How To Discipline Your Employee

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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Lets face it, having to discipline an employee is tough especially if you are a new manager even seasoned managers may find it difficult. There can be many reasons to discipline an employee:

  • Performance issues
  • Behavioral problems
  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Tardiness
  • Failure to notify on an absence
  • Rude or abusive language in the workplace

The list of reasons to discipline an employee are endless, and probably only limited to the employees imagination. Some of the reasons for discipline can be negated somewhat if you let your new employee know what is expected of them during the on-boarding process, such as providing the organizations policy regarding sick, late and other common events. Once you have identified an issue that requires you to take action, two important steps need to be taken before meeting with the individual.

  1. Investigation. Don’t falter on this step, and ensure it is concise. This is the most important part of the discipline process. As the manager you are going to gather facts and evidence to determine what has taken place. You may need to gather evidence such as witness statements from other team members, documentary evidence. Most of this evidence will be gathered by speaking to those that may have witnessed the incident and remember to include the employee that is part of the investigation – you need to hear their side as well.
  2. Once you’ve completed your investigation, and have your facts organized the decision to discipline can be made. It is important to note that discipline should never be done in a vacuum – you should consult with other people in management including Human Resources. You need to take a lot into account including things like the employee’s past record, the severity of the incident and whether the employee was provoked. Discipline can be administered verbally but should always be followed up with something in writing.

There are two methods frequently used to handle discipline:

  1. Corrective discipline
  2. Progressive discipline

Corrective discipline would typically be used in cases of absenteeism or tardiness – the employee is expected to correct the behavior immediately – not over time. Progressive discipline involves working with the employee through a series of corrective actions, and coaching and is typically used with performance or other job-related issues. Progressive discipline also follows a set of procedures, hence the term “progressive”:

  1. Coach the employee about the issue
  2. Verbal warnings
  3. Written warnings
  4. Suspension or termination – depending on the situation
    • ALWAYS done with HR in tow!

The actual discussion with the employee can also be handled in several ways, typically going from verbal discussions, to written warnings, suspension and finally termination – again, remember to keep HR involved. Terminating an employee should be a last resort you always want to try and salvage the relationship. No matter what method you use it is important to document the interaction, this is done to protect employee rights and prevent legal action. Documenting the issue, and resulting disciplinary action also makes it easier to move from one step to another – for example from a verbal discussion regarding tardiness to a written warning. Miss one step and you have to start from the beginning. Getting off the initial stage fright can be easy with a little bit of preparation. There is only one thing you need to absolutely remember when having the discipline conversation with an employee: get your facts straight. If you have your facts and can back them up then your conversation will go over much better than if you go in without all the facts and try to establish authority. Getting your facts straight is one of the most important part of the conversation, if you don’t know have your facts you will come off like an idiot and will undermine yourself – believe me, your employees will talk among themselves and none of it will be flattering. When you have decided that you need to talk about a certain behavior (also lets get this straight, you are disciplining for the BEHAVIOR not the individual – you should never be attacking the person), you need to keep several things in mind:

  1. Get your facts straight
    1. What is the incident in question?
    2. When did it happen?
    3. Who else was present?
    4. What was the result of the incident?
  2. Remember that you are going to discipline for the unwanted behavior, these conversations should never attack the individual. As a manager you need to be above reproach and lead accordingly.
  3. Involve HR early in the process. You should keep HR in the loop with what is going on, depending on your reporting structure you could find your conversation in HR. They will be able to provide tips to you and may help with structuring the meeting with the employee.
  4. Document, document and document. This goes hand-in-hand with number 1 – always document the incident. As you speak with the individual, document. Once you’re done document.
  5. Keep copies of the conversation for your records, for HR and for the employee.

