Integrate your frontline staff into the change process for greater buy-in and engagement.
It’s official. The national time-to-fill average—or how long it takes in working days to fill an open job—is nearly 27 days, the highest level in 15 years. The economy continues to grow at a pace not seen in years. This growth increases available jobs and fuels employee attrition. Simply put, when there are nearly as many jobs as there are candidates, it increases competition for top talent, increases attrition and stresses out your customers.
According to Corporate Executive Board, fully engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their current employer. Obviously, when jobs are easy to come by, keeping employees engaged with your organization is more critical than ever. But engaged employees have more value than just retention.
Why Is Employee Engagement Valuable?
Engaged employees help to promote your brand in a positive light. They possess a positive energy about the company and call center and spread that positive energy to your other agents. Additionally, engaged employees:
- Believe in their organization.
- Have a desire to work to make things better.
- Understand the business and “bigger picture.”
- Are respectful and helpful to colleagues.
- Keep up to date on industry and company news.
In Part 1 of this three-part series, we covered setting up a successful employee engagement survey (see “Employee Engagement, Part 1: Start with Baby Steps,” Pipeline, May 2015). In Part 2, we learned about analyzing the results of the survey and how each section is relevant to success (see “Employee Engagement, Part 2: What Do the Survey Results Mean?,” Pipeline, August 2015).
In this third and final installment, we will discuss key steps for promoting positive change and communication measures that will promote employee buy-in on the path to success.
Creating Change: Inclusion Encourages Buy-in
A common misstep in change management happens when leaders make major decisions without input from all stakeholders. Often, the decision comes from a change in goals, vision or mission of the company. Too often, the frontline employees are left to accept the change or leave.
In my 20 years in the contact center industry, I have pushed through a lot of changes. Many led to significant misunderstandings and negative gossip that resulted in employee morale issues. After going through a few painful lessons, I learned that integrating the frontline staff into the change process garnered greater buy-in. Another benefit of well-informed stakeholders was being able to let peer-to-peer communication dispel rumors as they came up.
Many Hands Make Engagement Easier
The staff integration technique works just as well to develop engagement in a workforce. The first step is to create an engagement committee, bringing in folks from all areas of the contact center. Include frontline agents with as many skill sets as possible, workforce management, quality, training, frontline supervisors, as well as leadership staff. By building a well-rounded committee, you’ll see more, better ideas. You’ll also understand more clearly how proposed changes may affect certain groups differently.
The size of your committee will vary based on the size of your organization, but I have found a minimum of eight and a maximum of 15 is ideal.
Communication about the goals of the committee is critical. Employees must understand that the committee is a “safe zone” where they can freely share ideas, perceptions and rumors they have heard. By allowing people to speak freely, they are more apt to share what is really going on and contribute meaningfully to improving the situation.
Creating Change: Green Light Sessions
Once you have a solid committee, ask for input from everyone on the current state of engagement. After you’ve gotten candid and honest feedback, the real work begins. Ask for ideas to make the culture more supportive of employee engagement. A “Green Light” session is a great
Start the meeting by reading the goals. Explain the mission and vision of the company and ask everyone to keep these in mind as they brainstorm. At this point, many committees choose to share the results of the employee engagement survey with the group. Point out areas that are lower than expected/desired. Then start the session with some questions.
In Green Light sessions, always use open-ended questions:
- If you ran the company, what would you do to make employees happier?
- What issues or complaints have you heard about the company?
- What else can we do to better serve our customers?
Leading the Green Light Brigade
Green Light sessions do need a leader/moderator, but this person should not be a manager. Choose someone among the rank-and-file who can be objective, assertive and keep the paths of communication open.
The rules of a Green Light session are simple. The moderator must communicate to everyone that there are NO BAD IDEAS and that the meeting notes will not include the name of any participants. They also should consistently remind everyone the purpose of the Green Light session is to brainstorm every idea imaginable. The moderator must be able to stop anyone that tries to put a rebuttal to an idea.
Let the Ideas Flow Freely
The moderator must be prepared to allow even the craziest ideas. In some Green Light sessions, employees have suggested free trips to Hawaii, company cars, loads of cash and other outlandish ideas. Most likely, these wishes won’t be fulfilled, but for the purposes of a Green Light session, they’re all worthy ideas. Remember, the purpose of the Greenlight Session is to have a free flow of ideas. When people start talking about what makes them happy and engaged, the sky’s the limit.
In my experience, you’ll end up with a list of more than 100 ideas. You may be surprised when you realize that many team members are not aware of some of the benefits and perks the company already offers. You’ll definitely want to kick off a “Did You Know” campaign to address the brainstorming ideas that are already reality.
The rest of the ideas fall into two categories:
- Red Light—Ideas too costly to revenue, ROI or company culture.
- Yellow Light—Ideas that are clearly viable options for your organization but have not been approved.
Once you have a Yellow list, ask for volunteers from the committee to create a plan to change Yellow Light ideas to Green. The Yellow Light subgroup will research the ideas, create an implementation plan, and prepare to present that plan to the leadership team for review and approval.
Creating Change: Collaborate and Communicate
After a couple of weeks, everyone involved should have a heightened sense of the issues facing employee engagement and the potential changes to solve these issues. Bring back the committee and focus on the changes that align with your goals, mission and vision. Go through the Green Light ideas one by one, and track the progress for each:
- Green Light—Already have it, or are implementing it immediately.
- Yellow Light—Do not have it, but are working to implement it in next six months.
- Red light—Do not have it or it does not relate to our goals, and cannot implement it in the next six months.
Time to Talk About It
By now, the work you’ve done should have created buy-in from the committee. They’re starting to believe that the proposed changes will affect employee morale and engagement in a positive manner. It’s time to create a communication plan that educates everyone involved of the proposed changes, how the changes were created (i.e., the committee) and the expected outcomes of the changes. Use the committee to help spread the message and decrease the rumors that may occur from change.
Creating Change: Avoid the “Flavor of the Day”
When implementing a change program, it is critical to avoid what I call the “Management Flavor of the Day.” Sadly, we’ve probably all experienced this model, in which senior management frequently changes or quietly drops goals that affect the employees. One week the pressure is on call times, the next week it may be first-call resolution, the following month it becomes Net Promoter Score, and so on and so on.
When you subject your agents to conflicting goals that change regularly for no apparent reason, they become more disengaged. It’s frustrating to work hard on a specific way of serving customers only to be told to do it differently a short time later. Employees who experience “Flavor of the Day” management lose faith in their leaders and in the goals of the organization.
Resurvey, Reconvene and Continue to Improve
Don’t stop after your first Green Light implementation! You have a long list of yellow lights and some red lights that can still be implemented in the future. Redo your survey after six months, and start the process all over again, continuing to move the reds to yellow and the yellows to green.