Strategic Workforce Management Needs Strategic Managers

Workforce management software is a powerful tool for most call centers to better schedule, monitor, report and forecast their agent and back office staff activities. But not every company that uses a WFM solution gets full value from it. The reality is: not every center that uses it uses it well. WFM is a strategic tool. But it can’t deliver its strategic value unless you develop strategic skills in the people that run it.

There are a few reasons why WFM lets a company down. Sometimes a company just has a lousy WFM. Sometimes, the call center is too small for WFM to deliver its value. But it’s the lack of strategic focus that’s my focus today.

The best system with a perfect fit for the call center still won’t deliver full value if the call center doesn’t know how to use it strategically. They need to ensure they have the best staff members to run it and to innovate with it. They need to plumb the depths of the WFM’s functionality. They must develop a system of training that develops the skill needed to apply WFM to their workforce optimization strategies.

And yet, too often companies don’t find the right people to drive their WFM, don’t teach them how to best use WFM, and don’t reward them for success.

In other words, they teach their team how to “use” WFM, but they don’t teach them how to “think” WFM.

Here’s what I mean.

Curious Thinking

A hard reality to get us started: running a strategic tool like WFM isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain professional and intellectual curiosity to be successful. Some people just want to learn their jobs. Others want to learn about their jobs. They’re always interested in understanding how the business works. They’re the first to want to explore new or unused features and functions of the WFM (shift swapping for instance). You know the kind of people I’m talking about. They ask a lot of “why”s. They’re interested in business processes, trying to understand what happens to call data after they submit a call log, how it’s used for forecasting, how it’s integrated with other channels. Curiosity is an earmark of strategic thinkers—of the people that belong behind the wheel of your WFM.

Critical Thinking

Those are the people in whom you should invest in developing critical thinking skills. That term is more often applied at the executive level but the truth is that, organizationally, it’s at the day-to-day management level where critical thinking is most needed—that’s where problems have direct impact, where fires are fought, where good ideas spring from. Too often, call centers, unknowingly, discourage this approach. They encourage their teams to ask the “user manual” question: “how do I do this task or that task.” But they don’t develop the skills to ask the strategic question: “how do I solve this workforce challenge with my WFM?”

Well-educated Thinking

You have to teach those skills. You have to teach your team both how to use all of your WFM and how each piece works within the context of your business. The training provided by your vendor (that is, if your vendor provides training), is a critical part of teaching critical thinking. You can learn to log in and follow a navigation path from a YouTube video. But your team has to be taught about the depth and the logic behind the system for them to start to use it creatively themselves. And they have to be taught by people who understand not just the software, but the call center as well.

Rewarded Thinking

I’ve written about Gamification here and here. Developing this kind of culture, this kind of attitude and aptitude, in your WFM team is what Gamification was built to do. Create leaderboards, badges and more that encourage your supervisors to learn new aspects of your WFM—and then to teach others about it. Create an environment that recognizes and rewards smart suggestions about how your WFM could be used to better optimize the workforce. Create competitions to spotlight high participation and involvement in forums, social and other meeting places.

One Last Thought

Competency is contagious. Motivation builds momentum. Managers who develop the expertise and who master the disciplines of both “using” and “thinking” workforce management become much more focused, experienced and more relevant teachers of WFM than even the best vendors. That means you develop a stable consistent flow for the transfer of knowledge . . . which is truly a gift that keeps on giving