Providing Valuable Feedback

I remember when I came down to San Antonio from NY as we migrated the Retirement Plan Services business to the USCC/U.S. Citibanking Center.

I made a point of interviewing every candidate myself, internal & external, once they passed the initial screening process by Human Resources as well as one with one of my managers.

After all, it was gonna be my big, fat butt on the line!

And while I did entrust my managers with many, many responsibilities & trusted their decisions on important business matters, I felt very strongly about adding another review level to this particular function myself.

(BTW, I spent 15 months with Retirement Plans before being requested by the USCC to put out another fire, er, uh, assume another leadership position in the organization that required some hands-on management focus.

And when I left, my RPS area had lost only 1 employee in that whole time…Marie Smith, one of my very best people, had to relocate to Houston as her husband was scheduled to begin medical school there.)


I interviewed a number of USCC employees from CitiPhone who had expressed an interest in joining our organization.

I took particular interest in reading through their performance appraisals that they received while service reps.

But I was UNIVERSALLY disappointed with every single appraisal that I read!

Nothing to do, however, with the reps themselves nor their performance.

Rather, it was the manner in which their managers (“Branch Managers”) wrote their appraisals.

Since (almost) everyone in CitiPhone was rather new to both Citibank as well as CitiPhone, there was very little real-world experience & expertises at play there.

The reps were new to Citi as well as retail banking (especially, back-office Operations). And so were the Branch Managers.

And they were trained by trainers who were either new to Citi, new to retail banking, or both.

Oh, they all had the very best of intentions & yes, they all tried really, really hard, but until you’ve actually done something yourself, it’s so difficult (impossible?) to effectively train & lead someone else who’s new as well.

I would often use the phrases “the blind leading the blind” & “you don’t know know what you don’t know until you know it”.

Both were uncanningly appropriate!


Ya know, if you’re gonna teach me how to drive, I pray that you’re able to drive yourself!

Or else, we’re probably gonna be headin’ into the nearest tree!

(Yes, as you can tell, I tend to repeat certain stuff from story to story, especially when it’s an original.)

But I digress.

In reading through each & every employee candidate’s performance review, there was one thing that clearly came shining through…

Everything had to do with metrics.

AHT/Average Handle Time, Occupancy, Utilization.

I’m cool with using measurable performance inductors & standards to help gauge an employee’s overall rating, but only if you’re looking at ALL applicable aspects of the position.

There was no mechanism to tie back customer satisfaction to the individual rep.


Quality was only measured by others who were not fully adept at all the ins & outs necessary to properly service the customers’ true needs.

And then was never any mention of personal interactions & the impressions derived when the managers would either monitor calls or “double-jack” (sit next to the rep & listen to the call while observing their “system dexterity”).

But there was one particular area where “the use of metrics” is rarely, if ever, appropriate.

I have this strong feeling that ALL the CitiPhone managers attended the very same meeting or training course, probably led by HR, where they “were taught” how to roperly complete an employee performance appraisal.

And I bet that it was drummed into their heads…more than once…that EVERYTHING & ANYTHING had to be metric-driven, supported by official performance stats, as each & every appraisal appeared so eerily similar…

But one area where you need to get away from a “point A to point B” approach is with ACTION PLANS!

What actions should the employee take that will, ultimately, lead to improved performance.

What BEHAVIORS need to change or start being employed (or discontinued) that will help the employee perform better.

In what areas…be it processes & procedures, systems navigation, call handing techniques, proper probing, accuracy, after-call work utilization, problem resolution & prevention, referring callers to the branches, familiarity with basic banking practices & Citi policies, etc…does the rep need to place additional focus that will ultimately improve quality, productivity & efficiency?

But all I kept seeing…over & over & over again…in the “Action Plans” section were…

“Improve your AHT/Average Handle Time by X secs” (or from X secs to Y secs).

“Decrease your ACW/After Call Worktime by X secs”

“Increase this by X%” & “Decrease that by Y%”

No, no, no, no, no!

Those may be “performance goals” or “targets”, but they have nothing to do with ACTIONS the employee needs to take nor BEHAVIORS that need to be modified.

Why is the service rep’s whatever “too high”? What are they not doing right or what are they doing wrong?

