Turning Business Challenges into Opportunities

By James Dawson

All businesses have challenges, regardless of how successful they are. Some may experience challenges with communication, while others may experience challenges with technology. Unfortunately, the underlying problems in an organization often surface as employee complaints are directed to senior managers or business owners. These employees are often dedicated to the job, but not skilled in speaking business language. Therefore, they don’t know how to offer solutions; they can only express their concerns to their supervisors, which often come across as complaints.

Essentially, the employees don’t know how or aren’t empowered to find solutions to the problems. To be successful, it is important to create and maintain a problem-solving culture in your call center, so you and your employees can transform every business challenge into a business opportunity. Use the following steps to empower your employees and supervisors to find solutions to organizational challenges:

1. Understand the Business Culture: As a call center leader, you must realize that problems exist in your operation that you don’t know about and that your agents aren’t telling you about. Businesses have a hierarchal organization where the people on the top don’t think the same way as the people on the bottom. So many times, especially with new employees, people are afraid to speak up about their problems. To overcome this challenge, talk to each agent, either in a group setting or one-on-one, about the problems they see and experience.

Also, realize that the problem-solving expertise already exists in house. Your employees want to make the call center work. They have a stake in making it run better. While changes have repercussions throughout an organization, the more experienced employees within your business probably have the system knowledge to make the changes work.

2. Encourage Everyone to Identify Problems: As the manager, director, or CEO, you also must realize that you are the decision maker. Before problems reach you, filtration takes place at each level. Just telling your people to come to you with problems won’t work because they simply won’t come. You must create a safe environment for presenting problems. You may be surprised at how many people, knowing they can present their concerns to you without repercussions, actually come forward.

Once employees feel comfortable coming to you, coach them to narrow the focus of their problem. Many times people start talking about their problems and they keep expanding until they are beyond manageable limits. So encourage people to narrow the focus and identify one thing, in fifteen words or less, that they can work on. Also, encourage the employee to ask him or herself, “What’s within my control?” and “What do other people control and how do I partner with them?” The main reason why problem solving often fails is that people don’t identify the problem specifically enough. Use these questions and initial conversations to develop a laser focus on the specific problem.

3. Identify a Specific Cause: Part of identifying the cause of a specific problem comes from asking questions. Encourage your employees and supervisors to ask who, what, when, where, why, and how questions; to ask the questions they think they know the answers to, just to see how close they are; and to ask how other people see the problem. Once they’ve asked the right questions and nailed down the cause, they can list the alternatives.

The first alternative is to do nothing. This is always an alternative because some problems are too costly to fix. When the employees understand this, they are more likely to live with the problem, be at peace, and not complain about it. Next is the best alternative solution. But again, many times the best alternative is too costly. That’s why you need to encourage employees to also identify the second best alternative solution.

Supervisors and employees then need to think about an implementation plan that includes the resources they’ll need, how they’ll implement it, who will be affected, and how the plan will be monitored for success. These details will be further developed as the employees and supervisors devise their business case.

4. Teach Them to Develop a Business Case: The key to creating a problem-solving culture in your call center is to encourage staff to identify problems, discover solutions, and then sell the idea to you and the other decision makers in the organization. Essentially, you want them to develop a business case for each problem they encounter. You can use the following business case framework to guide your employees through the process of developing their own:

  • The business case must be objective.
  • They must demonstrate how their case will make things better, faster, or less costly than what is currently done.
  • They must introduce the problem.
  • They must explain how much the problem costs the organization.
  • They must specify the cause and offer their suggestions.
  • With their suggestions, they should state what each solution will cost and how much it will save.
  • They should state how their solution will be implemented and how it will be monitored.
  • They must indicate their involvement.

Encourage employees to always present conservative expectations. If they don’t have budgetary authority, have them talk to the person who does. Encourage them to find a champion with budget control who is willing to work with them and support their plan.

Depending on the organization, this presentation may be formal or informal. Visual or verbal presentations are usually satisfactory, but if they’re asking the decision makers to make a considerable investment, the presentation should provide strong support.

While the business case must be objective, the presentation must have passion. To win over the decision makers, presenters must be sincere, they must feel strongly about their solution, and they must clearly communicate their feelings to the decision makers. The presenters need to directly ask the decision makers for their support and give them a call to action. If the decision makers aren’t sure, employees need to get a commitment for another meeting. If the decision makers are sure, then the presenters should ask for an implementation date.

5. Give Supportive and Constructive Feedback: As a decision maker, you cannot be hung up on the details of any single presentation.  Rather, you should focus on the overall plan. Do not hammer the presenter, because all the other employees in the organization will see it and you’ll destroy the very culture you’re trying to create.

Always tell the employee making the presentation what strengths you saw in his or her ideas. Give constructive feedback and make suggestions for improvement, even if you didn’t buy into the plan. If you see any holes in the presentation, ask for more information.

Solving Problems in the Future: Employees at all levels should be encouraged to participate in building business cases from the problems they encounter. Whether your organization has one employee or one thousand, just imagine the effect of converting every one of them into a problem solver. When you empower the people closest to the problems to take action and make change, the results can be quite astonishing. By using this process for creating a business culture that encourages problem solving at all levels, you can turn every issue that arises in your organization into a business opportunity.

James Dawson is a managing partner of ADI Performance, a training enterprise that specializes in developing and delivering programs that result in improved business practices and organizational cost efficiencies. You may reach him at 770-640-0840 or jrdawson@adiperformance.com.

[From Connection Magazine May 2007]