A Peak Performance weblog

  • What can we do to control or ‘regulate’ our varied emotions without having to ‘stuff them?  Is there a way of learning to better regulate our feelings while on the job?
  • Can we monitor and chart our moment-to-moment engagement in order to be aware of emotions in real time?  Might this provide a more effective (real-time, rather than via postmortem surveys) way to define and ‘use’ engagement in order to improve emotional intelligence and other inner resources?
  • Does defining engagement in this way more readily allow individual employees to take responsibility for improving engagement?

Call center performance management

Consider a scenario in which a call center customer service representative (CSR) named John just received a performance review stating that he became upset too often with his callers.  His manager requested that he undertake some kind of program to improve the quality of his customer interactions.  He consulted with his Human Resources department and talked to a representative named Angel.

Angel suggested bringing more awareness into John’s interactions with callers with a training program called a Quality Improvement Challenge (QIC).  She said that research showed that simply being more aware of certain aspects of the call would gradually provide more control of emotional reactions.

John was willing to give the QIC a try, and asked what they needed to do first.  Angel said they needed to determine some objectives that would satisfy John’s manager, so they undertook the first step.

1. Determine the object of the game you want to play. 

After some discussion, Angel and John came up with a conventional goal (with some ordinary external objective) of delivering good customer service phone responses (GCSRs) to 30 callers / day over the next month.  That was considered good productivity in the organization.  And they came up with an experiential goal (an objective to change something in one’s experience) of a maximum of 3 negative emotional responses (ERs) to callers per week over the next month.

Angel then checked these goals out with John’s manager, who decided that–if met–the two goals would show sufficiently improved emotional control during John’s calls.

2. Build a playing field scoreboard. 

Angel and John met again to discuss how to play and score John’s Quality Improvement Challenge (QIC).  Angel said that for each of the two objectives determined, they needed to define specific performance variables with a set of values that each variable could take on.

The conventional GCSR goal was easy.  John could simply tally how many good customer service responses he delivered through the day, aiming for at least 30 / day.

The customer service emotional response (CSER) goal was more complicated.  This was to monitor and decrease negative emotional responses by being aware of and counting the different emotional ‘events’ that John experienced during work hours.  Angel said that to monitor ‘negative emotional responses’,  John needed to determine what kind of experience he thought would constitute a ‘failed call’.  He replied that it could be feeling some kind of “emotion out of control” during a call.   Angel said, “OK, then the occurrence of such “emotions out of control” would be counted and charted for CSER during the day.”  She then asked what other kinds of related experience would be likely to occur.  John said that although he would consider them normal experiences rather than failures, related experiences would be an “emotional current” that would last a minute or two, and an “emotional spike” that would last only ten seconds or so.  (It’s important that the employee own this choice, and make sure it will work for him; this should not be imposed by management.)

Angel said that those three CSER performance values–emotional spike, emotional current, and emotion out of control–should cover one end of the spectrum of possible experiences, and then she asked about the other end of the possible spectrum of emotion.  After some discussion, they decided on “equanimity” and “balance,” neither of which had any negative emotional component, but represented a kind of “even keel.”  So the resulting spectrum of CSER performance values was:   equanimity, balance, emotional spike, emotional current, and emotion out of control.

Angel said that these values were probably sufficient to get started on the Challenge, though it was probable that John would discover others after he started.  (These personal discoveries are desirable and very common as one gains experience and learns how to be aware more closely of what’s happening moment by moment–ABC–awareness brings change.)

Angel suggested that these CSER performance values should be recorded on a chart whenever they occurred during the day.  She knew that this would ensure that he would pay extra attention to his experience–and any emotion, in particular–as he worked; and that whatever we can be aware of by means of charting, we can eventually understand, control, and change. (Again, ABC.)  She said that the real value of this kind of graphing is to become aware of opportunities for improvement and to be able to track the trend of his emotional experiences. (That is, the ‘accuracy’ or particular shape of the graph is secondary to the awareness built.) Many people found it helpful to make notes in a ‘running journal’ at the bottom of their chart as they think about their experiences.

