Before leaving Wal-Mart to run the sales and customer service at T-Mobile, Sue Nokes decided to tour a few of the telecommunication giant’s call centers to get a sense of the job. She was horrified. Daily absenteeism was 12 percent, and annual turnover was 100 percent. Instead of having a regular desk, employees used hot desks, dragging their stuff from workstation to workstation depending on what was available when their shift started. Nonetheless, Nokes took the job, saying, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” One of Nokes’s first initiatives was a listening campaign. She asked employees what customers were complaining about. She asked employees what they thought should be improved in the workplace. She assigned employees to desks, raised salaries, and rolled out a robust training program. Understanding that attitude is not something you can teach, she began hiring for attitude rather than experience. She drafted standards and began measuring employee performance and call quality. Most important, she focused on the elements that were in the employees’ control. Employees responded favorably to the changes. Today, pep rallies pop up whenever Sue Nokes makes site visits. Representatives wear hot-pink clothes (hot pink is the company color), dye their hair hot pink, and write things like “I Love Sue Nokes” on their faces with athletic paint. When Nokes arrived at one call center, an employee shouted from the crowd, “Marry me, Sue!” Nokes uses basic principles to get her employees to care about their customers: she listens to her front-line employees; she develops clear career paths so those employees can achieve their personal goals; she provides training and coaching so employees can do their jobs better; and she celebrates success in terms of what the customer thinks is success. And Nokes’s recipe is successful with customers as well as employees. Since Nokes joined the company, T-Mobile has won top place in J.D. Power’s rankings of customer care in wireless communication six times in a row.13
Critical Thinking Questions What kind of leader is Sue Nokes? Explain. Do you think Sue Hokes’s leadership style would work in any industry? Why or why not?
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