Ed Lamb

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Where the Rubber Meets the Road...an old clichè but one that accurately describes the role a supervisor plays in our call centers today.

Supervisors are one of the few single points of contact for >95% of the line staff in any organization. They interface on a daily, hourly and even minute by minute basis with the bulk of the workforce. They interpret objectives, goals or challenges that are passed down the chain of command into action by the lowest (but most impacting) level of an organization.

The Supervisors' ability to influence positively (or negatively) the outcome of those challenges and tasks is not to be underestimated. Supervisors can be respected or despised.

Their relationship with their team is up-close and personal. This is the person that will write their performance review, recommend (or not recommend) them for promotion, assess (or chastise) their work, mentor (or ignore) their aspirations or future potential. The type of Supervisor in place can be the difference between success or failure, cooperation or dysfunction, promoting a motivated vs demotivated work environment. And most importantly to the employee, Supervisors can impact employees' livelihood through loss of pay, benefits and ultimately their quality of life.

Appears to me that whoever is chosen for Supervisor should be one of the most carefully thought through decisions management could make. Yet sadly, it is not.

In many of my executive call center leadership roles, one common denominator for poor performance or dismal morale work environments could be traced to the quality of the Supervisors in place. Some were promoted based only on seniority. Some were placed in position based on established personal relationships (favoritism). Others started out okay but due to changing job requirements, the job has outpaced the Supervisor's level of competence. Some Supervisors came from outside companies where they held a similar role and the assumption made they had the experience. Yet later it was found they lacked people and communication skills and/or did not have respect for their people. ‘They wore their position on their sleeve.'

Organizations need to clearly define the expectations of the Supervisor. Those expectations should include respect for the employee as an individual, a belief that people can rise to the occasion, a commitment to helping every member grow professionally, not just a select few. Also, the expectation should be that they have the ability to communicate in a way people can listen, understand, trust and will follow. The Supervisor needs to be able to remain objective in making decisions and assessments, and not be adverse to solicit their employees' inputs and suggestions. They need to exhibit a consistent and predictable style behavior that allows them to be approachable at all times. That behavior should be the same on Monday as it was on last Friday. And above all they must be able to win the trust of their people – not to just take their side. They must have the ability and willingness to consistently communicate the good and bad, ‘walk-the-talk', develop an interest in helping their people grow. Their role is to help people understand why decisions are made and what now needs to happen to support it.

The Supervisor is the Company to the employee. The role of the Supervisor is Where the Rubber Meets the Road.