As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Colleen Beers.
With nearly 30 years of experience in strategic direction and operational processes, Colleen is President of North America and Europe Operations for Alorica, a global leader in customer experience solutions. In this role, she is responsible for approximately 30,000 employees across the region, while managing operations to service many of the biggest clients in the world. Colleen is the embodiment of Alorica’s promise of Passion, Performance, and Possibilities. She began her career on the frontlines, taking calls as an agent — and has worked her way up ever since. Colleen is also an influential leader on the Customer Contact Week Advisory Board and several women advocacy groups including Alorica’s Women’s Initiative.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
Coming out of high school, I knew my calling in life was to help people. I moved to Texas from Pittsburgh to go to nursing school and fulfill my purpose. To help pay for school and my car, I got a job at a call center when I was 19. And that job changed my life.
A year in the job, I remember sitting in a focus group with other call center agents, senior leaders, and the client we serviced. Our client was frustrated and wanted solutions to alleviate their customers’ pain points, which is why we were having the focus group. Everyone was sitting there, quiet and intimidated. It wasn’t just us agents who were nervous, but also our leaders! So, I took a risk — I leaned in, spoke up, and gave my honest feedback and recommendations.
A few hours later, I got called in to meet with the CEO, and I thought, “this is it — I went too far. I’m getting fired!” but instead, we had a great conversation about the customer and agent experience, and he offered me a promotion right then and there, fast-tracking my participation in the company’s management training program. The program then allowed me to work on rotation as a supervisor in all areas — HR, IT, Recruiting, Training, Sales, Client Services, and more. It’s through this experience that I learned there are so many ways to help people and empower them. It’s also how I realized that the customer service industry was where I was meant to live out my life’s mission.
By 22, I was a Site Director overseeing 650 employees whom I could help earn a living, learn new skills, and grow in their careers. I worked my way up from a call center agent to supervisor, manager, site director, vice president, senior vice president — and now as the President of Alorica’s North America and Europe regions, I truly feel blessed to be able to reach so many people through the work that we do, whether it’s colleagues, employees, clients or their customers.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days of my career, I was on rotation as a recruiter, where I’d spend a lot of time looking at tons of resumes. One time, there was a resume that stood out to me — a name that seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. As soon as I walked out to call on this next applicant sitting in the lobby, waiting for her interview, I screamed in surprise and happiness. The applicant looked up in shock. So did the man she came with, who was also interviewing for a job. They were both from my hometown in Pittsburgh — people I’ve grown up with! And randomly, here we all were in Texas years later, meeting again through a job interview — the woman was someone I went to high school with and the man (who turned out to be her husband!) was someone I’ve known since kindergarten. Obviously, these were the days before social media, so I had lost touch with them since moving away. This instance showed me how small the world really is and how connected we all are. The interactions we have with others create moments, memories, and opportunities to make a lifelong impact and that’s why I strive every day to do the right thing by my friends, family, and every person I’ve had the opportunity to work with.
Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?
Being in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, I would say what I’m on working on — and have been the past few months — is nothing like I’ve ever done before in the last 30 years of my career. Together, with the partnership of our clients, our teams have been quickly transitioning thousands of employees to work from home across the U.S. and around the world — all at the same time — so that they’re able to be safe while continuing to earn a paycheck. Meanwhile, we’ve also been implementing safety measures at all our locations to take care of our onsite employees during COVID-19. This is all while ensuring that we’re able to support customers during these tough times, especially in essential services like healthcare, banking, utilities, logistics, etc. This has been a massive undertaking that involved many people, sleepless nights, complex planning, backup plans to our backup plans, and more. Meanwhile, it’s also been an experience I’d describe as historic, exhilarating, inspiring, and well worth it. I’m proud to say we’ve moved nearly 85 percent of our workforce to work from home within a few short months. I’m definitely going to look back at this time years from now and say, “I was a part of something important…something that forever changed our industry.”
Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?
Hiring the wrong person for the job can be costly and time-consuming, especially considering the volume of positions available in the customer service industry. We’ve implemented tactics at Alorica to ensure we’re hiring the right person for the right job. Some examples include:
- We have an internal tool that matches new customer service agents with the best line of work suited for their personality based on their responses to a behavioral survey.
- We utilize a system that identifies specific areas new employees can improve on so we can customize the way we coach each of them, ultimately increasing the likelihood they’ll stay with us.
- Recruiting and promoting from within the organization has been extremely effective for us at Alorica. So instead of looking externally to hire talent, we first start with the people we have, and we invest in their potential. Over 70 percent of our organization has been promoted from within, including me!
- Our Performance Management program is a standardized process for coaching and checking in with our teams every 6 months to identify challenges and strengths and then develop or adjust action plans accordingly. We do this for every level, starting with our Alorica Academy, which includes an agent track learning program and goes all the way up to management.
- And lastly, change it up! Take risks and try new ways to hire. You never know who you’ll find and how much of a “happy disruptor” it could end up being.
With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
- Company Culture — have an insanely great one. Treat people with respect, coach, and develop your teams, give them the recognition they deserve and let them have fun in their jobs. Happy employees make for happy customers and that’s a big deal when you’re in the customer service industry!
- Referrals — we have a saying at Alorica: “everyone is a recruiter.” And it’s so true! Your employees are the best people to promote the company to potential employees, so treat them right. Do the right thing by them and they’ll do the right thing for the company.
