Beware of Democratic Calibration

One of the common trends I observe as I sit in calibration meetings with different clients is "democratic calibration". The team listens to the call and becomes split on an issue. There is a long discussion (e.g. debate, argument, conflict, skirmish, tactical nuclear engagement) about how the call should be scored using the QA scale. Finally, there is an obvious impasse followed by an uncomfortable silence. Eventually, the facilitator asks "Okay, how many think we should give the CSR credit?" [count hands] "How many think we should ding him?" [count hands] "The vote is 5 to 4 to give the CSR credit. Let’s move on."

Here are the problems I observe with this practice:

  • Leadership is absent. When you calibrate by democracy, you reduce QA to management by "majority rules". There is nothing wrong with getting a tally of where people stand, but a successful QA process needs capable leadership that can listen to all the voices and then set the course for how scoring should be handled from that point forward. Imagine if every area of your business was managed by a majority vote. "How many think we should give Mary the promotion?"
  • No buy-in. I’ve noticed that when you calibrate by democracy, people tend not to modify their behavior. They disagree with the majority, accept that they lost today’s vote, but then they walk out of calibration and continue to score calls their way. Without a clear voice of leadership saying, "From this point on, here’s how we will score these situations" there is no real motivation to change scoring behavior.
  • The Great Debate. Calibration by democracy often reduces calibration sessions into mini-political conventions. You’ve got your various political parties: QA Nazis, QA Liberals, QA Moderates, QA Peacekeepers, etc. Like many free-for-all debates, the calibration session will be controlled by the loudest voices and strongest personalities. Reasonable and intelligent voices are often be silenced. "He’s wrong, but what’s the point? Bob is only going to go-off and bully everyone into his point of view. I’ll just keep my mouth shut and score calls my way."

Calibration is supposed to bring everyone together and get a group of different people to score calls the same way. For this to happen, a capable manager or leader needs to be able to hear and weigh all points-of-view. That leader must then lead. Manage the process by making the call, leading the way and making sure that every one on the team follows behind and stays on course.

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