Not actively listening to the customer?

Not properly using your systems applications & tools?

Not using terms & phrases easily understood by the customer (too much “bank jargon”)?

Not familiar enough with regularly-used processes & procedures?

Not knowledgeable enough re: an account’s functionality?

Not readily able to understand the customer’s experience in using various self-service tools (ATMs, IVR, on-line banking, mail deposits)?

And what specific steps should the rep take to address these shortcomings?

Review monitored calls with the supervisor?

Use formalized processes & procedures when inputting an investigation, replacing a not-received Citibank Banking Card, etc.?

Effectively probing the customer for their true need instead of blindly transferring a call to the branch upon request?

There are hundreds of possible ACTIONS to take that will improve BEHAVIOR!

Just because you want to improve your performance in a certain area won’t get you anywhere (unless, of course, you’re deliberately not performing at your optimal level or not adhering to your schedule on purpose).

Managers, especially those who are true leaders, concentrate on their people’s behavior, not their results!

One (behavior)!leads to the other (results).

You don’t tell your team after a loss, “We need to score more than the opponent!”


Only through behavioral modification will things get done differently…which, in turn, results in higher performance levels.

Concentrate on what your people are doing, or not doing well, or not doing it often enough.

And you can’t lead by sitting on your throne!

Or just peering into a computer terminal.

Go sit with your people & shadow them. Watch what they do & how they do it.

(Note: All employees will try their very best when being watched. But if they have “knowledge gaps” or are not utilizing the most effective/efficient process, they’ll display those weaknesses all the time.)

Silently monitor their calls if you’re in a call center.

(Note: When I use the phrase “change their behavior”, I’m speaking in general terms…everything a worker does & says is part of their “behavior”. It’s not so much like a class monitor ensuring that the students are “behaving”, i.e., following the rules & displaying proper conduct.)

Go through their completed work items, either electronically or on paper.

“Inspect what you expect!”

And keep it real.

Remember, “action plans” & “performance goals” are 2 totally-different things.

The more that the employee & their leaders concentrate on DOING the right stuff at the right time, the easier it will be to accomplish even the loftiest of performance goals.

If a driver gets into “too many accidents or close calls”, telling them to “get into less” or “just be more careful” really isn’t going to provide any useful, real-world assistance.

But “reduce your speed when in traffic or adverse weather conditions” or “turn around & look…use your mirrors effectively” WILL have an impact on their driving BEHAVIOR & hopefully, lead to fewer accidents!

Don’t use your phone or play with the music when driving. Reduce & eliminate ALL possible distractions.

Scan the road ahead (& somewhat to their sides) instead of just focusing n the 10 feet in front of you!

Be prepared by looking ahead so you’re not surprised when traffic suddenly comes to a grinding halt.

Pls think about how you can add even more value to the feedback you currently provide to your people.

If you’re thoroughly familiar with your people’s job responsibilities & functions, what would YOU be doing differently if YOU were in their shoes?

And don’t forget to get as much feedback as possible (from support staff…other managers…the “escalation unit”…Quality Assurance/call monitoring…senior reps who may have buddied up with them or who sit nearby & regularly observe/hear them or get questions from them).

Pls don’t ever believe that most help calls actually go to a help desk or designated reps! Their neighbors will handle most of the “difficulties” that a rep or worker encounters during he work day. And you’re not asking them to “specifically rate another employee”…you just want their general feedback.

And ALWAYS surround your newer/”more needy” employees with your better people. Most employees who “don’t know how” will rather get “informal help from someone nearby” than raise their hand, call you or look to the Help Desk for assistance.

It’s just human nature! Don’t turn your head away from stuff that’s gonna happen no matter how many formal resources you have to assist.

That’s why you should (almost) never sit people together who are all on the same part of the learning curve.

Unless you have a 2:1 or 3:1 “worker-to-SME/Subject Matter Expert” ratio…which I very seriously doubt unless you’re a very experienced unit or only introduce new members into the workflow “a few people” at a time…don’t sit the newbies (and your less-good people) together!

Hopefully, you were able to absorb a valuable nugget of information here!

And, as always, thank you so much for listening!

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