What constitutes “quality” when assessing the performance of employees? Gloria Lombardi speaks with digital business strategist and author Martin-Hill Wilson, to find out.
How should a business define the quality of its employees’ performance? It is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Is quality defined by the senior team, purely? Or, the customer? Maybe, the industry regulators?
Digital business strategist and author Martin Hill-Wilson, suggests looking at it in the context of contact centres. “They are a topical employee group. They are at the front-line of how organisations try to engage with customers.”
Hill-Wilson has been working for the last three years on the Performance and Quality (P&Q) Challenge. It is a framework that helps contact centres to change and improve their culture.
I wanted to explore with him the state of people quality performance from a business transformation perspective. In this interview, Hill-Wilson shares his view on the challenges of defining quality, its opportunities to engaging employees, digital change and the role of leadership.
Gloria Lombardi: Why did you start developing the P&Q Challenge?
Martin Hill-Wilson Martin-Hill Wilson: I used to be a system integrator, helping contact centres technologists to communicate their business benefits to clients. I was particularly interested in one of the product set ups: analytics. It was about being able to analyse the customer voice and understand what was happening from a continuous improvement point of view.
But, I soon realised that people performance management was another important area where an enterprise could use this approach.
GL: Could you give me an example of how the P&Q Challenge works?
M-HW: I have just been applying it with a group of insurance companies in the UK. They are very much compliance driven with a rigid interpretation of what they think their industry regulators expect of them.
Sometimes contact centres do not provide a pleasant experience for customers. They can be frustrating and prescriptive. Front-line employees can’t help; or, they do not have the right mindset. One of the reasons is that the organisation places emphasis upon efficiency at the expense of effectiveness.
With the P&Q Challenge we lock things down. We challenge the culture to be one in which a company engages with staff, moving away from compliance to using their workforce’s own initiatives. As a result of that, many employees, including the people who are working in the contact centres, want things to change dramatically.
GL: Tell me more. How do you do that?
MH-W: We ask the business to think about the management of quality in an integrated ecosystem way. Often people tend to work on the symptoms of problems when looking at transformation. For example, how happy a customer was during a transaction. But, taken in isolation, that’s irrelevant. People should think about the employee and customer experience in a holistic way.
The model is based upon 6 core discussions and delivered over a six-month period. With it, we focus on the voice of the customer and the voice of the employee. In the design of the new approach to quality, it is crucial to discover new ways to engage front-line staff. For example, in terms of changing who defines quality, some organisations for the first time ever ask their staff for their opinions. Other organisations have also deliberately involved front-line employees in the overall design of quality. They ask them how they would like to improve, and encourage them to self-learn. Staff is given dashboards on their screens that give customers’ feedback and help them improve their performance. Ultimately, co-designing the model with employees is key to establishing a participatory culture.
During the programme we ask staff to come out from their contact centres. Then, they take their new ideas back into their businesses and apply them. They also extend the same approach to their own teams.
GL: Is “co-designing the model with employees” part of the added value to engagement?
M-HW: Yes. It is about changing the top-down management approach, which does not challenge people and therefore does not engage them. Rather than telling people what to do, they are encouraged to come up with their own answers. To add further examples, one organisation encouraged its staff to define their own customer service standards. In another situation the team leaders defined their own vision of how quality management worked and the standards of engagement they wanted to generate. Others have included their front-line employees in identifying customer experience issues, helping to define solutions and testing them before the roll-out.
By inviting staff to co-create, the business mindset changes from just thinking about employees as a cog in the wheel, to thinking that they have a voice and valuable insights. People feel respected as a result of that.
GL: Another area that you have been working on is business digital transformation. How do you see its current development inside businesses?
M-HW: It is an interesting area to look at right now. Ideally, digital transformation should be initiated by a Board member, possibly the CEO, the Head of Business, and the Head of Function. But often executives are neither well connected to their business nor are they particularly dynamic and agents for change. Mainly, that is because those in senior positions still belong to the old management school: they keep the organisation within the same way of doing things.
GL: Following this observation, how should an organisation support change without getting into that leadership trap?
M-HW: Digital transformation is about inventing something that did not exist before. Many of the people in charge in companies today, often do not have that mindset or that skill. So, anybody who has the ability for making things happen can start helping to transform the business. Because ultimately, leadership is an approach; it is not a position.
Leadership is about setting a direction for the benefit of the group. It is about survival, growth and finding new customers. As we saw with the P&Q Challenge, it is about inspiring employees to find new ways to make change happen as opposed to simply looking for more efficient ways of doing the existing things. And, providing people with the courage and the persistence to go through the transformational breakthrough as necessary, to move from the old to the new.