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Laura Varon

Empowering Leaders in the BPO World: 7 Quick Tips

Let’s talk about “Empowerment”! More often than not, this word is closely associated with leadership development, but do you really know what it means to empower? Do you know what you have to do as a leader of, and among, leaders to make it happen? Throughout my 10-year career at Foundever, a leading global BPO, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to hone my skills, learn from some of the best and brightest minds in the industry, and grow into the servant leader I am today. I’ve identified ways in which “Empowerment” can go from a word, to an effective and impactful driver of growth, innovation, and meaningful change. I’ve decided to share my story, and 7 tips I hope make your transition into a leadership role more seamless, in addition to further empowering you to further empower others!

I started my career in this industry as a Customer Service Phone Agent, and although I thought this was going to be a temporary job, I quickly became passionate about my role, and was hooked by the dynamic and supportive nature of Foundever’s business and my ability to impact my customer’s lives. I found myself longing to grow and further help my fellow teammates. My first formal role as leader came six months after I began, as a Coach (Team Lead/Supervisor). I remember the excitement of being promoted for the first time; my head was full of ideas on how to inspire my Team and the type of leader I wanted to be. Around this time is when I experienced my first challenge as a leader; my Team was indeed very happy and motivated, but results were not quite there yet. As a Team, we were at the bottom of the ranking and I didn’t understand why. After some time, and as I continued to grow, I discovered several variables that impacted my performance as a first-time leader; part of it was a lack of accountability strategy, but also a lack of understanding of how to approach and connect with each of my team members to get the best of them. So, here comes my first Tip:

Adapt your Leadership Style:

It’s easy to be married to a single type or form of leadership; usually the one that you’re more prone to, based on your personality and experiences. But you have to ask yourself, “Is my style getting the best, and boosting the potential from everyone within my team?” You need to identify what each member of your team needs and adjust accordingly. Maybe one member needs you to be more autocratic, maybe another needs you to give them freedom and not micromanage, and maybe another requires more reinforcement than others. The key is adapting to each individual’s needs; this will ensure high satisfaction and motivation, will definitively improve results, and will also ensure you recognize the strengths, areas of opportunity, and needs of each team member to improve the team, as a whole.

Do not forget! Part of adapting your style also includes identifying how each team member learns; this will make your Coaching sessions more effective!

After my first, formal Coach role, I then moved to Training & Development. For a period, I was temporarily leading associates, but mostly focused on Training Product Material and Soft Skills for a specific Customer Service Account. To this day, I’m extremely grateful for my two years in this department; the skills I learned have become a core component of my strengths today, even as I perform as a Business Unit Director. The most important skill learned during my time in Training & Development, is effective communication, which includes, among other things, the following: Public Presentation, Speech Writing, Written Channel Writing, Etiquette, and above all, thoughtful and constructive assertiveness! This takes me to the second tip on the list:

Assertive Communication:

I will not bore you with a long dissertation on the principles and main tenants of Assertive Communication, rather, I will share with you some advice on how verbal and non-verbal communication creates trust within your team and, in return, yields meaningful engagement and enhanced commitment.

Open, honest, and real communication has been my motto for years, and it’s all about losing fear of conflict, learning how to say things without sounding emotional, being clear with your messaging; “say what you mean, exactly how you mean it”. Do not wait for formal coaching sessions or one-on-ones to share feedback (positive, constructive, or otherwise). Your team will appreciate this a lot more than just waiting for a long list, delivered weekly or bi-weekly, to hear what you think about their work! Honesty can be a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary pill for you and your team, nonetheless. Once this communication becomes robust and grounded in trust, you can safely be assertive and your team learns that they can be, as well; the outcome and results will be invaluable.

Assertive Communication encompasses, among others, the following:

– Responding to chat/text promptly! Even if you are occupied/pre-occupied, acknowledge receipt and get back to the message as soon as possible.

– Give all team member requests the same attention to detail and urgency you would to your CEO! Everyone is important and should be treated accordingly.

– Keep your email updated and stay on top of communications that come from your team and/or affects them. By doing this you can show interest in their business and be knowledgeable of their work even when you do not have granular visibility.

– Even if you’re not always able to share all of the details, perhaps nothing helps to empower a team more than keeping them informed of business and company changes, updates, strategy, pivots, etc.

– Always keep eye contact and avoid distractions when talking to your team! Avoid checking your phone or messages while in face-to-face meetings or on video calls

– Make sure you build a robust communication strategy for your team: choose a channel of preference, understand how to communicate efficiently through the appropriate channel, be prompt in sending meeting notes, follow up on requests, and be clear with deadlines!

