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Inspiring performance in a unionized environment

behind register_00086[1]This is the second post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: Most of the representatives in our contact center belong to a union. While some demonstrate exceptional customer service, others rise only to the lowest threshold of acceptable performance. How do we inspire those employees who seem satisfied with mediocrity to step it up?

A unionized workforce is often perceived to be less flexible and responsive due to the existence of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that clearly outlines work-related protocol and the specific job functions associated with each job role. In such an environment, taking initiative and expending discretionary effort may be viewed as pointless when material rewards are tied to seniority rather than job performance.

While employees and management may have less discretion to influence job function (the mandatory algorithmic tasks associated with a job role for which an employee is paid to execute) beyond the parameters outlined in the contract, opportunity abounds for employees to demonstrate—and for management to validate—job essence (the voluntary heuristic behaviors that contribute to an organization’s highest priority that an employee elects to demonstrate).

Most employees, regardless of whether or not they’re unionized, are acutely aware of their job functions. These are generally outlined in a job description and reinforced through on-the-job training and ongoing performance management (feedback, coaching, counseling, and discipline). Unlike job functions, most employees are completely unaware of job essence. Job essence is often left to chance and frequently omitted from the feedback employees receive relative to job performance (assuming they do receive feedback on their job performance, which is not always the case).

This presents a tremendous opportunity for managers to present to employees the totality of their job roles (both job function and job essence). Similarly, it has the potential to cause the “scales to fall off” employees’ eyes as they become aware, perhaps for the first time, of job essence—the dimension of their jobs that is not governed by a CBA or limited to a defined job description.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above question?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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