How Many Toes Can Your Organization Afford To Lose?

Jul 21, 2004

In the U.S. there’s a phrase that goes, “shooting yourself in the foot.” I suppose it started with some uncoordinated cowboy firing his gun before pulling it out of the holster. Oops! But shooting yourself in the foot is an activity not limited to dim-witted cowboys. Every so often, my jaw drops at how organizations shoot themselves in the foot. Here’s a real-life example. A large organization provides call-center services to worldwide customers. Their process was envisioned as follows:

  • A salesperson would close a deal with a new client who needed service reps.
  • HR managers in selected centers would quickly recruit to staff the project.
  • New employees would attend training before taking calls.
  • The company would measure performance based on call-time and problem resolution.

Sounds good. But let’s compare theory with reality. The reality was:

  • Every local HR manager had a separate hiring system.
  • Passing scores were set arbitrarily.
  • New employees failed training at an alarming rate.
  • Early turnover was exceptionally high.
  • Clients complained about service quality.

How were these problems solved? To begin with, every effective solution starts with understanding what is going wrong:

  • Determine why people fail training.
  • Determine why people fail on the job.
  • Determine why clients are dissatisfied.

At that point, recommendations can be made:

  • Choose and validate a variety of tools that accurately predict each failure type.
  • Standardize hiring processes across all centers.

So how did the HR managers respond to these problems and recommended solutions. Like the proverbial dim-witted cowboy, they started shooting themselves in the foot…one toe at a time:

  1. Why did people fail training? Training failures were linked to employees’ inability to learn and apply knowledge. This was traced back to using an obsolete test during hiring that measured basic computer knowledge. The test screened-out otherwise qualified people and discriminated against females and minorities. Recommendation: Replace the outdated test with a revised ability-to-learn test that screens out dull applicants and passes applicants who can learn on the job. Result: The old test had a cult following in HR. In spite of the results, corporate HR refused to replace it. Blam! (One toe down, nine to go…)
  2. Why did people fail on the job? People failed on the job because they did not know what was involved in call-center activities. They had no idea that customers would “dump” on them, that they might have to work third shift, or that their day would be rigidly scheduled by a computerized call router. Recommendation: A realistic job preview was recommended to let applicants know what the job was like before they applied. This would be followed with a job simulation that presented them with scenarios similar to actual job conditions. Result: Local HR managers thought too many applicants would reject the job if they really knew what it entailed. They preferred to pass the problem onto line managers. BLAM!
  3. Determine why clients are dissatisfied. Clients were unsatisfied because problems went unresolved, representatives were dull, and customers received discourteous treatment. They expected problems to be resolved quickly and courteously. Recommendation: A combination of problem-solving ability, AIMs and customer service skills tests and simulations was recommended. Result: The local HR managers and first line supervisors thought this would eliminate too many applicants and interfere with their ability to staff-up quickly. BLAM!
  4. Choose and validate a variety of tools that accurately predict each failure type. The company used a make-shift screening “behavioral-type” interview process. This was developed by a well-meaning but untrained corporate trainer (i.e., someone who did not know what he did not know) and mainly consisted of a list of prepared questions. Local HR managers complained the questions were ineffective. Recommendation: A completely revised behavioral interview strategy was recommended using questions based on core job elements, interview training, and uniform scoring using a list of recommended answers (drawn from the job analysis). Result: The company refused to address the existing interview problem and complained that training would take too much time. BLAM!
  5. Standardize hiring processes across all centers. An applicant who applied at one center might participate in one pre-screen process, while an applicant in another center might experience something entirely different. Although the representatives’ jobs were clearly defined, the new hires were inconsistently skilled. Recommendation: A standardized hiring and training process was recommended across all centers. Result: Each local HR manager had his or her own personal hiring fiefdom. They fought changes and continually found “one off” reasons why corporate recommendations would not work. BLAM!

Have you been counting? We now have a company with five fewer toes. But wait, our uncoordinated cowboy still has more shells left in his gun…

  1. 80% of the HR managers were professionally unqualified and were rewarded more on “fast fill” than “qualified fill.” BLAM!
  2. Senior management would not hold junior managers accountable for the expense of rep training, turnover, or performance. BLAM!
  3. Corporate tracking systems tended to reward reps who spent less time on the phone over reps who actually solved problems. BLAM!
  4. The company had a policy of not wanting reps to stay more than two years because wage raises would compromise its cost model. BLAM!
  5. Because the company placed centers in small communities where labor was in short supply, high turnover burned through the local labor market. BLAM!

Conclusion It does not take ten toes to win a race if you are the only athlete in the competition. However, if you have even one competitor with all his or her toes and your organization operates like our example, get accustomed to losing!

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