Magazine article Training & Development

Tactics for the New Guerrilla Trainer

Magazine article Training & Development

Tactics for the New Guerrilla Trainer

Article excerpt

This is about going into the jungle, staging the foray, and being victorious. Let's use the example of call centers. Say that you've been brought in as the corporate trainer for a call center in a metropolitan area where such centers proliferate. Typically employing 50 to 500 people, call centers share a certain ambience: Decade-old coffee stains meld into abstract floral decorations on low-pile carpet, the original color of which was probably some mish-mash of pink and gray. The desks are old, wobbly, and shoved together. Each holds a phone and a computer, with the connecting wires dangling in a hopeless jumble.

The scent of perfume and cologne worn by the recruits of the call center army hovers (and smells) like napalm in the morning. The platoons--collections, customer service, technical support, tele-marketing--have distinct uniforms just a few seasons out of date but, nevertheless, worn in the service of their company.

As you scout the terrain, the impact of your new surroundings hits you like a mortar shell. How will you survive, much less thrive, in a place such as this?

Certainly not all call centers look like the one I just described. But many do, and some are even bleaker.

The employees in those underdeveloped empires often believe they are viewed by management as equivalent to fulltime employees. In fact, management tends to view those troops more as hired mercenaries, ready to sell out to the highest bidder and as dispensable as a busted headset. Though there is some small validity to both viewpoints, on the whole they are each only an interpretation of one side by the other and as easy to accept as they are wrongheaded.

Both viewpoints are the direct result of an ideology held by the commanders-in-chief that their enterprises are somehow unique. Solutions, processes, and even simple rules that seem commonplace in a real business don't apply here. Or so believe the company architects, who came of age in the industries they now champion.

The CEOs of multinational corporations (through any combination of education, experience, and social heredity) may validate their effectiveness from one industry to the next, but the president of a company whose primary source of revenue comes from call center operations has spent most of his or her working life in that specific industry and would operate about as comfortably elsewhere as a tiger cub in a pool of piranhas. Given the economic volatility of their call center camps, the corporate officers quite naturally take solace in regarding their domains as impenetrable from the forces of progress. Conditions, therefore, almost never improve in any substantive way (other than by unplanned luck), and so employee desertion is the order of the day.

Make no mistake: These corporate leaders aren't stupid. After all, they hired you, didn't they? Besides that, they understand the impact of market forces, have a keen knowledge of what their clients want, and are as cognizant of the impact of employee attrition as the heads of, say, international technology concerns. Their handicap isn't one of intelligence but rather of vision. And the myopia predominates in the struggle to progress beyond the perimeters of things they've tried before. To that end, they would rather repeat a familiar method they know to be a mistake than take a chance on succeeding with something that is unfamiliar.

So, when a bright-eyed trainer like you approaches those leaders with such urgent concepts as return-on-investment, Six Sigma, and e-learning, you are as likely as not met with a patronizing smirk.

"That's all very nice," comes the response. "But at the moment, we have 20 people waiting for you to deliver new hire orientation."

Some trainers learn to accept restricted vision as a condition of continued employment. Others resist. That resistance may be motivated by company loyalty, personal integrity, or a fondness for goodhearted muckraking. …

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