I manage a team of project and program managers responsible for keeping software implementations on track for a global company. I have five regional directors, each of whom manage about fifteen individual service representatives.
The frontline folks are highly skilled—their jobs require a lot of technical experience and real expertise. They are dedicated and hard working. The problem is that as our sales have taken off, no one seems to understand how much the volume of work has increased for my group.
My people are all working way too much and at all hours, because so many of our customers have teams in multiple time zones. A rep might have a 4:00 a.m. call, work all day, and then have another call at 9:00 p.m. It’s just too much. Things are falling through the cracks and we are not able to return some help calls in the prescribed short time frame. Salespeople are getting upset and accusing my folks of not being on top of things.
I think we need to revisit job design and fine-tune how we deal with the time zone situation, including hiring more people in more time zones. I have been researching how other companies are dealing with this and I have some good ideas.
My EVP’s idea is to roll out customer service training to all frontline professionals. That is the last thing they need as they are very service oriented. There is only so much one person can do. I think if we try to get our people to attend customer service training, they will revolt and quit. My EVP doesn’t get it.
I am a quiet person and get very nervous when I need to negotiate and take a stand for my point of view, which is what I know I need to do. I just don’t know if I can. What do you suggest?
Need to Negotiate
Dear Need to Negotiate,
It sounds like you truly care about your people and understand your business. I understand how intimidating it can be to have to push back on your boss and make your case for a different approach.
You are right that asking your people to go through service training instead of redesigning systems to make their workload more manageable will not get the results your EVP is looking for. I know exactly what you mean, having had the experience of doing coaching skills training for overwhelmed groups who literally walked out because the training was so beside the point for them.
So, yeah, you do have to take a stand. Losing your skilled people would be disastrous for you and for the folks who remain!
Your first line of defense is data. Your EVP needs to understand the toll of the “24/7 Always On” situation. It is not sustainable. I’ll bet you have kept very good records of how much and when your folks are delivering to clients. The more you can clearly demonstrate the reality of what is going on, the more effective your negotiations will be. Use your data analytics to paint the picture in a way your boss can clearly understand. To do that, think about what language your boss speaks most easily. Some people speak Excel (just numbers), some speak Word (numbers with anecdotal evidence), and some speak PowerPoint (graphs and visuals).
Next, write up your ideas about job redesign. Present your two best options and compare the cost of each to the cost of irrelevant training. Be clear about where the ideas came from and be ready with evidence to support your assertions. Having everything down on paper, well thought out, and presented in a way your EVP can understand will give you a lot of confidence.
Nervousness can often be alleviated with proper preparation. Trying to make your case without all your ducks in a row would not be effective. Get your presentation together and practice it, preferably with another person or persons. Give your practice audience questions to ask and encourage them to ask other questions that occur to them so you are prepared for something that might come out of left field.
You can lean on how much you care about your people to help you overcome your nerves, too. Remember: this is about them, not about you.
Senior executives know what you are thinking only if you tell them—and it is your job to prevent disaster here. Nobody will appreciate an “I told you so” after the fact. So practice saying “this is my position on this, and here is how I got to it.” I am not saying this will guarantee success, but at least you will have given it your best shot.
If you really want to sharpen your negotiating skills long term, my new favorite book on that topic is Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference. I have been testing out some of his simple but effective techniques and I’m very intrigued. His material may not immediately make you a crack hostage negotiator (at least it hasn’t happened for me yet), but it could be a start.
This is your chance to lead. A lot of quiet folks think their predisposition to introversion will work against them, but I have not experienced that to be true. Yes, you have to work on your confidence. But you are well positioned to prepare with unimpeachable analysis and to take courage from your purpose to properly care for your people.
I’m betting you can.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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