The simple chart they designed for the CSER goal included work hours of the day labelled at the top, and possible CSER scores (values) on the lefthand side, with a clean chart to be used for each day’s scoring.  The daily chart, or scoreboard, looked like this:

chart3-1

After every call, if John had no emotional blowup, he would add to the tally of good calls, going for 30 / day.  And after every hour of work (marked by a countdown timer), he would recall his experience of the hour, and mark the chart appropriately.

3. Play and keep score over the time period chosen.

For a few days John worked, paid attention to his emotion-related experience, and found that he had plenty to enter on his chart, with quite a few emotional spikes and undercurrents.   But after a few days his feelings seemed to settle down, with fewer spikes and undercurrents.   He relaxed into his work a bit more, and less frequently looked forward to ‘better times’ (breaks, weekends, and vacations, e.g.) as he worked.

Toward the end of the first week of his Challenge, John began to see that he could refine the playing field and the scoreboard.  One time he noticed he was getting a little judgmental and ‘short’ with a caller.  During the following call he noticed he was feeling arrogant. So he added “feeling judgmental” and “arrogance” to the performance values.  They seemed useful as warning signs that he was getting close to an emotional reaction.  (Awareness sets up a kind of ‘radar’ for emotional responses on the ‘horizon.’)

The next day he came to work in a bad mood, and tended to neglect details in his calls.  So he added “emotional mood” to the values.  Finally, he noticed how “excitement” and “frustration” and “anxiety” tended to lead into emotion, so he added those to the chart.  John found this gradual discovery and refinement of his tracking process, and the tracking itself, quite interesting.  (This is typical of the curiosity and fulfilling learning done during a self-actualizing activity such as this.)  He felt he was learning something helpful on the job, but something that was also useful for his personal life.  Here’s the chart resulting from the first week:

chart3-2

Thus the initial spectrum of CSER performance values chosen was:  equanimity, balance, emotional spike, emotional current, and emotion out of control.   The final spectrum of performance values was:    equanimity, balance, excitement/frustration, anxiety, emotional mood, feeling judgmental, arrogance, emotional spike, emotional current, and emotion out of control.  This spectrum was not judged as complete, accurate, or ‘in the right order’, yet was viewed as more than sufficient for the purposes of making the desired changes.

4. When the time period for the game is over, determine whether you won and review what you learned in the process.

At the end of John’s first game (one week), in his opinion his emotional balance seemed a little better.  He felt a little more relaxed and confident, and his feelings had settled down, with fewer emotional spikes and undercurrents.  He was actually somewhat enthusiastic about continuing the challenge during the coming week. And his scores for both objectives showed that he won the first week of the Quality Improvement Challenge.

During the second week’s game, John was generally more upbeat and even somewhat joyful some of the time.  It seemed that this game was providing an opportunity to be aware of, and quickly drop all the tendencies he had to get upset.  He was becoming aware of finer and finer mental agitation and frustration.  (It often happens that the type of mental events changes in an awareness exercise such as this.)  This seemed to keep anything from really building up into a ‘real problem’ that would have to be dealt with in any of his old psychological ways.

Summary

With persistence with the way of attending to and charting predetermined performance values illustrated in this example, one can very reliably improve emotional intelligence, including the intensity and frequency of various types of emotional ‘events’, as well as the feelings of balance, joy, and equanimity in one’s emotional life.  What allows this technique to ‘work’?   Awareness of one’s moment-by-moment experience.  Timothy Gallwey’s books on the ‘inner game’ of life argued that simple awareness of some process–such as one’s tennis backhand stroke–was sufficient to bring significant change.  This method provides a more effective (real-time, rather than via postmortem surveys) way to define and ‘use’ engagement in order to improve emotional intelligence and other inner resources.

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