Making Mentoring Work in the Contact Centre 0

business woman holding an interview with a man in the office


Steve Shellabear, founder of mentors and leaders outlines how to make mentoring in the contact centre work.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring, at its most simple, is a relationship between a guide and a less experienced person. Mentoring can be given to a director, call centre manager, team leader or agent. In many contact centres, the most common beginnings of mentoring is the one-on-one, peer directed ‘buddy system’ used when a new starter completes agent induction training and is in the probationary period prior to being offered a full time contract. A suitably experienced person is identified for the new starter to connect with. As well as being a subject matter expert, the buddy is likely to be chosen for their patience and interpersonal skills. The management objective is to help the employee ‘settle in’, (avoiding staff attrition which is typical higher in the first 3 -6 months), avoid quality issues and improve performance. If it works the relationship can endure as the employee progresses in their role.

How is mentoring different from coaching?

All contact centres have developed their own structures for coaching and mentoring which can be both formal and informal. Practically there is often an overlap between coaching and mentoring as some coaches have the ability to act as mentors and some mentors may coach. However generally coaching is about learning or improving skills and know-how. Mentoring is about developing a relationship that involves giving advice on professional and personal levels. The mentor relationship can be goal focused and strategic where coaching may be more concerned with immediate performance improvement and reinforcement of skills transfer. Career management may also be a longer-term mentor focus. A formal mentoring relationship may last for a defined period or continue for years. Once the mentees formal needs have been met it may continue informally or as a friendship.

How are mentors selected?

The mentor will be selected because they have valuable career or life experience valued by the mentee. They may be old or young. Many young agents have valuable experience. One of the questions to ask before appointment is: “Do they have the right experience, skills and attributes attributes to be a mentor?” If they are recruited from the agent community then they will need the skills and time to work with the mentee.

Making the time:

Making the time can be a challenge. Unless it is planned for and prioritised mentoring, like coaching, can often be cancelled at short notice. Last minute postponements send a negative message to staff so effective scheduling, through the workforce management system, is necessary to ensure mentoring activity goes ahead and does not impact negatively on service levels. In some organisations the mentor undertakes the role on an unpaid basis, in others it is their full time role. Whether paid or unpaid, a certain generosity of spirit is needed and the ability to listen and fully engage. In a true mentor relationship the focus is determined by the mentee.


A mentor can unlock learning and inner attitudinal change through the use of questions, listening, empathy, sharing experiences and skilful interventions. These abilities can occur naturally or be developed a part of a formalised development programme. When setting up a formal mentor system, potential mentors should be interviewed, complete profiling tests to ensure role compatibility, given tailored training, and accredited. The mentors on-going training and development should also be planned for.

What skills do you look for in a mentor?

• Interest –what motivates them to become a mentor? Has the potential mentor identified areas of interest for themselves in being a mentor?

• Appropriate knowledge and skills – can they provide practical help based on having done a similar role? Can they provide guidance from their own experience?

• Available time – can they give the time required and meet other commitments?

• Listening skills – are they able to listen with out interrupting?

• Empathy skills – can they put themselves in the position of the mentee and step back to provide an objective solution that takes account of all stakeholder interests?

• Patient and supportive – as the relationship is led by the mentee are they able to support them to achieve their goals? Can they ask questions and let them reach their own conclusions without jumping in and imposing their views and suggestions?

What about reporting? How can management know it’s working?

Ideally the mentee does not report directly to the mentor allowing for a higher degree of trust and disclosure than the manager- subordinate relationship usually allows. Although the mentor may reference competencies within the performance management system, there is minimal feedback to the team leader or manager as to report back directly would restrict the mentee’s ability to say things as they truly experience them. This does not mean the mentee can’t or won’t talk about the value they are receiving outside of the mentor sessions but rather they have the safety of knowing they can speak in confidence without the fear of specific disclosures being revealed without their permission. As the mentor relationship is based on trust any breach of confidence would severely undermine the working relationship. Similarly, it does not mean that there is an absence of communication between manager and mentor. The mentor may discuss progress towards organisational goals. The key is that all understand and respect the ethical guidelines.

Can you have both coaches and mentors?

Yes, but clarity of objectives, roles and responsibilities in designing and implementing the two support systems is vital. Both roles can usefully co-exist and achieve different outcomes. The mentor focusing on elements impacting on job satisfaction and longer-term development, which may include attitudinal change and crossing job boundaries. The coach fully supporting the team leader in ensuring that agent skills and behaviours are consistently demonstrated and the immediate service levels and KPIs achieved. A governance and support structure, managed by HR, should be set up that clearly defines parameters for leading and learning for coaches, mentors and line managers. Managers and team leaders, coaches and mentors should all be briefed and updated on working methods, benefits, challenges and overall progress.

How do you set up a mentoring structure?

If you are launching a mentoring programme you should provide the participants with a clear structure. The following steps will help: • Define the mentoring objectives and ensure they are strategically aligned to the contact centre and the organisation. • Establish goals, responsibilities and measurable outcomes • Design framework and support system for mentor programme • Design qualifying criteria for mentor and mentee • Identify potential candidates for both mentoring and mentee. • Enrol and match mentors and mentees • Anticipate and recognise challenges • Plan strategies to overcome challenges • Facilitate communication between stakeholders • Provide expert support and training, as required.

What benefits can you expect from mentoring?

There are many organisational and individual benefits in establishing a mentoring programme. For the contact centre these can include: • Faster induction of new employees • Higher profitability • Increased productivity • Lower staff turnover • Easier succession planning • Increased motivation • Higher engagement and commitment to the business • Improved communication. For the mentor, these can be: • Opportunity to share own experience • Increased job satisfaction • Develop stronger professional relationships • Enhanced peer recognition • Practice in using facilitation and interpersonal skills • Increased personal satisfaction through helping the development of others For the mentee, these can be: • A supportive relationship outside of their line manager or peers • Impartial advice and encouragement • Help with problem solving • Increased individual performance • Increased self confidence • Higher motivation • More job satisfaction • Professional development opportunities


Whether formal or informal mentoring is invaluable as a supportive management tool. Through giving staff time to reflect on how they work, establishing a network of enabling relationships and providing timely support individual issues can be identified and resolved before they become management issues. For more information on how to set up a contact centre mentoring or coaching programme please contact: info@dancinglion.com or phone: 01908 644791.

Make it Happen – Driving Change Management 0

Time for changeSome people want it to happen, some people wish it would happen, others make it happen.

We all know that good ideas count for nothing unless they are put into practice. Yet implementing change, at a personal and organisational level, can at best be challenging and even a daunting task. There are many reasons for this: the culture we work in, the pull of the status quo, and daily strategic and operational demands of the business, can all divert our attention and take us off track. Our own blind spots can cloud our vision and cause us to postpone key actions. Every situation has its own unique opportunities and constraints, however, if you or your managers are spending too much time and energy on chasing results, troubleshooting performance problems and trying to get back on track, something needs to change. So how do you go about it? Here are some ideas to consider: Can you sharpen and maintain your focus to make something happen? The first step requires your concentrated attention, your focus. To focus means: ‘to adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly.’ Are you clear where you are starting from? Sounds obvious but an honest assessment of where you/the organisation are now is required before you start action. The organisational conditions may be complex, political and difficult to assess. In which case there are many tools available to help: GAP, SWOT, PEST analysis as well as systems based psychodynamic approaches. The tool you choose should be congruent with your organisation’s objectives and culture. Is your organisation ready for change? There will be likely varying levels of support for any change initiative. You will have advocates and supporters as well as undecided people and opponents. But you need to ask: is your organisation ready to receive guidance, instruction and pressure to change? Unless the answer is yes, or you have sufficient support to drive through change you will fall at the first hurdle.

Management competencies

How good are you and your managers at: o Managing your own time and energy o Communicating the message o Allocating tasks o Delegation o Monitoring progress Again, if the answer is variable, then some work should be done in strengthening core management competencies. Failure to address, for whatever reason, will compromise the outcome sought.

Change management competencies

Are you a Bear Grylls or climbing guide type? If you and your colleagues were attempting to climb a mountain for the first time, or even going on a lengthy hike, unless you are an experienced outdoor type, it would be prudent to enlist the support of a guide. The guide would know the terrain and could recommend the best route as well as vital safety measures. In the same way, when embarking on an organisational change journey the support of an experienced change agent is invaluable in recognising blind spots and weaknesses in change management. Who you choose as your guide is one of the most important elements in the change management process. Here are some pointers: o If you are in business your coach should have a business background. They should understand the organisational environment. o Have access to a range of change management tools to bypass potential failures up-front. o Understand people and know the emotional territory that you, the management team and frontline staff, are likely to encounter. This includes the defences people resort to when feeling anxious or threatened. o Know-how to inspire, motivate, and coach. o Be available to provide practical support when you need it. Realise and make the difference you want to see taking place in your organisation If you are driving the change initiative, people will look to you as a prospective role model. Whilst there is no universal style, it will be important that you: o Understand, maintain and improve your executive leadership impact through communication and relationship management. o Know how to become the personal context for change, hold the vision in place and create the conditions whereby possibility is accepted and gives people a purpose to make the change.


Some final thoughts:

Without effective implementation a goal or objectives are simply words with a positive intention. o If viewed in the appropriate way, the organisational change initiative, whatever the outcome, can be the catalyst for a personal change that will leave you stronger, more knowledgeable, wiser and even fulfilled.

Accomplishing anything of value in life is rarely easy – and if it were we probably wouldn’t value it. The difference between success and failure can often be whether we keep going – and don’t give up before we succeed.

Dancing lion, in association with MAD (Make a Difference) Executive Leadership, is pleased to offer tailored change management support sessions. Support can be provided in a group setting or in one-to-one executive coaching sessions or a combination of both. To find out more, please contact: Steve Shellabear – Director – dancing lion, tel: 0044 (0) 1908 644791 email: info@dancinglion or visit www.dancinglion.com

Mentors and Leaders Blog 0