A case study in conversing, learning and turnover

Written by Tim Baker on 10 July 2013

Julie - executive manager of learning and development for a large, well-known bank in Australia-was charged with responsibility for revamping the bank's approach to inducting customer service representatives (CSRs) in retail banking services. After looking at the turnover rates and gathering information from a recently completed series of conversations with CSRs, their managers and other stakeholders, she decided it was time to act.

From what she had heard in these conversations, the bank had a challenge to reduce the high rates of turnover in CSRs in the first 12 weeks of their employment. Employees had told Julie in these conversations that they lacked confidence in their skills and knowledge. The approach in the induction program was the place to start, she concluded.

From a learning perspective, the new approach enabled participants to better analyse situations and source information more effectively. This policy, supported by a continuous coaching component, involved a partnership between the participant, their branch manager, and a 'buddy' who was an experienced CSR. With this support, participants were required to take ownership of their learning and complete a series of tasks. In addition to this, they would work with their branch manager to identify strengths and areas of improvement through daily check-ins, debriefs, and feedback sessions.

Collaborative learning occurs through the use of problem-based learning, simulations, and research. During the off-the-job learning periods, participants would work with in learning sets or groups and explore customer situations that they would encounter in real life. They were encouraged to analyse the situation, explore how they would respond to the situation, and complete any customer transactions using simulations or 'real play' the situation. To date, the CSR induction program was able to deliver an eight per cent reduction in voluntary turnover in the first six months.

This real-life scenario offers a number of important pointers for managers, HR and  L&D professionals. First, conversation is a powerful way to identify the core workplace issues that need attention. In this case, it was the issues that contributed to an unacceptably high staff turnover that needed to be identified. Second, the approach to learning adopted was not the conventional technical-centred approach. A blended learning approach was used and achieved great results. Thirdly, there was a direct relationship between effective learning and development and staff retention. The right learning, at the right time, in the right way, can have a very positive impact on organisational retention. 

Let's look at each of these observations briefly. 

The power of the conversation

Too often we make assumptions that later prove to be inaccurate instead of finding out what people think by talking to them one-on-one. I know it takes time, but talking to people is a great way to find out what is really happening. Instead we use blanket emails and conduct annoying online surveys, it might be better to just talk to people. Apart from potentially finding out what people think, conversing with people has many other benefits; it builds trust and rapport, can validate the assumptions we make, invites a diversity of opinion and so on. Conversely, taking shortcuts and not talking to people can be costly. 

Blended learning 

It would be tempting to apply a simplistic learning solution in the case of Julie. For instance, a different manager may have considered the implementation of a 'one-size-fits-all' solution in this case such as an off-the-shelf customer service training programme. And if it wasn't effective in reducing staff turnover, the manager maybe tempted to blame the programme or the trainer rather than the simplistic approach used. Generic solutions rarely work in complex situations. Julie used a coordinated multi-faceted approach that included coaching, simulations, problem-based learning, mentoring and peer support. This blended approach evidently worked. 

Learning and turnover

Learning and retention go hand-in-hand. Top shelf learning builds confidence, skills and knowledge. On the other hand, if individuals don't feel they are growing and developing as employees and people, they most likely get frustrated and leave. This is costly and inconvenient for both the organisation and the person leaving. 

Julie's successful approach reminds us that a thorough and thoughtful developmental approach to a workplace dilemma can be very effective. 

About the author
Dr Tim Baker is an Australian-based international consultant. His new book: "The End of the Performance Review" will be published later this year through Palgrave Macmillan in the UK. www.winnersatwork.com.au
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