The Supervisor Cadence – Does It Drive the Wrong Behavior?

Over the last couple of years, I have noticed the word “cadence” come up frequently within the work-at-home leadership vocabulary as part of how to manage front-line agents. Some sales organizations utilize email “cadences” to drive their business development efforts by utilizing a certain order of pre-programmed emails in the quest for increasing sales. However, using the word “cadence” as a management tool to lead people in the work-at-home space puts a manager’s skills and ability to achieve top performance into a box. This can also impact employee engagement and retention.

A Fortune 500 company launches their management cadence

I have seen a well-known Fortune 500 company utilize this concept. It was a dismal failure. It drove supervisors to “stretch the truth” a bit while they checked off the boxes as they completed their management duties. It wasn’t about how to help supervisors get results or even help their front-line employees. It was about checking off the box. Needless to say, the company spent millions of dollars developing, launching, and then driving this new proprietary system. The result? Performance and employee retention suffered.

Here’s how it works

Each time the supervisor completed a pre-determined management task, the manager would click a button, and a green light would appear on the software platform. Because the contact center manager, director, and VP could see the green dots, it was easy to see that “all the work was being completed.” If they saw red dots, that meant the work wasn’t completed. HR was involved with a new cadence of verbal and written warning documents that aligned with this new management strategy. This performance management system was built for a work-at-home organization because upper management couldn’t see their leaders or front-lines anymore, and they wanted to make sure things were getting done.

The typical cadence

· Say hello to the agent at the beginning of their shift – check off the box and get the green dot.

· Check in with the agent mid-day and ask if they need anything – check off the box and get the green dot.

· Coach the agent for 20 minutes – check off the box and get the green dot.

· Chat with the agent once in the afternoon – check off the box and get the green dot.

· Say goodbye to the agent at the end of their shift – check off the box and get the green dot.

Human behavior

When they first told me about this, I knew from studying human behavior in contact centers for years that it would not work. It drives leaders to just manage tasks. It doesn’t promote true leadership of inspiring and motivating front-line agents to have the emotional buy-in and connection to a company, its products/services, or even co-workers. It cultivates managers to manage a task, not people. To be truly successful, work-at-home culture has to evolve and be cultivated to support any process or technology.

Understanding the mental process for supervisors

It’s time for the 15-minute agent coaching time. The supervisor gets the agent on the video platform, and the agent wants to talk. Because the culture hasn’t been re-engineered for the remote environment, the agent doesn’t feel emotionally engaged and is lonely. The agent wants to connect with their supervisor and have a conversation. This type of remote conversation can be equated to meeting someone in the hallway in the brick-and-mortar environment and stopping to have a conversation.

As the agent and the supervisor connect and talk across the video conferencing platform, the supervisor suddenly realizes that the coaching hasn’t taken place. Now the conversation is at the 13-minute mark, and the supervisor remembers they have to click the box so they can get the green dot, assuring management that they completed the coaching.

So they say to the agent, “Oh, before we hang up, I need to tell you to try and isolate the customer’s issue early in the call and feed that issue back to the customer. Make sure you gain agreement from the customer that this is the issue they called in about. Does that make sense?”

The agent nods their head and says, “Yes.”

The supervisor goes on, “So I’ll send this to you in the coaching form. Can you acknowledge you received it? I’d sure appreciate it.”

The agent agrees. The box is clicked, and the green dot appears. Unfortunately, the agent’s performance doesn’t get better. To make matters worse, the agent’s average handle time goes up because the agent is discouraged and types or talks slower. Because there hasn’t been any real coaching or training from the supervisor, the performance metric doesn’t move in a positive direction. Now the agent becomes discouraged and more distant and unengaged on the virtual floor. Next the agent starts avoiding participating in the team chat when the supervisor is present. Things can spiral down from there quickly, and ultimately, if the supervisor can’t “turn the agent around,” the agent quits.

Attrition costs companies both time and money. Higher sourcing, recruiting, onboarding, training, and nesting costs become the norm. It also costs more time and money to get a new agent’s speed to competency up to where they can serve customers or bring in their sales quota. All of this causes wear and tear on the operations team as well as any supporting teams, including recruiting, onboarding, training, nesting, IT, QA, and human resources.

The snowball gains momentum

Of course, there’s more to add to the confusion. The contact center manager and director don’t see the performance metrics moving in the right direction, and yet the green dots are clicked. “What could be wrong?” they ask. At this point, the VP has taken notice and starts asking the director for a “new game plan.” Next the director has a meeting with the contact center manager, who then goes to the supervisor team and asks them to “step up”—and around and around we go.

Your supervisors and managers will manage their own behavior based on what senior management measures. If it’s green dots they want, then supervisors will click them. Cadences don’t work because you are encouraging the stretching of the truth. People don’t want to fail, so supervisors will do what they are told, and the green dots appear. Unfortunately, this leads to a path of emotional destruction for the agents and first-level supervisors. Another travesty is that the organization does not trust senior leadership. It can be a downward spiral.

What’s really needed for success

Great organizations spend time teaching their supervisors how to motivate and inspire. Great organizations understand that new strategies and skills are needed for the work-at-home and hybrid environments. Leadership training is not just about how to coach, hold a team meeting, and click the performance management system’s boxes to get the green dots. Every agent is different. Meeting people where they are at is critical for success. Great organizations mentor and develop their leaders.

They cultivate new skills and strategies in real work situations so that leaders can utilize these new skills over and over so they become sustainable skills.

You can’t manage organizations to achieve success with cadences. If you could, all customer service, technical support, and sales organizations would be hitting their metrics. Everyone would be coming to work to check off the boxes. Leading would be easy, and no one would be quitting. Today’s supervisors, middle managers, and directors are looking for companies that spend the time and resources helping them get better at their jobs.

Historically, supervisors are working with archaic systems and old management strategies that are pushed down from the top of an organization. Some middle and senior leaders drive this because it’s the way it’s always been done. Some companies utilize technology to drive this same type of methodology for success, and it doesn’t work any better. The reports are more sophisticated, automated, and even color coded, but it doesn’t drive an engaged team or achieve great performance.

As a senior leader, it takes real guts to look at the status quo and challenge it. It takes guts to be the one to step up and do something different. Front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and directors are looking for a senior leader that can be their hero. In some instances, they are begging for a new kind of leadership that drives the culture they want to stay and grow in.

Will you be that leader?