A year into my first job at a contact center I got two surprises in the same week. I was offered a front line management role and a rescued husky puppy named Sierra. Accepting the management position was a no-brainer and Sierra eventually won me over with those blue eyes. I decided that night I was going to be the best manager/puppy parent the world had ever known. I had plenty of room for Sierra to be a house dog and the team I took over seemed engaged. This was going to be easy, or so I thought.
To put it lightly, the first month was a train wreck. At home Sierra was gnawing cables, couch cushions, and even a wax candle! Yes, you read that correctly, my dog ate a candle. At work, my team could not put up a decent QA score to save their life. No matter how much I coached, they always missed something from the 30-item checklist that was our QA form. They were great at having conversations, but terrible at remembering to cover all the little details. At the end of month one I found myself out $400 in home repairs and next-to-last in the QA rankings. At this point I went into damage control mode. I put up a gate confining Sierra to one room and at work my team was forced to read directly from the QA checklist on every call. After a couple of weeks, dog chewing was down and QA scores were up. Morale, however, was at an all-time low on both fronts.
I had the behavior I wanted from both, but to get it I had turned my dog into a prisoner and my team into robots.
One night, a relative stopped by and questioned my mental stability for keeping a husky in the house. She advised a dog like that is meant to be outside and that keeping her cooped up went against her very nature. A light bulb flipped on. Instead of asking my people (and puppy) to change in order to meet expectations, it was on me as a leader to find a way to let them be who they are and still succeed. My team was at their best when having genuine conversations with customers, not when robotically going down a checklist.
That night, I put together two things: an outdoor kennel the size of a small house and a document I entitled “A Different Approach to Quality.” There, I listed six simple questions that encompassed all 30 of the items from the QA form. As an example, one of the questions read “Did I leave any surprises for the customer?” That question alone covered 6 of the 30 QA items including advising of late fees, current balance, etc.
The next morning I showed Sierra to her new digs and scheduled a meeting with my team. Even though they were being held to the same standard, the idea of only worrying about 6 things instead of 30 seemed much easier to them. Scores stayed high and morale instantly shot back up. Pretty soon other teams were asking to use the new approach and within a year our entire organization moved away from a QA checklist to a more conversational-based requirement. As for Sierra, in true husky fashion she had pulled the entire cage over 400 yards into my neighbor’s field just so she could play with his dog.
It goes to show whether you are a puppy parent or a manager, sometimes we need to let our people (and dogs) simply be who they are. It’s on us as leaders to find a way to put them in a position where they can thrive.