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Hungry for Praise

Hungry for Praise

/ Strategy, Culture, People, Development, Recognition, Remote Work, Operations
Hungry for Praise

Building a culture of praise and recognition.

I have long admired Rodney Crowell, the songwriter behind “Shame On The Moon,” a classic from 1979. Recorded by Bob Seger in 1982, this song has been sung by many artists over the years. In 2018, Rodney revisited it with “Shame On The Moon Redux,” a video that’s a must-watch for enthusiasts. This “redux” version, born during a period of introspection, delves into the complexities of human relationships. It features the line, “I was late in my twenties and hungry for praise.” It struck a chord, reminding me of the countless Contact Centers I have encountered, where people, regardless of age, often yearn for recognition.

In recent times, praise has faced criticism, likened to the much-debated “participation trophy.” However, I respectfully disagree. Just as there is no such thing as too much love in life, there shouldn’t be a cap on well-deserved praise. To knowingly or unknowingly contribute to “hunger for praise” breeds discontent. It harms both employees and the Customer Experience.

“Recognition is not a scarce resource. You can't use it up or run out of it.” —Susan Heathfield

Research by Japanese scientist Norihiro Sadato (Source: Sadato, Norihiro, Science Daily) provides compelling evidence that compliments boost performance. His research suggests that “compliments can enhance student and employee performance as effectively as monetary rewards.”

Is it too simplistic to believe that a kind word or genuine acknowledgment can inspire people who are starved for recognition? I don’t think so. Take a moment to assess your feedback approach. Is it a compliment hidden amidst critiques of what went wrong? Unfortunately, in this feedback model, recipients often recall only their mistakes. They bury compliments under the weight of criticism and feel disheartened rather than motivated.

In today’s world of remote work, colleagues aren’t physically present to share experiences and offer emotional support to each other. The need for recognition is even more vital. In traditional, on-site Contact Centers, employees have a support network to navigate the ups and downs, mitigate frustrations, and provide peer support.

Just as there is no such thing as too much love in life, there shouldn't be a cap on well-deserved praise.

Conversely, many remote operations rely heavily on Quality Assurance (QA) Analysts as their main link to the central hub. Unfortunately, QA often acts more like an auditor rather than a coach, whether in traditional or remote setups. These QA programs lack the coaching intimacy that encourages praise and recognition. Instead, feedback primarily revolves around compliance rather than inspiring employees. This situation has led some Contact Centers to employ “AI robots” for “automated” feedback. This is an undeniable confirmation that the QA program is compliance-driven rather than coaching-focused.

I recently spoke with a remote agent who described their QA experience as “10 minutes of being told what I’m doing wrong.” Another agent, working for a different company, mentioned that she only receives feedback via email. The most recent message advised her to “shave some seconds off your calls before we meet again.” Some Healthcare operations even rely on remote monitors in different locations. This leads to disregarded feedback results, given that these professionals deal with real, live, often emotional patients in need of more than hearing their name used three times during the call. In such cases, the feedback is often considered a waste of time, causing many to actively seek new employment opportunities.

Many Contact Center agents receive feedback and direction from multiple sources. This results in confusion, conflict, and cognitive overload rather than clarity and confidence. Sadly, these environments tend to evolve haphazardly rather than through deliberate design; they lack streamlined workflows, let alone an integrated recognition process.

Whether QA, Workforce Management (WFM), Supervisor, or Training, leaders in these roles hold significant responsibility for providing recognition and praise. The myriad internal, operational, and organizational interactions can overwhelm agents. Careful planning is necessary to avoid adding to their feelings of overload.

Remote and on-site leaders need to empathize with their agents and consider how best to distribute information. Communication is often cited by agents as the number one challenge they face. Seek input from the agents themselves and assess the effectiveness of current communication practices. If, as leaders, you too desire recognition, streamline the architecture, distribution, and usefulness of information to the agents. Doing so will undoubtedly earn you praise from your agent population!

Is it too simplistic to believe that a kind word or genuine acknowledgment can inspire people who are starved for recognition?

Consider who within your leadership team is responsible for providing praise. Praise, defined as a verb meaning “to express approval of,” should be an integral part of the leadership approach. It is not just front-line employees that yearn for praise; Contact Center leadership often works thanklessly. While the pandemic briefly shone a spotlight on them, leaders have once again faded into the background. By providing what the front line needs to excel, leadership can earn praise and recognition from their teams and their superiors. This improves morale, retention, and overall performance. Cultures that embrace recognition flourish.

Leadership recognition practices should be disciplined routines, akin to flossing your teeth or consuming more fiber. Neglecting them may not result in immediate pain, but the consequences will eventually catch up with you.

Engaging in discussions about the overall health of the operation and individual performance elevates the importance of recognition and participation. Praise and recognition extend beyond patting someone on the back or offering a compliment. Successful recognition efforts promote participation and inclusion. This fosters a deeper understanding of the business and each contributor’s role. The approach encourages critical thinking and positions leadership, teams, and individual contributors on the offense rather than the defense.

Recognizing and valuing those you lead is critical to cultivating a culture of appreciation and, ultimately, to achieving business goals.

Consider implementing programs that encourage widespread participation by offering various opportunities. Successful programs are designed to engage many rather than a select few. In addition to identifying communication and process improvements, consider initiatives such as “What have I learned about our customers this week?” Responses may encompass a range of emotions … from humor and frustration to thoughtfulness and empathy. Over a year, collecting such insights can yield valuable information that benefits both employees and the organization.

Far too many leaders, distracted by various tasks, neglect praise and recognition. They erroneously withhold it based on preconceived notions about work ethic or commitment. In summary, recognizing and valuing those you lead is critical to cultivating a culture of appreciation and, ultimately, to achieving business goals. Negative thinking serves as a filter that distorts your view of the world. This leads to frustration and difficulty in working with others and generating in those you lead a “hunger for praise.” Rise above it and shift towards a culture that embraces simple acts of recognition ... whether through one on ones, notes or comments that acknowledge individual contributions. In challenging times, when generous raises may be unfeasible, recognition and encouragement of learning remain potent morale boosters. They foster both job satisfaction and performance improvement. Give it a try and witness the positive impact on your organization!

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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