Really involve your employees? Not done!

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As promised in the previous column, I’d like to share my experiences gained during my preliminary doctoral research. That preliminary research concerned employee satisfaction (one of the three spearheads of my research) within customer service.

Missing elements

Call me single-minded if you like, but after reading much of the available research regarding employee satisfaction in preparation for my research, I was still convinced that it was all still missing a number of elements in terms of employees of a contact center. And that those elements would particularly lie in employee involvement in the learning organization…

Focus groups

I therefore decided to start with focus groups of employees from various companies participating in the research. This would allow me to identify whether those employees would indeed name variables which had not yet been researched. And so I organized six focus groups. The groups comprised 8-10 employees from contact centers, whom I asked two questions:
– what do you like about your work in the contact center?
– what would be a nice surprise at your work in the contact center?

Mutual interaction

Meeting with these focus groups was not only great fun but also extremely educational and inspirational. There was almost always a great deal of interaction between the employees, which was often due to the fact that they all came from various departments / teams. There was not normally any mutual communication, even though they obviously felt the need for this. It was their opportunity to hear how other departments / teams worked. There was also plenty of interaction regarding aspects which worked well, but certainly also aspects which required improvement. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the atmosphere was never cynical in any of the focus groups, despite the many points for improvement they defined. They were all particularly constructive in determining how to do things better.


The central theme which leapt out at me and which boosted my motivation – from the 200% that it already was – to 300%, came down to: ‘well, there’s so much room for improvement, but they don’t take it up’. There was great frustration concerning the own input by employees. This varied from organizations who did not even ask employees for input, to organizations who asked for input but then did nothing with it.

Feed back

What never ceases to amaze me is the ease with which organizations seemingly ignore their employees. These are the people who talk to your customers on a daily basis and therefore ideally know where business can be improved. Of course I understand that it’s impossible to implement all improvements anyone ever suggests, but how much effort can it take to feed this back to your employees with an explanation? By failing to do so, you’re throwing your employees’ commitment out of the window, and they’ll think twice before they make further efforts to think along with your organization. And who can blame them?

Small effort, great gesture

I subsequently spoke with most of the managers of the participating contact centers to see why they act like this and why they do not truly create commitment by proactively involving their employees and keeping them informed of activities resulting from their input. In doing so, I heard very few explanations other than ‘yeah, we really should do that’. It’s a small effort, but it can make or break your entire learning organization and genuine commitment by your employees. And that sounds like a pretty worthwhile investment to me…

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