– And last but not least, (I might be a little biased here, as this is a personal pet peeve), keep your calendar up to date and respect your team’s time! Use a digital scheduling assistant to schedule meetings and NEVER EVER cancel or reschedule your one-on-ones, unless absolutely necessary.

I’ve had my fair share of Leaders to learn from throughout the years; some through examples of what I wanted to become (seeing what great looks like) and some through examples of what I definitively wanted to do differently. The next 2 tips I learned from 2 different leaders I had during my transition to the Ops Manager path; these I hold close to my core.

Welcome Mistakes: Be the leader who allows their team to learn from their mistakes! This enhances their learning and growth process. There is nothing more detrimental to successfully empowering your team than fostering an environment that builds fear around taking risks, trying new strategies, and/or thinking outside the box. When you’ve spent time in developing your team, teaching them not only the knowledge they need to succeed at their job but enhancing their skills, even if they made a mistake, you could rest assured, they’ll own it, they’ll reach for help, and learn how to do it correctly next time!

And, when you’re the one making a mistake, admit it! Help your team learn from it, there is a respectful strength from a leader’s vulnerability.

Close the loop by adding a pinch of emotional intelligence safeguards that allow your team to move on from their disappointment on a mistake, as it may hurt their pride, help them get up, dust off, and start again.

WARNING: Do not make my same mistake, if you want to build an environment that welcomes mistakes as a valuable learning tool, you need to let go! You can’t hold your team by the hand and save them from everything the world will throw at them, you can’t be there to pick them up each time and fix it for them, then you’re the one doing the learning and not them. You should rather be there to see them and help them get up and try again on their own.

Invest, Invest, Invest! It’s not all about the gifts and bonuses! It’s about the time and the valuable resources you can place at your team’s disposal.

Let’s first talk about time; are you investing enough time in your team’s development? Are you spending too much time handholding rather than coaching and supporting? Scheduling time, and being willing to add more time when needed, to develop your team is GOLD. I’m not only talking about your regular one-on-ones, but do you take time to see your team in action? Give them feedback! Sit down and teach them, from your experience and vantage point! And even sometimes a 15-minute break for a coffee together, allowing your team to breath and relax will be more valuable than a meeting to remind them about tasks and deliverables. You have to make sure you make the time for it. Spend time with them, and also with their teams; get feedback, be there for the team building activities, etc.…

Second important investment will cost you money, but the rewards are immeasurable. If your company does not count with a Strong Development team, find one! There are so many incredible Third-Party Companies whose expertise are Coaching and developing leaders. Get a platform that allows Online Self Learning and use it with them.

Nothing personifies the feedback in the above section like the following quote:

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

By the time I became a Senior Ops Manager, my scope started to change: 2-3 clients in my portfolio, 400+ team members, more meetings, and more administrative work. I remember having the feeling that I was getting away from the real action. The responsibility was greater, but the control on execution was a lot lower, or so I thought! I then realized I had the responsibility of developing new Managers. I have to confess I wasn’t sure I was ready for that challenge; I was still working on my own growth/improvement. Luckily, at the same time, our company was going through key structural changes, and I was assigned to a new leader whom I had known as a peer in the past, someone whom I respected tremendously! Her strengths developed my weaknesses, I felt supported and empower to support my new Team of leaders. I’ve learned a great deal from her, short- and long-term strategies, how to follow up efficiently, how to create and give your team structure, the list could go on for pages, but above all one of her greatest teachings was this:

Share the Spotlight: You shine when your Team shines! It’s not about you anymore, it’s about your team and how high they can get. You become a cheerleader, a constant support, working behind the curtains, but close enough to coach when needed. Do not take credit for your Team’s Ideas and hard work, recognize them for it! Don’t be shy on speaking about them with your Leaders and High Executives. Let your team do the job, you’re there to remove roadblocks!

When I realized this was her secret sauce, I noticed she’s been doing it for years! Since she was a first-time leader! And it was not surprised, as a Senior Director she had the highest succession leaders promoted to high roles across the board.

To make all of this work it is key to support and invest in Organizational Culture that you can feel related to as a Leader, that is close to your personal values to the point it becomes like breathing to you, as well as finding people that can also fit into that environment to continually improve upon and enhance it.

I think that’s why I’ve been part of the Foundever Family for more than 10 years. Since my first day, I felt represented by the company’s Values and its People First Culture, and it became easy to make it part of my Leadership Style.

So, here’s my closing Tip: Empathy! I know I know, you hear about empathy all the time, especially if you work at a Contact Center or the Customer Service industry, what I mean is for you not to forget that Empathy is not just for your Client’s and your Client’s customers, is for your Team and Peers! Care about them, genuinely demonstrate interest about other’s feelings, this only reinforces that environment of Trust that you’re trying to build, and it will, I guarantee it, Empower all members within your team, even if they do not report directly to you!


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