To understand a principle takes time; to apply that principle involves experience; but to indeed change a person, the principle must be absorbed into the very fiber or essence of an individual, reaching comprehension through mental, physical, and spiritual understanding, some might even say the soul of the individual. Freedom is one such principle; the tool for remaining free is the ability to choose, or agency. When applied to organizations, the same path to success must be tread, but with many individuals onboarding the principles is a challenge. Many people believing the same way is often described as a culture (Greenwald, 2008, p 192-195), or society, and when belief turns into dedicated and repetitive action, a paradigm is created (Kuhn, 1996), also called business processes and procedures.
Agency theory is a tool for understanding how organizational cultures become cultures. Individuals apply agency, and when many make the same choices, the creation of an organizational culture occurs. Emirbayer & Mische (1998) expand the term agency that gives reason why Tosi (2009) and Ekanayake (2004) both classify agency theory as an “economic theory” and how agency theory “… shapes social action [p 963].” If Emirbayer and Mische (1998) are correct, placing more emphasis upon individual agency opens doors into re-shaping controls, control mechanisms, and affects the entire organization. The power of agency to change people, organizations, and societies is immense. Recognizing that people will always exercise agency, guiding that agency exercise is not so much a discussion of control, but of harnessing energy and momentum to develop individuals into a cohesive whole.
The Johari Window is a tool for quickly assessing a situation before making a choice. Consider the job of a call center agent; they must be technically savvy, adept at handling multiple tasks while engaging in productive conversation, and must be able to keep a caller enthusiastically engaged in reaching a solution quickly so that the agent ay meet business set metrics and production goals. The Johari Window is suggested as a desktop guide in promoting self-knowledge in the call center agent to improve performance. Having personally employed the Johari Window as part of logical thinking, I explicitly recommend, that before handing an agent this tool, training must be accomplished to help allow for clearer thinking that often leads to more speedy action. The first Johari Window represented links to a .pdf that contains additional specific information for improving training in the Johari Window principles.
Of all the locations in the window, the open area position is where the majority of people want to stay; wherein everybody and everything knows and is known. The unknown is frightening, and change in this location comes the slowest, if at all. Each call center agent wants to, and needs to, feel confident in what is known and where they go when they do not know; hence, training as a continual process remains the catchword in this location, even though it might not be well received.
While the location is desirable, rarely will customers call in because they already know something. Agents in a call center should leave new hire and continual employment training and start every working day from this location where they are known and know. The open area could also be referred to as the preparation location.
The hidden area is where business in a call center will occur most effectively. The customer knows what they want, and the call center agent knows how to deliver what is wanted and through reflective communication mutual understanding is achieved to make the hidden area become known. Imperative to understanding in this area is the power of choice, agency, to choose to reveal only pieces of what is wanted. If the customer chooses not to disclose what is wanted, it is not poor service when the customer’s wants are not fulfilled. This point is especially important in understanding the voice of the customer (VOC) survey results and quality call review. The only time the agent is in the wrong, in this location, is when the agent cannot choose and thereby communicates less effectively to the customer, delivering a poor performance in need of remediation. Both the agent and the customer have something hidden and something known. The importance of clear communication remains pre-eminent in this location.
For instance, two top call center agents were continally competing with each other for first place evaluation. The agent who routinely came in second asked why. The answer to improving performance is found in the hidden area, opportunities that guided the agent to drop AHT/ACW and increase VOC into productive communication towards a solution. There is power in the hidden area to capture and employ. Train agents to be alert for hidden areas to gain improved performance, not through active listening, but through reflective listening where mutual understanding between the customer and the agent is reached.
Of all the locations in the Johari Window, the blind area is the most dangerous for call center agents. When the customer has information the agent does not know, the result is lost resources, productivity, and customers. Of course, the reverse is also true. When the agent has information about the customer and does not voluntarily devolve the information, the customer is surprised upon becoming aware and is lost because of this blind area. Then organizational reputation damage is complete.
For example, I was working in a credit card call center and regularly saw agents not bother to bring up account issues to save AHT/VOC and other metrics. Hence, the customer upon learning of the negative actions would call back because opportunity in the blind area was sacrificed for potential short-term gains. Operating blind means the agent and the customer are in danger.
