assess the management development requirements of the department/organization/individual, plan and design how the need will be met, deliver the required training and then measure the success of it against the previously defined objectives.
‘Management’ and ‘manager’ are generic terms that are interpreted differently from call centre to call centre. In some organizations a team leader responsible for the activities of a collective of call centre agents may be called a manager. In other organizations the term ‘manager’ is specific to the strategic hierarchy at the very top of the organization.
The 1995 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines management as the ‘professional administration of business concerns’. In essence, the ‘occupational group that organizes and coordinates, and makes decisions about what work is done, how it is done (and) by whom’. In call centres the term ‘manager’ is usually applied to those who oversee the administration and, in large centres, the administration of certain functions such as training, HR and planning will be overseen by functional specialist managers. These management specialists will report directly to an individual who oversees all call centre operations. They may not have the title manager but they will be responsible for the management of the centre. Figure 1 gives a basic overview of a typical call centre departmental structure.

Figure 1: A typical call centre organizational chart
Peter Drucker (1974) and Charles Handy (1993), two of the most widely acknowledged theorists within the area of management, argue that management cannot be defined and a empts to do so are meaningless. This is largely based upon the idea that management, by nature, is something that permeates throughout organizations to all levels of employment. A number of authors argue that management encompasses so much of an organization that all employees, to a greater or lesser degree, must have the ability to manage. Torrington et al  argue that, ‘Management is not just a job done by people called ”managers”, it is an aspect done by all those who have to cope with the problems and opportunities of organization.’ The repercussions of this for training and development is that in essence everyone has to have an ability to manage, whether it be individuals managing their own workload or their personal development plan, relationships with colleagues or large multi-site call centre operations.
The BBC has an approach to management development that reinforces the idea that management skills are not just required for those with the word ‘manager’ in their job title. A management development information pack from the BBC includes the paragraph:
Fourth and most important, management training is available not simply for line managers, but for anyone with a management component in their job. In practice this means most of us. We all have to manage our time, our priorities, the resources we use, our colleagues and our boss.
We are all managers to a greater or lesser extent as we all have some degree of control over our life and a process within the business in which we are employed. The interdependent nature of the modern working environment means we all call on resources and employees to get the work done. Management therefore is a phenomenon that is pivotal to the complexities of modern day life.
Furthermore, despite the organizational re-engineering, restructuring, mergers and outsourcing, practices that dominated the global business climate in the last decade, the number of managers is actually increasing. A report by the Chartered Management Institute identified that the numbers of managers had substantially increased during previous decades and this was expected to continue
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