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Coaching Challenges: Underperforming Team Members

If you’re a manager in a contact center, the topic of “performance management” or “performance improvement” is likely a topic that makes you cringe. Working through awkward conversations with woeful underperformers and providing negative feedback is something that doesn’t come naturally for most leaders, and can be a painful topic for many employees.

Do you feel this is an area in which you can improve? When in doubt, think like a coach!!!


Brief consideration of how Jurgen Klinsmann (U.S.), Joachim Löw (Germany) or Alejandro Sabella (Argentina) coach their teams during the World Cup may give us a clue. It is a common occurrence to see them, or almost any other coach, on the sidelines, yelling instruction and feedback, giving constant encouragement, and constantly scanning for improvements and strategic corrections.

On the field of competition, it is clear the coach and players are on the same team; they very clearly want the same goals. Is that always the case in your contact center? Are supervisors, managers and quality coaches clearly seen as “on my side,” or are they seen as something of an adversary?

Let’s examine some ways the coach of your favorite team helps improve performance, and demonstrate that we are all on the same team:

  1. Real time correction or feedback. Certainly a coach will not hesitate to call out a player in the middle of practice or a game. In fact, that is probably most of their time and effort during the game. Don’t ignore the problem – quick action to correct it will lead to a much quicker resolution!
  2. Constant encouragement and cheering. Games are long. Jobs get tedious. A good coach will motivate his/her players to “just keep going”.
  3. Understanding of “will or skill”. What is the player’s skill level? What is his/her background? Is it a problem of effort, or motivation? Or, just that they simply don’t know how?
  4. Praise and recognition. During and after a game, a good coach will call out excellent performance by an individual. This should be done immediately and with specific observation. Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. A coach praising a certain player’s effort and hustle will certainly be noted by all the other players.

The ability to properly manage performance is a difficult skill to master, but can be developed with effort and practice. If your intentions are good, and you have established trust, you can make your point and accomplish your purpose even if your execution is less than perfect.

Don’t know where to begin? How about you just ask? Ask permission from your team members to share feedback about their performance, and ask them in what manner they prefer to receive performance feedback. You may be surprised at how many insist they want honest, real time feedback – something, I think, many managers are a little bit gun-shy about.

I feel strongly that real-time performance feedback, when delivered in a way that is helpful and productive, is greatly appreciated. It is a way to improve your customers’ experience by improving those who are helping them. World Cup players know, and feel, that their coach is their biggest fan and supporter. Achieving something similar in our contact centers will inspire engagement, confidence, and superior customer service.