North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 4 Change Existing Culture


Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

Changes to the existing culture is possible with a plan. It will take work, commitment and a strategy. You want to consciously create a customer and employee-centered culture. By consciously creating culture you control it rather than the culture controlling organization.

Your strategy includes:
- Aligning the management team: top down alignment.
- Deciding what culture is and is not to your site.
- Determine values, attitudes and behaviors you want to bring into the center and/or company.
- Create “messaging” around these values, attitudes and behaviors. Every team meeting hears the same consistent message.
- Create an accountability process. When managers sway from the values how will you address them to bring the focus back? This is where companies fail. Culture gets swayed by individuals and then it seems to change and morph into something other than what was initially intended.

To deliberately create culture takes work. It is not impossible it just takes commitment. Letting it just happen takes even more work to right and correct. Righting the existing culture can also be intentionally orchestrated with some proper tools.

Here is a list of insightful questions that Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, created to identify culture that can help you get started.
- What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
- Where and how do people spend resources like time, money and attention?
- What rules and expectations are followed, enforced and ignored?
- Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
- What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
- What stories are legend? What values do they convey?
- What happens when someone fails? Disappoints? Or makes a mistake?
- How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
- How are uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure perceived?

These questions address the “unspoken” norms and this is where new managers and new agents struggle. Because they are unspoken it takes experience and tenure to know about, for example “sacred cows”, what really happens when you make a mistake and what rules are enforced and by whom. By having an honest conversation, you can intentionally begin to create the desired culture.

Every site manager has the idealistic vision of running a contact center where everyone is happy, has fun, loves their coworkers, and brings their dog to the office. Take off the virtual reality glasses and ask the people.

Gather employees that exemplify the contact center’s culture; managers, supervisors, and even agents and ask them “what do you like about the current culture?” “What don’t you like?” “What is culture and does it matter?” Don’t expect everyone to agree on a definition, that’s not the goal. You want to have a lively conversation that sets the direction to where you want culture to go, how you will get there and why. It may take a few sessions, be patient with the process. It’s a good idea to take these conversations to an offsite location. Perhaps invite others from other locations. While a company has a corporate wide culture, each location has a unique character all its own. If you want to synch up multiple locations and change culture throughout the organization, then you want to invite folks from every location. The people will provide you with the insights you didn’t see yourself. Just ask the people.

Culture starts at the top. The attitude, beliefs and behaviors are passed down from one level to the next and finally the front line. Attitude and behavior never travels up the ladder only down. Change the attitude and behavior at the top and watch your supervisors and agents change theirs.

A large bank loan-closing department was a minefield. This is the group that sends out the loan documents to the borrowers for signatures. You can imagine the pressure to meet closing deadlines. When Processors and Loan Officers went over to the closing department to assist they got their heads chewed off. Supervisors were rude, disrespectful and just plain nasty. Closers were difficult to work with. Processors stopped helping and processing supervisors had to get involved, but everyone was afraid of a verbal assault.

This attitude was traced back to the top of the management chain within the closing department. It wasn’t throughout the company just at one location. One day there was a regime change; two new assistant vice presidents (AVP) showed up to replace the one tyrant Vice President and these two AVP’s touted a different message; a message of collaboration. They welcomed the support of Processors and Loan Officers; they created new policy and procedures to encourage partnership and cooperation. Processors and Loan Officers found it to be pleasant to interact with people at all levels of the closing department which led to more cooperation which of course led to more loans closing on time with less stress. Hurray for Teamwork!

If you can’t change the attitude, behaviors and beliefs of the management team, perhaps you want to replace them with a more effective team. Change the management team and you will change the culture.

The company’s mission statement is filled with values and culture statements can be empty phrases unless backed up with some action. In the daily team huddle, agents hear messages about company values, culture initiatives (work/life balance for example), policy and procedure updates and metric review. Communicate consistently the values, culture and behaviors explicitly that are desired. Repeat, repeat and repeat the messages again and again. The messaging never stops once you let your foot of the gas your cultural revolution will lose momentum.

One strategy to give your culture energy is to take the time to reward employees you identify that are advancing the desired culture and be honest with those you don’t. By rewarding those that are modeling the behavior you desire, it will continue with those you reward and it will also be contagious to those that want to be rewarded. Another strategy is to have serious conversations with those employees that are not progressing the culture. You can’t ignore those; they are like wildfires- if left alone they will burn everything in their path. This is how culture turns from pleasant and productive to dismal and reckless.

Tips!

Use positive reinforcement and get away from “write-up” enforcement mentality. Pack your desk drawer with “Awesome” bars, note cards, and anything else your team enjoys as a treat!
Survey the employees anonymously for honest feedback.

Take the Next Step!

It’s not impossible to change the existing culture of your contact center. It requires some honest introspection, commitment to change and perhaps plucking out toxic personalities no matter how good they seem to be. You want a plan to make the cultural change rather than just letting culture control the contact center and end up in an undesirable direction. A plan to intentionally redirect the culture to a new direction requires a structured plan; honest introspection, asking the tough questions to determine what does the current culture look and feel like and what does the desired culture look and feel like?

The plan should include surveying employees from the top down that exemplify the desired culture. These are the change agents of your site. Ask these employees for honest feedback. You will find their insights to be powerful. You can’t change or fix what you don’t know is broken. These employees are your role models for change.

You may find that certain managers or individuals are toxic and are spreading bad energy. You will need to make the difficult decision in how to treat these types of employees. If you are really committed to changing the culture you just might have to stop the contamination by terminating that individual. As the contact center grows, the culture will keep the center on track, steer hiring decisions and protect the center from spiraling into something you don’t recognize. Go with confidence and watch your site thrive.

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