Part of my management duties is responsibility for a call center. These are bulk jobs, better pay than, but not much more demanding than your typical first job in fast food. It's low wage, low chance for advancement, not terribly engaging and not attractive to professionals.

Since the people there know that there's another job with the exact same pay and exact same conditions around the corner, there's very little incentive for them to improve, and very little room for me to brighten the situation due to the reality of the value they bring to the organization. There's almost no way to stand out, so all the tips to grow people run into a natural ceiling of ability and departmental need.

Needless to say the percentage of "top performers" in the group is much lower than your typical college grad go-getter crowd. Those rare top performers respond very well to the manager-tools approach, eager for feedback and coaching, happy to improve and driven. And the rest respond much less positively. They're much less responsive to feedback (typically requiring 2nd stage to actually prompt change), and much slower to come up with their own ideas for ways to change their behavior.

What changes do you make to your approach for people that aren't intrinsically motivated by a sense of professionalism, team spirit or sense of duty? Do you fast-food restaurant managers notice this same apathy, and how do you adjust to deal with it?

PierG's picture

great question. I'd love to have Mark's and Mike's opinion about that.
From my point of view: you cannot be the same (= use the same 'tools') with every kind of worker.
What MT teaches is, in my opinion, VERY VERY GOOD for the so called knowledge workers and at a certain level.
For the kind of work you are describing it's for example almost impossible to delegate or to have O3 (supposing the call center is made by hundreds of people with a single manager). Even the feedback model is a problem: you can do it but each of them will receive 1 feedback per year :)

BradK's picture

I've worked in many distribution centers over the years and dealing with low wage associates is a necessary part of the business. Keeping them motivated is not usually driven by growth incentives. Most of them know that they are not going to be sitting in the corner office and they are all aware of the (usually) minimal merit increases given out each year.

I have found that to keep them motivated is to understand and show them that they do have value to the organization. During the period of time when I had hourly associates as direct reports, I didn't have manager-tools advice to teach me but I relied on adding a personal touch to my relationship with the associates. I made it a point to show that I cared about them, found out about them and listened to them. I didn't break the rules but I did what I could to accomodate their needs like leaving a little early for a family matter and not docking their pay or counting an occurance.

Company culture has been brought up in a few of the discussions and whereas it may not be something you can change, the attitude of the organization to the people has a direct relationship to their reciprocal feelings. By coincidence, I have worked for two polar opposites in company culture in the last two weeks. The company I left had no regard for their associates paying just above poverty level, giving very minimal increases only when required, very little training for unqualified supervisors and minimal benefits. The ones that stayed were there because there was a lack of opportunities in the area. In contrast I have started at a company where the employees are treated as valuable members of a team, corporate culture provides a positive direction for all communications and respect is a requirement.

Many of the associates here are 10, 15 and even 18 year veterans of low wage, low growth jobs. We do not claim to be the highest paying employer in the area and we aren't, but through some well planned relationships, this company has managed to keep those same people that you have happy. And although I have not been there, we also have a call center in town and my guess would be that they probably have very high retention as well.

PierG's picture

Great feedback.
I'd add that you probably motivate (some of) them by doing training on 'soft' skills: for a call center, probably a communication training could be a plus for the company AND the people.
I mean, not just the training on the new version of the software they use or on the new product they have to sell/support/... ... just pure communication skills.

Peter.westley's picture
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I'll second BradK's response. I think that you can help motivate performance, or perhaps more importantly here, loyalty, by providing a better relationshoip environment for these people. If they are treated better, that will lead them to not wanting to leave because they'll know that they won't get the same relationship with their new employer as they do with you. This is turn will lead to them being motivated to change behaviour when requested - that is there'll be more impetus for them to keep their job. They'll know that while there might be another similar job around the corner, it will be with an employer who doesn't care.

And of course reduced turnover sves your company money and the positive upward cycle continues...

Mark's picture
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I'm not sure, but I may just fundamentally disagree with the theme of this thread.

MANY of the Manager Tools principles were honed, invented, and/or tested repeatedly when I...

RAN A CALL CENTER. Hundreds of representatives, many managers, serving multiple customers.

I don't think there's any difference in principle, and really only small differences in practice. This is my experience.

Sure, younger people don't "get" feedback quite as easily, but it's not because they're young or different... they just haven't learned it well yet, and their parents (that would be us in some cases) have tended to give them less boundaries, less feedback, less consequences than those of an earlier generation. (This is part of why, in my opinion, so many adolescents are overweight today).

But I know 30 year olds that don't "get" feedback quite as much... it's a function of experience, and consequences, and developing effective work and organizational behaviors.

We used coaching and feedback and one on ones with every employee, every manager. We didn't pay better - except for top performers with great attitudes, whom I THREW money at. We didn't offer distinctively different hours, other than for those top performers. I did give managers wide leeway to grant time for personal stuff for top performers.

We had the LOWEST turnover rate of any of the call centers we were aware of BY FAR, and all the reps knew they could go elsewhere. It was so low I got in trouble from corporate for pay levels... because they just ASSUMED we had the huge turnover, and that we were paying more for people we were going to lose. They hadn't yet noticed that our training budget had PLUMMETED.

Sure, it's different in some ways. Maybe in a call center (or a warehouse) they don't want to climb the ladder. Maybe. But they still want to be treated with respect and dignity, and that means time with their boss. There's one on ones. When things go well, you give them positive feedback. When not, negative feedback. That's as much to do with the organization wanting 1% better tomorrow than today as it is with helping them grow. Frequent effective feedback produces better org results.

In a call center, this means call observing, and providing post-call input. In my opinion, the middle and top performers liked it, and the bottom ones didn't. That works for me.

There's probably more... but I "think" I disagree in principle. Managers spending time with their folks, and giving performance feedback, and working to improve their skills is fundamental to all work. It only appears unusual because no one else is doing it...


BradK's picture

I would join you in disagreeing if the context were to state that low wage employees cannot be motivated and that the traditional manager tools practices were ineffective on this type of employee. But I think what Slats was trying to discover was a way to motivate his department to achieve something more than what is expected and to motivate them beyond the paycheck. He stated that he tried to O3s and they only worked to the extent that the employee was already motivated to perform and that feedback was done but without results on the first attempt.

I have to agree with him that it can be frustrating even with the tools you have provided. I think there is validiity in using a more personal approach (something I have found lacking in many, many managers both good and bad) as a supplement to the standard tools and that he may be able to bring some otherwise unmotivated people to step up to the next level.

But if I could extend the life of this thread, I'd like to pose another similar situation; how do you deal with high maintenance employees who have been working in their job for 10-15 years each? If anyone thinks it's hard to motivate the low end of the scale, try working with those with less than 10 years to retirement! One department in particular has the 5 most senior associates on the floor and they do nothing but complain about each other and everyone else. I know this company has some specific procedures for feedback and coaching and since I am still in orientation I have not yet been exposed to their methods but if you have any pearls of wisdom for this situation, please let me know.

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