As you work through the discipline process, you also need to remain consistent. Any slip-up means you may need to start the process all over. You also need to remain consistent from one employee to the next, any deviation will be seen as favoritism and make dismissal that much more challenging – either before or after — remember the employee has the right to see a lawyer regarding their dismissal and will present the facts to the lawyer. As a company your minimal severance could become something substantial (see also this website, and also this website, oh and this story also and finally here is an article on a large severance paid out by the City of Vancouver to its terminated City Manager – and finally if you want to do-it-yourself without hiring a lawyer visit the Fired Without Cause website). Disciplining an employee can be difficult, however with the right amount of preparation and getting the support of your senior managers and HR the task can become less stressful. It is always important to remember that you are trying to correct a behavior, and the goal is to salvage the employee-employer relationship – terminating the employee should always be the last resort.

Toughest Interview Question

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job search seeking employment concept word cloud background

What is the one question that most people dread on the interview? It is one that I like to ask, as do most recruiters:

Where do you see yourself in 5-years time

While there is no right or wrong answer, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. When I ask this question, I am hoping you will tell me that you want to be with my company and either on my team, or move around to another position. If I’m paying a recruiter $6k (or more) to hire you, I want to recover that cost over several years.
  2. I want to know that you want to grow in the company, maybe you will say “I want to be the Manager/Supervisor” or if you’re very bold you will tell me “I want your job”.
  3. I want to know that you will do what it takes to learn the job, the products and about the company. One great answer I got when I interviewed someone was “I want to become a supervisor, but I’d like to know my job well before I do”.

Here are some answers you should consider:

1. “My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”

2. “I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”

Visit the site for reasons why these two are great answers to give.

Regardless of how you answer this question, think about it and be prepared for it. Do not be too vague but also not too specific also do not raise red flags:

“I am a musician, and love playing the piano. I would like to do this full time at some point.”

Not a good answer.

Managers Guide to Terminating an Employee

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Terminating an employee is not easy, no matter how many times you may do it.

But you’ve decided that it’s time to let someone go. Hopefully you’ve documented everything just in case the individual decides to sue — and of course, there are significant differences in Canada and the US when it comes to terminating an individual.

Regardless of where you’re located, hopefully you have consulted with your HR department and everything has been checked, and double-checked.

In Canada at least, ensure you’ve given the individual sufficient severance. Go above and beyond – but remember that doesn’t guarantee a suit or complaint to Human Rights, or Labor Standards.

In Canada quite a bit needs to be taken into account: age of the employee, what they are doing, current market conditions for a similar position – these are just three things to consider. Frequently employers will go above statutory requirements, providing what is common law. Depending on the individual it can range widely but providing up to 1-year (or more in some cases) of severance + benefits is not unheard of.

Once you’ve figured everything out, and if your HR isn’t going to be doing the actual termination – JUST DO IT. Seriously, it’s easier to get it done then allow yourself to deflate/de-stress or whatever you need to do.

Whether this is your first, or you’ve done hundreds it doesn’t get easier (in my opinion).

The actual termination should be quick. You’re there to tell the individual that their job is gone. Be respectful of the individual, this isn’t the time to bring up anything. The actual discussion shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes (even 10-minutes might be too long).

This is going to be a shock to them — actually, it should not. If as a manager you’ve done your job properly terminating an employee should never be a shock to them. Hopefully you and HR have tried to bring the employee around — it is expensive to terminate.

Typically once the discussion is complete, HR may step in to talk about the termination papers.

Escort the individual to their desk, let them get what their personal belongings (only do this if you are certain that they will not create a scene – otherwise have someone get their personal belongings OR you could have them come back after most employees have left) and then show them out. Be respectful of the individual!

The termination process is difficult, not only the act of terminating the employee but dealing with the aftermath (questions from other employees, the rumor mill). You’re not just terminating an employee, but an individual who may have tied their worth and self to that job and title and you’ve just taken it away from them. Hopefully everything has been done to salvage the relationship.

Just remember, be respectful through the entire process.

How To Hire Better Call Center Agents

Reading Time: 8 minutes

customer-support-imageWhether you run a small, or large call center the blood of your center are your agents.

Your goal as a leader is to minimize turnover, and to ensure when you do hire you are getting the best you can get. Having led my small center for the last 9-years I’ve seen all types of applicants, I’ve hired directly by posting job advertisements on places like Craigslist and the HRDC (Canada Job Bank run by the Gov’t of Canada) and have even hired based on personal recommendations from agents on my team and from others outside of the team (Sales, Marketing, IT).

In recent years the decision was made to use agencies as they do have access to a much larger labor pool that we do.  Our company actively posts jobs on our corporate website and has started to use social media to market and promote those positions but this route will take time to generate the type of leads any contact center needs in order to ensure they also have a solid pool of applicants. In the past we looked for a warm body.  Someone that could sit in the chair, and take calls.  The quality of applicants was hit and miss.  Not the ideal scenario given that it can take up to 3-months for an agent to become proficient enough that they are taking a high number of calls on their own without any assistance except for those oddball calls that come through. If you have hired this agent directly what is it really costing you?

  • Your time and/or your trainers time and/or your Manager/Supervisor or Team Leads time.  What are you paying them hourly?
  • The new agents time – remember during training, they are still getting paid.
  • Other agents time – chances are your new employee will also engage those around them when help is needed.
  • Indirect time lost – what are you not able to complete?  This is also known as missed opportunity costs.
  • Customer satisfaction (or dissatisfaction with service being provided)
  • Increased workload on other agents
    • More sick days being used due to increased workloads
    • Overtime costs due to being short staffed
  • Team morale

The contact center has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry – an incredible 26% of agents are replaced annually depending on the industry.  Some industries may see an even higher turnover rate.  Consider the direct cost to hire these individuals: most agencies charge 15% (or more) of the yearly salary to place an agent.

Given an average annual salary of $32,000.00 (source: that’s $4,950.00 just to bring that employee in the door. If you are using an agency you should only be getting the top agents – however this may not always be the case.

If your contact center isn’t paying well in relation to others operating in the area you might be getting lower quality agents from the agency.

You want agents that are are driven to succeed and are naturals in the contact center.  They are the ones that know instinctively what to do, how to do it and know how to fill in any time they may have between calls.  These are the same folks that will become the leaders in your contact center, they are always asking for more and are always learning and have incredible critical thinking skills.  These are hard to come by, and when you have a few of these you don’t want to let them go.

Then you get floaters (as I like to call them – they exist everywhere, not just in the contact center).  They come in, do the job and go home.  They are not driven at all.  They’ll take on additional work when it is given to them, but they will never seek out work.  Between calls or during slow periods they can be seen chatting it up with those around them, in the staff kitchen or always on health breaks.  These are not even the worst!

Finally you get those that are OK.  They are eager, they want to do a good job but they just don’t get it and as a result you will have issues with them all the time: sick, late, low productivity, poor performance.  They have negative attitudes and spread their negativity to everyone around them which impacts team morale.  If you have these in your contact center – get rid of them.  If you are working through an agency, hopefully they have done their job and screened these types of individuals out and do not even send them to you – but truth be told, I am certain we have all worked with these types of people.

What is Your Recruitment Strategy?

I’ve already mentioned a few methods when looking for agents.

  • Utilizing hiring agencies and working with various hiring models
    • Direct hire
    • Contract to hire
  • Job boards
  • Company career page
  • Referrals from existing employees
  • Craigslist
  • Social Media
  • Schools (high schools, college, university)
  • Minority organizations
  • Job fairs
  • Outplacement programs

The list could go on.  Each method above has pro’s and con’s — it’s your job to mitigate the risk and find those that work for you and your contact center.

What Makes The Perfect Contact Center Agent?

Over the years I’ve found that prior experience in a call center is key, when I’ve broken that rule it has been difficult to recover.  You either have to let the individual go (hopefully within their probationary period) or if you find out too late and they are now permanent employees it costs you in terms of what is mandated by your Employment Standards Act — in reality this isn’t all that it is costing you, don’t forget the indirect costs where the biggest is team morale and productivity. One strategy which I’ve employed to find the perfect agent is to create an agent profile. This strategy is simple in that you detail what you are looking for in an agent.

I’ve shared my agent profile with agencies that I work with.  This way we know that the individuals that they send us have not only been vetted through their own process but have gone through an additional review through our minimum requirements. The profile should contain a list of what you want the perfect candidate to have, their personality traits, skill set and core competencies.  The best way to create this is to look at the top agents in your contact center today, and develop your agent profile based on them. In addition to having an agent profile, you should also have a job description that accurately reflect the roles and responsibilities of the position.  It does not have to be 3-pages long but needs to accurately reflect what the agent will be doing. Some of the things that I look for:

  • Able to show empathy
  • Strong critical thinking skills
  • Willing to wear multiple hats
  • Ability to think on their feet
  • Outgoing personality — introverts may do well, but depending on where they are on the scale
  • Ability to listen
  • Calm
    • Won’t fly off the handle the moment they get an angry caller or someone who swears
  • Exceptional telephone skills
    • Not monotone and able to fluctuate their tone accordingly
  • Experience
    • Have they worked in a call center before?
    • Do they have office experience?  While office experience isn’t a must I have found that those that have worked in an office know how to conduct themselves, they understand and can deal with office politics and know what business casual means.
  • Strong language/communication skills
    • Not only on the telephone, but written skills in addition to being able to interact with others on the team and outside the team
  • Conscientious

Great resource for behavioral questions is – there are some awesome questions here along with “answers” (well – what you should be listening for).

Once you have developed your agent profile, and have determined what your hiring strategy is hopefully you start getting resumes to fill those open positions. Working with agencies we now conduct a telephone interview first, this allows us to hear the individual over the phone and to test their language skills.  The telephone interview should not take more than 30-minutes, this is the chance for you to tell the prospective candidate about the company and the position — when I conduct the telephone interview, my goal is to “scare the individual away”.

I only want those individuals who are serious about the job and role to come in for a face-to-face, I don’t want tire kickers. During the telephone interview you should ask a small subset of questions from your master list, this is to determine whether you really want to meet the person face-to-face. In my contact center we focus on behavioral questions in the interview, this forces the candidate to think about a response and tie it into their work experience.  While personal responses, and responses related to volunteer work are acceptable chances are the candidate will go above and beyond in those situations since they have a greater personal role.

I have read about telephone screening processes where the candidate calls into an automated system  or employment information line screening system which sounds very appealing, especially if you are doing more direct hires.  This method allows you to screen unqualified candidates, and listen to their telephone voice.  If you use this method, I would like to hear from you as to its effectiveness – contact me via Twitter, or LinkedIn or leave a comment.

If the candidate has made it past the pre-screen telephone interview then it is time to bring them into the office for a face-to-face and really grill them.  Remember your goal is to hire the best, and a thorough in-person interview will either scare the candidate away or they will shine as they have the experiences you need in order to be successful on the job.  My goal even in the in-person interview is to see if I can scare the individual away, the questions will tell me if they are serious about the opportunity or are they filling in time until something better comes along and will be coasters.  I don’t want coasters, but engaged individuals that are excited about coming to work.

Agent Testing In The Contact Center

Many contact centers swear by agent testing, this is not something that we have implemented but it is on my radar.  In lieu of this we rely heavily on the in-person interview and use of behavioral questions to learn about the prospective candidate.

Reference Checks

If after all of this you have narrowed down your candidate list to one or two individuals the final step should be to check references.  Too often this is an after thought – again if you are using an agency, they will take care of this for you however if you are hiring directly you need to check references.  In the reference check you want to “interview” the previous employer by asking specific questions about what the candidate did for them, questions to consider asking:

  • What project(s) did the individual work on?
  • What was the environment like?  Small or large team?
  • What were their job duties and what technologies did they use?
  • What was their technical performance and ability like?
  • How are their non-technical skills?
  • What are some of their strengths and areas for improvement?
  • What was their attendance and reliability like?
  • Would you rehire them?

Companies which have strong HR departments or hiring and documentation processes will be able to answer these questions easily.  These questions will also help weed out those candidates that decide to list their next-door neighbor as a reference because they will not be able to answer these types of questions. It may also be beneficial to fax and/or e-mail the questions and request them to be returned in the same manner so that the responses can be kept in the file for that individual.

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

In reality you will never find the perfect candidate, they will always be lacking something which is why you want to hire for attitude and train for skills.  You can train the prospective candidate on your products, services and tools — you will not be able to train them to have a better attitude. You do not want mediocre talent, as they will produce mediocre results.

There are two things that differentiate CSRs – these are attitude, and aptitude.  You should be looking for someone that has passion, energy and enthusiasm.  Answers should roll off their tongues, and their subtle body language will tell you whether they truly have the customer service orientation that is required to be successful.  Were they laid back, nonchalant when answering questions?  Or did their ears perk-up, eyes widen and sparkle and grin cover their face when you asked them “tell us about a time where you over delivered to a customer” or “tell us about a time when you resolved a difficult situation and were commended by your manager”.

If you have any strategies that you can share with readers, please send them over via Twitter, LinkedIn or leave a comment on this post.  If you found this post helpful, share the knowledge!

This was originally posted on August 8, 2014.

4 Telling Questions to ask Before You Hire for Customer Service

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Customer service can be a demanding job, whether it is on the phone or in a retail environment at the same time you want to ensure you get the right individual otherwise you are in trouble.

Here are four questions that you should ask the individual you are interviewing for a customer service position:

  1. Is the customer always right?
  2. Do you find it difficult to keep a positive attitude when dealing with customers?
  3. Do you feel customers are too demanding?
  4. Does dealing with customers get in the way of getting your job done?

Watch how they answer your questions, watch for body language.

Is there a right or wrong answer?  That is something you need to determine.

Why You Should Keep HR Files On Your Team

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It may sound like you are duplicating the work of your Human Resources department – if you have one – but in fact, you are not.  Of course any major policy or procedural violations would need to be documented especially if you are working in a unionized environment.

So why keep HR files on your team?

Several reasons.


Perhaps one individual is constantly having trouble with a few aspects of the job. What better way to identify this that by retaining this type of information in their own file and then coaching them. They may make an error once or twice – but unless you’ve got a superb memory and can remember what your entire team does right (or wrong) you will not remember everything they have done right or wrong.  Documenting issues for coaching ensures that you remember the issue as it existed, not what you recollect days or weeks later.

Review Time

As a manager it is difficult to remember everything people on your team do – whether it’s right, or wrong.  But I guarantee you will remember what they’ve done in the last few months so potentially  9-months of successes could get wiped out by one or two negative incidents.

Every manager that I’ve worked under has always remembered what’s happened in the last few months and normally all the negative.

By documenting what they are doing you build a profile of your employee, you are also showing your team that you do care about what happens in the department that you have a vested interest.

If you look at it from the point of view of your team, they will realize that you are watching — which limits the risk of negative behaviour. You don’t want to be a cop (or mom/dad at work) but in some cases you will be.

How To Maintain Files

This isn’t rocket science. It is easy.

Plain folder. The employees name on it. Done.

When you witness good/bad behavior – document it.

You sit down with someone for coaching, or one-on-one in your office the next step should be to document the conversation and e-mail the individual and put a copy in YOUR employee file.

Someone comes in late? Document that.

Too long in the washroom… well, use your judgement. In some industries, particularly very busy call centers EVERYTHING is documented and yes – they will even document how long you are away from your phone (so not necessarily how long your bio-break has been).

HR Employee Files

The files that HR keep are different from yours, they will be tracking information related to employment and legal issues. For instance significant performance issues, salary and wage increases (or decreases), medical notes etc., The HR employee file may have some of the same information as you maintain but for the most part they will be different.

Now that said just because your file doesn’t contain the same information don’t keep it laying around or consider it not important. If you’ve documented sufficient information related to performance for example and use that to terminate someone KEEP THE INFORMATION! If that employee decides to sue or file a grievance with the union or any other number of reasons that file might be the only information you have to back-up your actions. IT IS IMPORTANT!

Do you have a different way you’re approaching this? I would love to get more insight as I’m sure others would as well.

This post originally written on August 2, 2009