Contact Center Pipeline Magazine March 2017
Illustration by Ilya Lestov

If you take a close look at thriving businesses that have built reputations for innovation and exceptional customer service, you’ll find employees who are engaged with their work, who trust and respect their leaders, and who feel that they are valued and appreciated for their contributions to the organization’s success.

Unfortunately, these types of work environments are the exception. As Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace study reveals, only one-third of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace—and only one in five say that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

If these figures sound familiar, it’s because Gallup’s engagement numbers have remained relatively flat for the past five-plus years. So why isn’t engagement improving?

Research by O.C. Tanner Institute provides compelling insights about the contrasting views between senior leaders and employees when it comes to roles and responsibilities for innovation and forward progress. The study found that, while the majority of employees believe that all employees should do great work, only 63% feel that they actually can. O.C. Tanner defines “great work” as: Work that is productive, innovative and makes a difference that people care about.

For employees, a key obstacle to doing great work often can be traced back to the company’s senior leadership.

“Senior leaders have a fundamental belief that it’s their responsibility as leaders to be innovative, while they generally view the workforce as the means to carry out their strategy or vision,” says O.C. Tanner’s Manager of Research and Measurement Jordan Rogers.

Jordan Rogers

When asked whose responsibility it should be to perform great work, or innovate, only 62% of executives said that it should be the responsibility of all employees versus 86% of frontline employees. Most employees want to be innovating and contributing in a more meaningful way to their company’s success, but they have leaders who lock them out of that responsibility, Rogers says.

What can a contact center leader do to provide opportunities to frontline agents to innovate and do great work? It begins with clearly communicating the organization’s purpose. “The biggest disconnect that we see is when the company’s purpose and mission statement—your reason for being—isn’t well communicated to the frontline staff,” Rogers says. “Employees don’t understand how what they do connects back to the organization’s overall purpose.”

For example, the most simple description of an agent’s purpose may be to increase customer satisfaction. But if you want to impact engagement, dig deeper to help agents understand the human value that they fulfill, he explains. “When you get down to that level of conversation, it inspires people to connect with the organization. That is where a lot of companies miss the mark in terms of employee engagement.”

Employee Recognition Plays Key Role

What is the most important thing a manager can do to create a workplace culture that attracts and retains top-performing employees? “Positive reinforcement is extremely important,” says Rogers. “There is an essential human need to feel that what you’re doing is appreciated and that you’re accomplishing something. It’s not enough to just get a paycheck. Employees fundamentally need to be acknowledged and reinforced for the positive things that they’re doing.”

Rogers offers three important elements of effective recognition.

  1. Recognize progress toward a goal. It’s important to acknowledge an agent’s progress toward a goal, not just the achievement of the final goal. For example, let’s say that you set a call resolution goal of 90% for an agent who is currently hitting 80%. It’s important to recognize the checkpoints along the way—83%, 85%, 87%, etc. “Noting those steps toward the overall goal encourages people to keep on the path,” Rogers says.
  2. Recognize the achievement of a goal. Once an agent reaches the overall goal, it should be a separate recognition event—a chance to pause and celebrate their accomplishment.
  3. Recognize career milestones. “It’s important to take all of these moments over time in someone’s employment history and recognize their career achievements,” he adds. “For example, at five years, pause and look back at what an employee has accomplished over that time span.”

It’s as Important to Give as Receive

As a leader, regularly—and publicly—recognizing your staff’s work and achievements is a good start, but it’s not enough. O.C. Tanner Institute’s most recent research on employee recognition has found that, to build a culture where employees are engaged and inspired to do great work, they need to be actively involved in giving, receiving and observing recognition across the organization.

“When you talk about employee recognition, much of the weight is often placed on the recipient of the recognition. Our study found that there was a pretty significant impact on engagement when people give recognition, as well.” On average, employee engagement was 26% higher in employees that gave recognition,” Rogers says

“If you want to use recognition to its fullest, don’t just focus on the recipient,” he adds. “Think about the experiences of everybody involved in the recognition process—the giver, the receiver and the employees who are observing that recognition,” Rogers explains. “Our study found very measurable results within all three of those elements.”

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