Of all the locations in the Johari Window, the unknown area possesses the most opportunity for delivering upon a service commitment. Consider the Chinese character for a crisis that includes danger and opportunity as equals. The unknown always combines danger and opportunity. Danger is risk, risk of losing a customer, risk of saying the wrong thing and insulting, etc. Opportunity lies in making the unknown known. In the Johari Window, when the unknown becomes known, the unknown quadrant shrinks and the known quadrant grows. The unknown quadrant could be considered the crisis quadrant. Good skills in mastering the unknown to thwart a crisis, eliminate danger, and win the opportunity to create a powerful customer interaction. The unknown area is where confidence in training overlaps with the customer’s crisis to maximize opportunities for service excellence. If there is a single shred of doubt communicated to the customer in crisis, the opportunity is lost forever because the danger was not ameliorated. The unknown has many hidden dangers to be wary, but fear is not one of them because of excellence in training.
Working as an agent in customer retention was very lucrative. When we could probe, dig, and investigate, generally we could save a customer and generate new business. While the company spoke about, preached around, and dictated the use of active listening, the retention department was using reflective listening to glean details and save customers through reaching mutual understanding. In the unknown area, both parties struggle with not knowing and being unknown. Therein lies the opportunity for increasing business by becoming known and learning knowledge that is not currently possessed.
While the current Johari Window reflects proportional space for each location, reality rarely allows for such clarity. Many times, an agent’s Johari Window will look like any one of the following, none of the following, or a mixture of all:
The key for call center leaders is to train the call center representatives to first understand themselves and then to visualize who they are in the Johari Window in each call. The more familiar the agent is with data gleaned from knowing themselves and the business, the more power each agent will have to handle the calls more effectively and efficiently. In teaching the Johari Window, one of the many lessons I have learned is that people do not understand and second guess their limitations. If a person has, or considers having, a small blind area, do they know their equally important unknown or open areas. More than likely the answer is no; why, because of the need to invest time and other resources into improving themselves and their approach to others.
When discussing the agents understanding themselves, the call center trainer, first line supervisor, and managers will employ the eleven principles of change as discussed by Luft. The agent will need to understand the energy lost in hiding, deceiving themselves, and the problems this causes them. Cause and effect play a significant role in visually attuning the Johari Window to daily work activities. The call center trainer, first line supervisors, and managers will need to be able to answer clearly and effectively “why” based questions about processes and procedures, while exemplifying the Johari Window principles. Luft’s Point No. 5point number five is critical in this process, “Interpersonal learning means a change [is taking] place so that Quadrant 1 is larger, and one or more of the other quadrants has grown smaller.” Do we understand what this means; as leaders, we exemplify making Quadrant 1 (Open Area) larger by learning. Leaders are teachers, teachers are leaders, but both teachers and leaders must remain loyal to learning.
Consider Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter. Gilderoy Lockhart considered himself highly capable, gifted, and talented, but reality proved his ineffectiveness and limitations. His example opens a second issue when using the Johari Window tool in a call center: personal perception versus reality. Gilderoy Lockhart would see his Johari Window as thus:
Reality would suggest the following might be truer:
The disparity between a person’s perceived understanding and reality causes significant problems in interactions in all types of societies. In the call center, the agent will interact with various kinds of personalities; hence, the need to train agents in this tool and to understand themselves, including their likes, dislikes, triggers, emotional hooks, and talents brought to each call. For the best opportunities for your agents to interact successfully, training them in understanding themselves is just as important as training the agent in organizational policies, business products, services, and sales techniques.
Ongoing, regular training remains a key component to highly effective call centers and capable workforces. Without refresher training, regular training for new products, and annual training, the capable employee gets into a rut, the rut becomes a paradigm, and the employee becomes lost to attrition and slower productivity; but most especially, lost customer interactions hamper all levels of business performance. One employee working slow can ruin a business, and the first indicator something is wrong is the higher cost of doing business. Win the employee through training and then treat them respectfully to reduce operational costs and increase sales through training.
In conclusion, never stop asking why, encourage learning, and never fear using the answer, “At this time, I do not know, but I will find out and report back.” When the discovery loop is closed with the individual, everyone learns, Quadrant 1 grows, and other quadrants reduce perceptibly. Proving once again the veracity of the axiom, “Train people well enough to leave; treat people well enough to stay; and grow together as an act of personal commitment to the team.”
Ekanayake, S. (2004). Agency theory, national culture, and management control systems. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 4(1), 49-54. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222857814?accountid=35812
Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? The American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2782934
Greenwald, H. P. (2008). Organizations: Management without control. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions. (Third ed., Vol. VIII). Chicago, ILL: The University of Chicago Press.
Tosi, H. L. (2009), Theories of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
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