An Exercise in Staffing Futility

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatMy friend, Dan, was seeking summer work during college and did an Internet job search. The job site allowed him to conduct his query for positions within a specified radius of home. He put in five miles and, although he lived in a relatively rural area, he got a match. What follows is a sad saga of how not to recruit, manage, and treat employees. Within it are lessons to be learned for any business or organization – including the call center:

Hide Information: The verbiage of the help wanted ad was along the lines of exciting and rewarding position, working with other professionals at an established and successful company. In reading this finely crafted prose, it was hard not to get excited and to draw the conclusion that one had stumbled onto the most wonderful career opportunity available. It was easy to be taken in by their impressively worded and enticing marketing copy. However, it was only grandiose hyperbole.

Misrepresent the Facts: Dan responded to the ad, and a preliminary phone interview was conducted. An in-person meeting was the next step. Dan was dismayed to learn that it was to be conducted in another city. Given the high price of gas, this was a discouraging development for a job that was represented to be within five miles of home.

Assuming that only this initial meeting would be at a distant location, he expectantly proceeded. After three hours of a preliminary group interview and subsequent one-on-one conversation, he was offered a job – in sales.

Then he received more disconcerting news. Three days of training would be held – again at that distant location. At the conclusion of the training, he was then informed of twice-a-week mandatory sales meetings. Not surprisingly, they were also held in the faraway city. Twice-a-day long distance phone calls to his manager were also expected. It was adding up to be quite expensive for this “local” job. On top of that, he had to buy his demo set for over $100.

Have Purposeless Meetings: Dan gamely proceeded, making his first sale as soon as training was completed and headed off to the sales meeting. So as not to interfere with selling, it was scheduled at nine in the evening, which was too late to make appointments. The meeting was not what Dan expected. His boss did not have a definite plan for the meeting and meandered through it. There was no apparent objective or purpose – other than to see how many staff would comply with the attendance mandate.

Generally the meetings would start late. Often they had little substance. Other times handouts would not be ready. More than once Dan and his cohorts waited as their boss made copies, talked on the phone, or left the room. Once he got mad at the people not present – and chewed out those who were.

Waste Time: During these meetings, individual queries were postponed for afterwards. If Dan waited around to have his questions answered, he might not get home until after midnight. More often that not, he was frustrated with the lack of response to his inquiries, either being deferred yet again or receiving a cocky, condescending retort.

The twice-a-day phone calls were also an exercise in frustration and futility, with Dan altering his schedule to make these calls at the prescribed time. Although these calls were required, his boss sometimes wasn’t available or might respond with irritation at the interruption. During these calls, sometimes Dan was encouraged, but more often he would be chastised for not doing more or his questions would be summarily dismissed.

Undervalue Staff: Another problem was that recruitment was given a priority, with secondary attention being given to existing staff. From Dan’s original group, the attrition rate was at 90 percent after two weeks; staffing was seemingly viewed as a numbers game. It was quantity over quality; people were expendable, and you needed to hire many in order for a few to stick around.

Make Unreasonable Demands: The twice-a-week sales meetings and twice-a-day phone calls seemed unreasonable and demanding, especially since there was no apparent reason for them. Perhaps most telling was the insistence that they work seven days a week – for a job that was advertised as part-time. Even more infuriating was that his boss often bragged that when he was in the field, he would only sell a few days a week.

Give Bad and Inappropriate Advice: When the sales staff would complain about the cost of driving to the sales meetings and the long distance calls, they were told that it was all tax deductible. The boss claimed to be aggressive in filling out his tax forms and boasted that he generally paid no taxes!  He implied that his staff would be foolish not to do the same.

Don’t Pay What You Promise: Dan was promised a minimum guaranteed amount on every appointment, even if no sales were made. Never once did this happen. The reasoning was not explained. Perhaps there were too many loopholes and exceptions in the policy. Maybe his boss had too much discretion over this and abused that power, or perhaps it was merely an outright lie.

Arbitrarily Refuse Training: Dan’s initial training covered product knowledge and how to do a demonstration. He was instructed to ask for referrals after every presentation, regardless if a sale was made. Dan was accumulating leads, but had not been trained on how to follow through on them.

He asked what to do and was told it would be covered at the sales meetings. Except that it wasn’t. Dan had pretty much given up on the unproductive sales meetings. Asking directly for assistance, the unexpected response was, “Since you’re not coming to the meetings, I’m not going to tell you!”

Despite all of this, Dan did well selling. He enjoyed making sales presentations. This resulted in a high closing ratio, and he quickly earned a boost in his commission rate. Soon after this, another job opportunity availed itself. It was also part-time – mowing lawns and doing landscaping. As Dan balanced both jobs, he quickly realized that not all bosses were the same. His landscaping boss was easygoing and flexible. They quickly established a rapport and worked well together.

Dan’s recollection of the summer contrasted one disappointing job with a lousy boss with one fun job with a great boss. Which kind of boss are you? How would your staff answer that question?

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the October/November 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]