Leadership Can Solve Worker Turnover

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In the teleservices industry, a work environment with proper implementation and management of technology is vitally important. But any good manager will agree that the human resource still plays the most important role in any successful teleservices venture.


Employees are the backbone of this industry, and they need effective leadership so that they will be motivated to do the best jobs they can do.


In the United States today, the teleservices industry is beset by several factors that make it difficult to hire and retain good employees. The economy is booming. The June national unemployment rate was 4 percent, so just about anyone who wants a job can find one.


Ironically, this prosperity has its downside: Because good jobs are easier to come by, attrition among employees is a major industry problem.


Good leadership, however, can inspire employees and motivate them to work harder at their jobs. The question is how.


A good leader is able to influence the behavior of individuals and groups. Harry Truman once said, "Leadership is getting people to do what they don't want to, and like it."


Leadership is not a random event. Rather, it is a dynamic process continually adjusted to an ever-changing environment.


In the past, a leader's personality or charisma was considered key. Leadership effectiveness also was defined in terms of attitudes. The most effective leaders were deemed to be those who placed the greatest emphasis on "people and production."


Today, this view has been modified. Now the leader needs to vary his style to fit the readiness of his subordinates.


A leader's attitude is based on his concern for both his people and their productivity. Consequently, leadership behavior also is based on two dimensions: task behavior and relationship behavior. In attempting to lead, an individual always engages in each of these behaviors to some extent.


Task behavior involves directing others - telling or showing them exactly what to do and how to do it correctly.


Typically, direction is characterized by "unilateral communication," which may take the form of oral or written instructions expected to be carried out as dictated. Instructions to employees may be explained by saying, "This is how you would do this."


By contrast, relationship behavior is characterized by more supportive, facilitating actions and by bilateral communication among individuals. Here, direction typically involves dialogue between a manager and his subordinates or between co-workers.


Bilateral Communication


Bilateral communication takes place when employees are directed to complete given tasks, but are allowed to exercise their discretion as to how they should be completed, and are given more latitude to offer input.


Thus, while task behavior might be characterized by a manager telling an employee, "This is how you would do this," relationship behavior might be characterized by employees explaining to their managers, "This is how I would do this." This distinction can be an important one.


Whether a leader uses task or relationship behavior, he must first assess the readiness of the employee.


Readiness is the extent to which a follower has the demonstrated ability and willingness to accomplish a job. Job-specific readiness is a function of two variables: ability and motivation.


Ability is when an employee possesses the skills needed to complete a job successfully. In evaluating whether an employee will be able to perform a job satisfactorily, a manager should consider that employee's training for and past experience with similar jobs. An able employee must also understand the expectations of the job.


Motivation is determined by two factors. First, an employee must have a desire to achieve. That is, he should want not only to complete the job, but to complete it successfully. A manager should ask himself whether a particular employee has a good incentive to do the best job he can do.


Equally important is the employee's confidence level. Does the employee feel he will be able to accomplish the job successfully?


In answering this question, a manager should look at whether the employee has been willing in the past to assume responsibility.


An employee who tends to take initiative and assume responsibility also tends to be one who is confident with his decision-making skills. But where an employee tends not to take initiative, and tends to shun responsibility, there is an implied message: I can't.


Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


Managers should take this message as a warning, lest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Additionally, they should consider their behavior when giving a job to someone who feels he cannot do it successfully. If the "I can't" mentality does become self-fulfilling, it may have the residual effect of diminishing an employee's confidence in his ability to perform other jobs.


Leaders cannot just take one style and think it will work for everyone. Because employee empowerment is a current buzzword, one might think that relationship behavior is more effective. After all, employees tend to feel more empowered when they are asked for their input about a task than when they are told exactly how to do something.


This is true. But not all employees are alike. Remember, a leader needs to access an employee's ability and motivation. Some seek the empowerment that comes with being able to exercise their discretion to complete certain jobs. Others, however, do not consider latitude a good thing. An employee who lacks confidence may want to be told how to do something before he is asked for his input on how to do it.


Moreover, an employee who tends to lack confidence but who succeeds at completing a job because he had been given specific instructions might, in the future, feel more confident about providing input on how to do the same job more efficiently. After all, success breeds confidence.


An effective leader, I think, is able to alter his style by adopting an appropriate mix of task and relationship behavior.


In doing so, we can hopefully provide employees, our most important resource, with the leadership that motivates them to come to work and do a good job for themselves, the clients, the company and the industry.
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