Getting to the Bottom of Flat-Lined QA Scores

I recently spoke with a supervisor at one of our client’s call centers. This person manages a team with QA scores languishing in the "good but not great" range. The trend chart for the team flat-lined about two or three points below goal a long time ago. We regularly report the team’s results and provide them with very specific ways they can improve, but the team’s response is generally a roll of the eyes, a crossing of the arms, and a blanket refusal to act on the information.

As the supervisor and I discussed the situation, a couple of things stood out to me:

  • The supervisor told me that, for a long time, there were only two options on the supervisor’s performance management evaluation form: "successful" and "exceeds". This meant that the supervisor had no credible option for addressing a team member’s below goal performance when performance management time rolled around. "Good but not great" always had to be marked "successful". When you tell someone that their mediocre performance is "successful", why would they work harder to improve?
  • Recently, when supervisors were finally given a "needs improvement" option on their performance management form, they were afraid to use it. They reasoned that they didn’t want their people upset. I imagine that they also didn’t want to deal with the conflict.

I wish that I could say this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Many companies have adopted a philosophy of lowering standards as a vehicle to build self-esteem. The idea is that if people feel good about themselves they will perform better. While I believe that it’s true that people perform better when they feel good about themselves, it’s equally true that they only truly feel good about themselves when they know in their heart-of-hearts that they’ve worked hard for and accomplished something. In the pressure-cooker world of business I have never seen the "let’s all feel good about ourselves for being average"  approach motivate anyone to strive for the next level.

When I have seen people really succeed at performing exceptionally well:

  • Standards are high, and reaching them provides a true sense of pride & accomplishment
  • Team members are equipped, encouraged and motivated by management to reach the standard
  • Team members are given a realistic assessment of where they are in relation to the standard
  • Strong performance and improvement is acknowledged and rewarded in multiple ways
  • Weak performance is acknowledged and negative consequences are felt

Are you motivating people towards excellence or patting them on the back for their mediocrity?
Does your management tool-bag contain both a carrot and a stick?

Related Posts:
Don’t Lower the Bar, Raise the Standard
Incentives that Work
Leaders are People Builders
Incentives that Word Revisited
Don’t Just "Coach Them On It"

  2 comments for “Getting to the Bottom of Flat-Lined QA Scores

  1. May 10, 2007 at 3:31 am

    Somewhere in the development of humanistic-based counseling around the 60’s or 70’s, was an idea that everyone possesses and an intrinisic “specialness”. i.e., a reason for self-esteem that is not based on what the individual actually does. I remember reading some books by Leo Buscaglia that expressed some of these ideas, (I actually really enjoy his works).
    This idea spread through the education system, manifesting in non-competitive sports and alternate ways of grading children in their homework.
    There may be truth in saying everyone has something special inside them. God thinks so, but even he wants us to change our actions to match what we believe. Nevertheless, as far as society as a whole and business specifically is concerned, people have to produce real results in order to receive praise, and even a paycheck.
    We do people no service by saying mediocre is special. I actually am a call center worker who has to get these kind of QA reviews, I know it means something to hear “exceeds expectations”, and know my boss means it.
    Of course, its always been my desire that QA programs help reward those of us that want to do each call right instead of rushing through everything half-heartedly to produce wrongly inflated numbers-but that is a whole different subject.
    As always, good post there Mr. Vanderwell…

  2. May 10, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Thanks, AC. It’s always great to have you stop by and leave a comment. You offer a unique front-line perspective to the supervisors and managers who frequent here.
    I think you’ve nailed it pretty well. I would agree that we all are “special”, but that doesn’t mean that we do all things well. Zach Johnson is a very special guy and great golfer, but put him in the QA room with a pair of headphones and a scorecard and I’m sure he’d struggle a bit. It’s not what he does well.
    One of the problems we’re facing with this philosophy is that it confuses instrinsic worth with task competence. I believe that we have a responsibility to help people find the things that they are good at doing and then motivate them to do it well. If someone doesn’t have the temperament or skills to be a CSR then we aren’t doing them, the customer, or the company any favors by patting them on the back and telling them they’re doing a great job.
    Great comments, AC!

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