Mentoring for Leaders in Customer Service

Findings from Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report indicate that the most urgent talent issue identified by 50 percent of the business and HR leaders surveyed is leadership. Due to the pace of change and technological development, skills now have a half-life of 2.5 – 5 years, meaning the need for leadership development will not go away. The survey of more than 3,300 leaders in 106 countries found that companies face leadership gaps at every level of the organization.

To combat this clear impediment to growth and excellence in operations, SYKES has established internal leadership development programs. These ‘Learning Pathways’ offer development to leaders at first-level, mid-level and business-leader levels, to ensure they are developed in core competencies and are therefore more likely to succeed and be retained.

Various mandatory courses form part of the Learning Pathways; including development tied into personality profiling and courses aimed specifically at Client Relationship Management, and these lay the foundation for leaders progressing onto succession programs or individualized development such as coaching or mentoring.

SYKES believes that internal leaders are most likely to succeed given their familiarity with the organization, industry, and that they understand what comes with the path forward. The various programs are designed to enable SYKES to have leaders ready for succession as it continues to grow and expand globally.

1:1 Coaching and Mentoring

Supplementing the Learning Pathways development, the specialized 1:1 coaching, and mentoring program has been designed for high-potential mid-level and business-level leaders to support succession. This program encourages continuous improvement in leadership capabilities by helping a leader to focus on their personal and specific development needs.

Mentoring at SYKES is not providing a shoulder to lean on but presented from a basis of continuous challenge to improve the leader’s relationship with their environment, contact center clients, management, and direct reports. The leaders in the program are recommended by their manager or area director. Coaching can be provided to a wide variety of mid-level and business-level leaders, including site directors, account managers and regional leaders in various support functions.

The needs of the leader that make them a candidate for mentoring can be quite different, including:

  • New to a role or responsibility
  • Might not be managing all of their responsibilities to the highest outcomes
  • May show real potential, but need help to make progress
  • Make sure they don’t fail in execution due to stress and pressure of a change in responsibilities

Each mentoring program is developed based on the individual needs of the mentee. First, the person is asked to explain what they do in their role, discuss their KPIs—both personal and professional—and their relationship with their line manager. Their position within their environment is then assessed by looking at how they conduct meetings, organize, encourage participation, deal with dissent, deal with pressure, as well as the default behaviors they fall back into when under pressure. Helping them learn how to better manage all of those variables is the goal of the development program.

The mentor-mentee relationship is one of trust and all conversations remain confidential. This provides the mentee with a non-threatening environment in which thoughts can be expressed and ideas explored that will challenge pre-conceived ideas and ways of working.

Mentoring Leads to Successful Succession

As an example of how a program may develop, consider that a new site director faces a number of stresses and pressures from the new environment. Usually, the new site director has moved from a more junior role where their perspective focused on a single account or business line. They’re now required to provide support, as well as to project into the future quarter and year.

Let’s look at a few of those challenges and how a mentoring program can help this leader acclimate to the succession from mid-level to business-level leader more smoothly than trying to do so on their own.

    • Hindsight Becomes Foresight – learning what you don’t know you don’t know
      The mentor’s years of business experience can be used to help the new leader gain counseling and advice privately from someone who’s already been through the challenges being faced. These insights will help them understand and consider things that their previous roles never required, and which they may not have thought of on their own. When faced with a quandary, the mentor can counsel through open questioning that allows the mentee time and space to think on their own to reach conclusions and develop confidence in taking new approaches.
    • Embracing the Big-Picture Perspective – gaining insights to business functions not experienced
      Succession in leadership roles may expose the person to new business functions and roles with which they have no prior experience. The mentor’s past business experience can help them gain knowledge about these functions and how stakeholders the person has not yet met may view certain situations. This fore knowledge can help to set up the new site director for successful conversations and communications by reducing the learning curve. The mentor’s input can help the new site director to gain confidence in their decisions, but also identify weaknesses that can be addressed practically, without emotion, in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
  • Gaining Consensus for New Proposals – how to get buy-in to move forward
    As a new site director, the person will be responsible for instigating change, presenting proposals to clients and holding productive meetings. Preparation is critical when gaining buy-in is required to keep the business unit running smoothly.

This can include learning to:

  • Focus first on the objective of the meeting, not always the overall outcome or final plan.
  • Ensure that any questions are answered and agreed on by all stakeholders – consensus is required to move forward.
  • Fully understand every agenda point in the meeting to be able to confidently answer any questions that arise – prepare like a subject matter expert

An Internal Mentoring Program Ensures Consistent Leadership

While general leadership programs are an important part of preparing leaders for future succession, mentoring and coaching within a 1:1 program that is closely aligned to a leader’s new role can help them acclimate faster and learn what is most important based on their skills on the ground.

As proof, here are a few comments from those who have taken the mentoring program: