6 Keys to Effective Call Center Talent Management


In a new article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Gunter Stahl suggests that top performing companies adhere to a set of talent management principals that guide how they acquire new talent and manage the talent they already have. After looking at 33 multinational corporations headquartered around the globe, Stahl found the following six key talent management principals:

  • Aligning recruiting efforts with strategy;
  • Making sure the company’s talent management practices fit with each other;
  • Making deliberate effort to embed corporate culture into talent management processes such as hiring methods and leadership development;
  • Getting involvement by managers at all levels, including the CEO;
  • Figuring out the best balance of the company’s global and local needs; and
  • Finding ways to differentiate the company from its competitors.

So, the question is, how can applying these principals in your call center help your company better manage your talent?

Alignment with Strategy

The first principal, aligning recruiting efforts with strategy, seems fairly obvious on its face. Even so, we have seen many call center companies that fail to properly align recruiting with overall company strategy. The easiest way to align recruiting efforts with overall strategy is to facilitate internal communication between recruiting and operations.

As for implementing the alignment in practice, one HR Director in the research wrote:

We have integrated our talent management processes with the business planning process. As each major business area discusses and sets their three-year business goals, they will also be setting their three-year human capital goals and embedding those human capital goals within their business plan. Achievement of these goals will be tracked through our management processes.

To effectively align your recruiting efforts with your call center strategy, your HR team must be included in strategic discussions with operations. Too often, call center HR teams are simply given “fill orders” without being apprised of overall call center strategy. Taking this approach limits HR’s effectiveness and ultimately limits the organizations ability to hit strategic goals.

Internal Consistency

The second principal from the research is that a company’s talent management practices should fit with each other. Specifically, implementing talent management practices in isolation may not work and might actually be damaging.

In the call center environment, this might occur when the company has inconsistent recruiting practices across multiple centers. We have seen call centers that use pre-hire assessment testing in one center but not in others or that use management to interview in one center but only HR interviews in others.

This internal inconsistency prevents a company from being able to properly asses its various centers. Using a consistent assessment and interview process, then tying results of your call center agents back to those processes will allow you to better manage and compare your call centers.

Culture is King

While companies have long focused on job related skills and experiences in the hiring process, research shows many successful companies are starting to add cultural and personality fit into the equation. The idea being, if the person has the personality that fits your corporate culture, certain skills can be taught or coached to make the person successful.

In the call center environment, this is especially critical. If your center is dedicated to customer service and your corporate culture is built around high-quality customer service, finding candidates that are personally driven to serve is critical. Simply having the skills to answer the call is not enough in this environment.

For positions analegous to many call center jobs, when evaluating entry-level jobs, the research points out:

Infosys is willing to trade off some immediate skill requirements for a specific job in favor of good cultural fit, the right attitude and what it refers to as “learnability.” In addition to evaluating the applicant’s college record, Infosys puts applicants through an analytical and aptitude test, followed by an extensive interview to assess cultural fit and compatibility with the company’s values.

Again, when hiring new agents, experience is important, but the smart companies will look past limited direct experience in the face of a great attitude that fits the company culture and a willingness to learn that indicates future high performance.

Management Involvement

Gaining buy-in from all levels is critical. Successful talent management must be owned not just by HR, but also by managers at all levels – including the CEO.

An example of this buy in occurs at Unilever:

Unilever, for example, believes in recruiting only the very best people. To make this happen, top-level managers must make time for interviews, even in the face of all their other responsibilities. Line managers can contribute by acting as coaches or mentors, providing job-shadowing opportunities and encouraging talented employees to move around within the organization for career development.

In call centers, attrition is often a major concern, but the ownership of the attrition issue is often pawned off on HR or Ops. The reality is that attrition is an issue for which all levels of the company must take ownership. For instance, including line managers in the interview process and tying HR and Management bonuses to attrition levels can give all parties a stake in the outcome of the hiring process.

For more on this, we have written extensively on the True Cost of Attrition and how call center companies can implement strategies designed to reduce attrition.

Balancing Needs

In multi-site situations, finding a balance between local and global needs is critical. That is, companies must find a balance between the ability to be flexible at the local level while maintaining a coherent human capital strategy at the global level.

An example of balancing needs in the call center environment would be requiring the use of global talent management software or pre-hire assessments while allowing local sites some freedom in how they want to handle recruitment specific to their local (i.e. local college job fair, etc.). The key is finding what is important at the global level and prioritizing accordingly.

Employer Branding and Differentiation

For companies across the globe, talent competition is a reality. While it is well known that companies must differentiate themselves when dealing with potential clients in order to win business, it is equally as important to differentiate the company in the face of competition for talent.

We have seen call center companies that have a “churn and burn” mentality effectively decimate their local talent labor shed because the call center earned the reputation in the community as a true “boiler room”.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, call center companies that make an effort to connect with the community, especially in smaller communities, through philanthropic or others means can gain a meaningful edge in the talent wars.

Talent Management as a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

So, what can you take away from these principals? Importantly, leading companies have clearly realized that effective talent management can create a sustainable competitive advantage in both operations as well as the global war for talent. For call center companies, where labor makes up a disproportionate amount of costs, effectively managing talent is even more critical.

For more on effective call center talent management, check out the latest from CallMe! IQ. You should follow us on twitter here.