Ailes couldn’t believe this guy was going to do this to him. It wasn’t just that he was going to lose his job. It was the way in which it was going to happen, especially after Ailes had taken a chance on a new, small company, after having been employed at one of the biggest call centers in town.
After leaving the big call center for a variety of reasons, he was “burned out” by the industry and considered doing something new. But then, Ailes had heard about this small company called Rethink Staffing from a friend, who said that they paid well and the work environment was pretty good even though the facilities were not.
That was in April 2016. Then, in June the owners of the company realized that they needed day-to-day help in managing this one account if it were to grow and succeed as they needed it to. They interviewed several internal candidates but eventually decided to bring in this manager from a large call center company. They had hoped to hire experience and wisdom in how to help their fast-growing company. What they got instead was entirely different.
That manager, Frank, may have managed several hundred people, but as Ailes (who interviewed for the job) and the rest of his colleagues would soon learn, he did it through fear, intimidation, and lies. Frank did anything he could to make himself look good to the owners, and had no problems making others look bad. It was a classic big-company manager move.
And so, when the client, who had recently just doubled the size of its workforce in order to deal with seasonality in their business, ordered a reduction in the workforce, everyone was scared for their jobs, but not Ailes. Why should he be? His stats were among some of the best in the company, and the workforce was only getting cut in half — so he should certainly be able to survive.
But Ailes knew that Frank felt threatened by him. As the manager, it was Frank’s job to make “the list” of who would stay and who would go. When he found out he wasn’t on the list, he wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t make it right. He had hoped this small company would be different.
Luckily, this small company was different. In December 2016, when the client brought a series of documented lies that “Frank” had perpetrated in various ways, I was embarrassed and angry.
Then I learned how bad it really was. What the client found was nothing. Not only did Frank put someone like Ailes on the list of people “to go” erroneously (since the list was ranked based on performance), he had created a work environment ruled by intimidation and fear. And on top of everything else, Frank, who was engaged to a woman, was sleeping with one of his subordinates, who was half his age.
As I said in the founding post of Rethink Staffing: “I was angry, embarrassed and ashamed. But I was not powerless.”
As soon as the client allegations arose, Frank was immediately suspended pending an investigation. The investigation that our attorney did took a month. It easily proved the many allegations against him. I flew to the Philippines immediately at the beginning of February, fired Frank and had him walked out by security. I was so angry at Frank for what he did, when he tried to defend himself, I almost got violent with him. Luckily, Windz was there to calm me down.
As I was apologizing to the staff, Frank sued us for wrongful termination. Of course, that was a joke, but in the pettily corrupt Philippine legal system, my then-attorney advised me to settle because it was easier. The decision to settle, instead of fight, is probably one of the decisions that I most regret in the last three years.
Ailes (whose full name is Ailes Funtanilla) is thriving with Rethink Staffing. In March 2017, both the client and I agreed that Ailes should be the manager of the team. Ailes cleaned up the team, got it to perform consistently, and ended up tripling the size of the team over the last two years. Ailes is now a Senior Operations Manager responsible for that team. Because of how trustworthy and honest he is, he was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of our Philippine subsidiary.
On my last trip to the Philippines, one of my people told me that Frank is currently operating a street food stand in town.
While this is a wonderful story of how good people can be trampled by the worst among us and triumph over them, it doesn’t really explain the “why” it all happened. Why was Frank so devious and cruel in his management style? In reflecting upon what happened, the question I often asked myself about all people is an age-old one: Nurture or Nature? Was it in Frank’s nature to be so cruel, or did he learn it somewhere along the way?
The pressure that Agents, Team Leads, and Managers are under in a large call center can be enormous. It’s not just the incredible volume of people that need to be managed, it’s also the need to generate revenue hourly, the incessant drive for quality, and the need for managing risk.
It has created a cut-throat environment where everyone fends for themselves, and no one helps another, let alone allow coworkers to become friends. Frank was a product of that system. If there was a good person in there somewhere, his 15 years of experience in the big-BPO industry had turned whatever good there was to bad. And when Frank came to Rethink Staffing, chaos ensued. What did I really expect?
ABOR #5: “Your managers must listen to you and treat you fairly” is not only the best recruiting tool we have, it’s also the right principle that drives the level of work ownership and employee engagement that has made RTS so successful in its early years.
There is absolutely no way for any manager anywhere to inspire performance or high quality work from their people if the work environment is full of politics, backstabbing, and fear. ABOR #5 serves two key purposes — and it’s important to note that one has to do with what we’ve been trying to accomplish for the past two years — #killthefear. We want to kill the fear of working in a call center in the developing world because of its bad work environment (among other things).
All you have to do is ask anyone who has worked in a Philippine call center what it’s like, and you’ll hear story after story about how badly their managers treated them. More rare is the story when managers realize that treating people badly gets them nowhere, and have the courage to protect their people from the impossible work environment and unreasonable upper management.
(NOTE: If you are reading this and are one of those managers, please contact us immediately, I want to offer you a job.)
But if you do the opposite, as we have done, you will be rewarded. Your people will work hard, take overtime if you offer it, and exhibit a level of work ownership rarely achieved in the BPO industry. It’s 100 percent worth it.
Fairness is critical for setting the stage for success in any organization that has competition built in (like any business). Humans are competitive by nature, but they quickly become demotivated when they realize that no matter how good their performance at work, it will have little value when managers play favorites among their employees. Sadly, this is common practice in most BPOs, and front-line managers know this. And so, the poorer tendencies of these people, and the societies in which they operate, are allowed to flourish. It’s bad for everyone involved, even for Frank.
ABOR #5 goes one step farther. It requires that managers listen to their people. This may sound vague and pedantic, but when most of your staff has prior experience in other BPOs, it also sends a clear signal to the managers that you either bring in or grow internally — don’t follow bad habits. More than anything else, adopt the servant leader attitude that has become popular because of its success.
Of course, with the inclusion of that “listen” requirement into the ABOR, I am, as the CEO/founder/philosopher of the company, sending a clear signal to middle-managers, who are so critical to not just daily operations but to the success of the company: “listen to what your people have to say, or else you have to deal with me.” I call this my “anti-frank” provision.
But it’s not just the client who benefits from ABOR #5. It also serves as our greatest recruiting tool. (Okay, maybe along with ABOR #9 which states “You should be working with friends.” More on that later)
Poor communities around the world are often very close knit — people talk and spend a lot of time with each other (this is especially true in Asia). When RTS Agents’ friends see how happy they are, of course they ask why.
RTS doesn’t have a recruiting department, really. We have an “assessment & screening” department. Our HR team doesn’t need to go out and cajole, bribe or beg people to come in and apply. Instead, people walk in and take our assessments. If we have openings and they pass our assessments, they get texted back. We’ve never stood on a corner handing out flyers. We’ve never put up vinyl banners, and we’ve never had to rent kiosks at the mall.
Gallup conducted a poll recently which found that 75 percent of the people who quit their jobs do so because of their boss. With a 5 percent yearly attrition rate, that doesn’t happen at RTS. A lot of that is because of our work environment facilitated by ABOR #5.
“Your managers must listen to you and treat you fairly.” Try it. You’ll be amazed at what it does to your work environment, and your company!