Ask the Expert


I’ve been working with one associate for nearly two years now; she has in fact been with the company much longer than me.  To some extent, she’s a product of her environment – when I started here, she regularly got high QA scores.  We have been gradually raising our expectations and providing accompanying training (at least monthly coaching sessions) for those raising expectations.  Throughout this process, she has tended to make excuses with accompanying promises to improve.  At first these excuses were that she wasn’t trained that way, etc – OK, because they were true.   

She has consistently performed just at level or just below par.  Most of our coaching sessions have dwelled on really basic practices – call structure, basic etiquette, etc – and we never moved to the advanced topics I have in my back pocket.  (And, for context, I often keep my meetings extremely brief with our very skilled staff who truly are in need of minimal coaching – mostly just check-ins for them to air any questions, etc.)  She clearly has the skill – when pushed she can demonstrate all of our desired qualities, she just doesn’t seem to make it happen.  

She’ll often try to make excuses.  Today, for example, when confronted with the fact that she’s missed a couple database verifications (basic call structure), she said she remembered doing that ONCE, and we probably just happened to monitor the call where she missed it.  This is plausible once, but it’s an excuse that she’s used before, and I have longer term statistics to back up the likelihood that this is a regular behavior.  (And we’ve had that conversation, as well.)  Or for another topic today, she claimed she never saw the e-mail where the topic was covered, and suggested I must’ve missed her during my follow up walk-around (I didn’t).  In fact, I think that when I came to her to follow-up, she met me with the attitude that she perfectly understood and didn’t need any further explanation; this attitude probably led to it being a minimally impactive training moment.

So there are two things going on here – one is that she often makes excuses; and that lackadaisical, not-accepting-responsibility attitude leads her to maintain a consistently mediocre performance.  At some point when I believe a person has the ability and knowledge to meet our expectations, I feel like I just need to make it their responsibility to make it happen, but I’m not really sure how to communicate that in a way that will be heard.  Also, I don’t really have any bite for my bark.  She is unlikely to receive any discipline.  What I’m trying to avoid is another 2 years of mediocrity.  Any advice?  


For starters, bark without bite is what we call a feist-og… too much feist and not enough dog to accomplish any good at all!  That is the crux of the matter.  

As leaders we rely on a few things to achieve productive goals:

  • Solid business systems that provide employees with the knowledge and tools necessary to do a good job
  • Adequate incentives to compensate them when they do
  • Personal work-ethics and values that motivate individuals to achieve their greatest outcome

If an employee is not motivated to improve when all of the tools are made available, then generally incentives work.  In the absence of self-motivation and/or professional incentives, there are always, lurking in the background, consequences as the great course corrector.

It seems as though you have taken the initial steps necessary to address the responses you are receiving from the employee.  Address the excuse before it is heard with a solid communication methodology that confirms meetings, training, and coaching.  In our organization, we hold several types of training sessions and because the time is away from the phone lines, all of it is a part of their daily adherence report.  Since they must update their schedule and sign off on exceptions, there is no excuse when training is held and attended as evidenced by their exception logs and the information is not applied in a call.  

A quality program must be able to withstand the “what if” challenge.  When we established our call monitoring program, we defined the process by which an assessment might be disputed and the timeline for the same.  We also defined what is expected during the calls and when certain techniques are to be applied, like caller identification and property verification.  Once defined, no exceptions are given when a call is observed and these steps are not taken.  The question of whether it was viewed when the call was observed is not optional — it was required during the call to ensure that if the customer calls again, these steps were taken and every Associate has that assurance when communicating and/or researching an account. Holding firm to these standards of quality provides your customers with the level of consistency in service they deserve.  

Setting a goal for an individual that aligns performance with reward is perhaps one of the most effective tools available to call center leaders.  If it is possible to demonstrate for the individual where their performance has a financial bottom line and illustrating the path of improvement necessary to secure greater financial reward is an option — take it!  It works!  We have time and time again seen mediocre and poor performers completely change their approach, attitude, and performance when we mapped their behaviors to their performance accountabilities and key performance indicators that would improve their annual rating and earning potential with very specific goals achieved.  We call it an action plan and when used properly is quite a relationship builder as well.  It demonstrates for the employee that you are actually on their side and want the best outcome for them; however, you cannot want success more than they do for themselves.  We have had a few people — for whatever reason — decide not to perform up to the standard despite our best effort.  In these cases our bark comes with a financial bite.  We do not reward mediocrity with a raise at the annual review.

Consequences do not always have to come in the form of formal discipline in order to be effective.  Business environments offer many opportunities for advancement, training, and even a break from the humdrum of the daily tasks.  Failure to perform could lead to consequences that preclude an individual from eligibility for such opportunities.  But I caution you, this can be a rabbit hole you don’t want to fall into because it creates a long-term pattern of “negative” processing with this individual.