- Communication — build a foundation of trust at every level by being transparent, sincere, and proactive in your communications with your employees, vendors, clients, community members, social media followers, and every interested stakeholder. If you can do this, every one of those people will be a champion of your company and will help share your brand organically, ultimately attracting more talent.
What are the 3 most effective strategies you use to retain employees?
Our method for retaining our employees is similar to how we attract them:
- We are focused on communicating in the most engaging, relevant, sincere, and fun way possible!
- We are committed to mentoring and coaching our employees so we can promote from within and they can clearly see their career path along the way.
- We’ve built a culture based on what our employees truly care about, not what we think they should — we empower them to come up with ideas and we make it a point to recognize their talents and successes.
In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?
Absolutely! By staying on top of trends, you’re better able to relate to your target audience and engage them in the way they want to be connected. We’re following what’s on social media and in the news and use these recourses to help form how we communicate with our employees and develop the types of contests and other cultural activities they want to participate in, so that in return we can motivate, coach and empower them to do their best. This is especially important when you have a diverse workforce like ours, with employees of different ages and life stages, spread across the globe.
What are some creative ways to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?
I’ve learned that the best way to provide something that employees really value is by simply asking them. Once employees realize you want their opinion, they get very creative and resourceful bringing their ideas to life. I’m lucky to work with some of the most amazingly creative people who focus on this at an organizational-level all the way to the site-level.
We offer a variety of opportunities for employees to engage, learn, and get involved with the activities that they’re most interested in. Some of these include: our Women’s Initiative, which is our advocacy/mentorship group to empower future female leaders; Making Lives Better with Alorica (MLBA) is our nonprofit partner that empowers Alorica employees to decide how and which organizations they give to within their own communities through grassroots fundraising, volunteering, etc.; each of our sites also has a Culture Committee, whose members plan onsite events, help oversee companywide celebrations and contests and share company news. Led by a Culture Champion, these individuals act as brand ambassadors with the goal to engage employees to help maintain a fantastic working environment for the entire team. Each month, Culture Committees also participate in (and all employees are invited to) an Alorica Connection Call where news, ideas, and celebrations are shared across the organization. Yes, we have a meeting just for “company culture” and it WORKS. And you have no idea how much our employees love games, competitions, dress-up days and food!
What are some ways that you’ve been able to cultivate a culture among your employees while working remotely?
We have employees at Alorica who have been coming into our brick-and-mortar centers to work for over 20 years. Our goal has been to make sure they, and the rest of our teammates, continue to feel just as engaged while working from home. To do this, we’ve reinforced some of the cultural initiatives that we’ve already been doing, like our contests, weekly recognition, and culture calls. We’ve always had a work-at-home team prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so we were able to draw on our experiences with this business model to decide how to best connect people working in a virtual environment. We’ve implemented video town halls and team huddles to encourage teammates to stay connected to one another and on top of the latest news. We have also surprised employees with lunch at their homes and rolled out a snack box delivery program as a way to say thank you to employees for their continued performance.
How are you keeping your employees engaged virtually?
Our internal communication tactics are more important than ever as we aim to keep all our teammates feeling connected. We’re communicating more frequently and through different tools to maintain their sense of belonging and purpose at our company. By leveraging technology into how we communicate and operate, we’re able to create face-to-face camaraderie in a virtual world, proving that working remotely doesn’t have to be isolating. Through video, chat, and team boards, we’re able to replicate in-person experiences. Employees can continue their one-on-one meetings with their immediate supervisors, converse with teammates, and set goals — all the things they would normally do in-person.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
From my experience as a woman working in a diverse global business as well as a wife and mother (6 beautiful kids!) of a racially mixed family, I would say that furthering diversity and inclusion should be a top priority for us all, especially right now. Does it impact the business? The company culture? The people? Yes! AND it’s the right thing to do. As leaders in our companies, with influence over many individuals, we’re in a unique position where we can spark real change — and we must do this. Education around intolerance, violence, discrimination, etc. should not be a “check-the-box” exercise, but a crucial aspect of a company’s culture. People should be given the opportunity to speak and be heard in a peaceful, respectful manner. This movement would be a forum for diverse people to share their points of view, learn from each other, ask questions, solve problems and tear down the walls that make us fearful, judgmental, prejudiced, and unkind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Get over it.”
It doesn’t matter if I’m at home with my family or at work coaching my team, that’s my motto. Things happen all the time — sometimes it’s our fault, and sometimes things just happen — and once it’s done, it’s done. Harboring negative feelings never resulted in anything positive and it paralyzes us from moving on. Yes, it’s okay to have a mourning period when things don’t work out, but you need to be able to learn from the experience, get back up, and grow from it. Once you do that, you’re mentally prepared for anything…even if that means making more mistakes, which at least teaches us the lesson of what not to do!
We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Why? Because she’s a true boss lady in a predominantly male-led industry. And it’s not just because she’s a female leader that I’d want to meet with her, although that makes her even more relatable and interesting to me! I’d love the opportunity to sit down and exchange ideas — get her advice on leadership tactics, operational rigor, and innovation. What do those things mean to her? Ask her opinion on what works, what doesn’t, how to survive, how to really measure success, how to keep learning, when to know to keep going with an idea, but also know when to stop or change directions. I think it would be a great lunch…hopefully with a glass of wine!
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!
This article originally appeared in Authority Magazine: https://bit.ly/3gVkiqn