A company who we will call AB contacted us as they were in need of a new receptionist and had identified three potential candidates from within their unskilled labourers' ranks who could possibly take on the job.
Their existing receptionist was pregnant and planning to leave the company at the birth of her baby. This meant that they had about three months to identify, employ and skill-up
their new staff member.
Our mandate was to recommend the strongest potential individual for the receptionist position and to make recommendations on a growth path for the remaining two. If I may add, at Staff Training we really enjoy this kind of project as it is very rewarding for our coaches and facilitators to encourage the hidden potential in delegates.
Our first step was to take all three of the individuals through an “Introduction to Business” workshop. This was done over two days and included modules such as Business Vocabulary. For someone who has never been in business, it is easy to teach them which buttons to press to transfer a call, but it is more challenging to know who to transfer the call to if the caller asks for the “procurement department.”
The afternoon before leaving the candidates were given a very basic “office” test, which included arithmetic, things like filing numerically, date order and alphabetically and a basic vocabulary test. These were done in a fun and interactive way to help the facilitator understand where the emphasis should be for the second day of training, but also to recommend to AB company where they could help the candidates practically before we saw the delegates again.
The very first morning already there was one candidate who stood out head and shoulders above the rest for the receptionist position, especially as far as her knowledge was concerned. She was also about 10 years older than the other contenders. She had the added advantage of being trilingual. A second highly introverted individual was extremely figure-oriented and she absolutely baulked at the thought of having to have such a people-orientated job, preferring to do back office work. The third was undecided and could have done either, but was also the weakest in any particular skill.
During the course of the next few days all three of them were able to spend a few hours with the current receptionist, thereby experiencing firsthand what the position entails.
The second day of training was spent on role-play, not only with telephone etiquette, but also with face-to-face greetings and dealing with potentially difficult clients who were always in a hurry. Our client was working in a very harsh, straight-forward, no-nonsense industry and not all clients were polite - to put it mildly! Confidence was of the essence and in our experience, it is the one thing most of the empowerment candidates we work with lack hugely. Feeling intimidated by the vocabulary, the new environment and simply being over-awed by the opportunity and not wanting to mess it up.
After these two days of training we had a few hours of one-on-one coaching with each of the candidates; we explained our mandate to them and told them what our recommendations to the company would be. During these sessions it emerged that the third choice and undecided delegate was already pregnant and was considering becoming a housewife. She simply felt the timing was wrong for her and that she may well want a position such as this, but not immediately. She thus declined altogether.
The second choice applicant had shown her preference for back-office work and would be willing to wait until such a position became available again. This recommendation went to our client and it took another five months before she was given the opportunity to apply for a position that involved a lot of filing, a bit of scanning and “pulling” of certain delivery notes for client queries, credits and returns. She did particularly well in this position and we met her numerous times thereafter with Customer Care Training, Assertiveness Training and various others. She has subsequently moved into her second formal sector position with a different company, but that the quality of her life has improved irrevocably is a fact. She is also the first female in her family who has managed to secure an office position.
Our first choice applicant was the huge surprise. She declined the recommendation. Astounded, we delved deeper only to find that whilst she was relatively confident that she could do the job, the social impact of doing so was holding her back. She was worried as she was a single mother and her neighbour minded her two young daughters on the days she worked.... She explained that her close-knit community was fraught with jealousy and that it was okay if you were struggling as much as your neighbour, you would then receive support; those in the community who had managed to break the ranks and move, even if marginally above the breadline earnings, found themselves on the outside and without support. She felt she couldn’t afford to do this financially or emotionally.
Our challenge was on!
We asked the organisation if they would give us a few more coaching sessions with this individual to see if we could get her to open up and identify some opportunities for herself. They agreed.
We centered our coaching goals around the positive alternatives to simply declining a potentially good opportunity.
At the end of the coaching sessions she had decided that:
1. She could take the opportunity if the company gave her a uniform to wear so that she was not being seen to splash out on clothes and thereby create the impression of being “grand”.
2. She also saw that she could possibly enroll the girls in an after-care programme, but she was reluctant to do this, instead she chose to approach her neighbour and formalise the child minding agreement, paying her neighbour just less than she would the after care, thereby sharing her newfound success within the community.
3. She also realised that she would be able to use her natural confidence and empathy to the community’s own good by having weekend meetings at her home where she encouraged other women in the community to look outside of their own fear of being left behind and step out to embrace opportunities. She was not sure yet how to do this, but would speak to her pastor about it.
4. She could take the position if she had an ongoing mentor that she could trust and who she could go to when unsure either in the job or out – as whilst confident that she could do it, she was also cautious that there were things that she was not yet aware of that could stop her doing the job.
With these options in mind she was given a few more days to decide, during that time she had managed to get the company buy-in on the areas where it was needed and the neighbour was on board. She was yet to speak to the pastor.
Today, seven years later:
1. This candidate is no longer the receptionist at the organisation. She is now the office manager. She has grown in leaps and bounds and through the process has managed to directly influence the promotional prospects of approximately 11 more “unskilled labour” candidates.
2. Her daughters, now teenagers, still go to the neighbour after school, but more because they see her as their “nana”, not as a child minder. Both daughters do particularly well at school and they are both keen to enter into tertiary education.
3. Our candidate is also an active member in her community, encouraging women to tap into their own strength and giving them the motivation and even know-how on how to start their own home-based businesses. Her strong customer-centric approach together with the basic administration she learnt during those years as a receptionist has helped them tremendously.
We salute her and thank her for enabling us to be a tiny part of her journey. We have subsequently worked with many more such candidates and without exception we stand in awe of the personal hurdles these candidates overcome to reach their successes. We salute all of you. Respect!
Staff Training is a national soft skills training provider. Contact us at 0861 996 660 or drop us an email.
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