The Conceptual Age and Right-Brain Skills


by Fancy Mills
May 31, 2016

I was very inspired by Daniel Pink’s keynote at the FUSION 15 Conference. One of the concepts he writes about in his books and speaks on is a new concept and term he has coined, the “Conceptual Age.” According Pink, three catalysts are responsible for the era change into the Conceptual Age: Asian outsourcing, automation, and abundance. For the Western workforce to compete with inexpensive overseas labor, automated computers, and technology, and demand for products that move beyond function to enhancing the meaning of our lives, we must develop right-brain skills. This got me thinking about how the support center industry must move forward into this Conceptual Age as well. What exactly are these right-brain skills? Do we have to develop our professionals to obtain these skills? Are they already out there? Are these new skills, or are they just new terms for old words?

Upon further research I found a book by author Lisa Bodell who is also inspired by Daniel Pink. In Bodell’s book Kill the Company, she takes this idea of the Conceptual Age and defines five critical right-brain skills that are needed for this new age workforce:  

  1. Strategic imagination
  2. Provocative inquiry
  3. Creative problem solving
  4. Agility
  5. Resilience

These five right-brain skills are so vital not only in life and in business, but also working in a support center. Technical analysts, professionals, and technicians who are working with customers, vendors, partners, peers, other IT professionals, and upper management—essentially all stakeholders—must employ these skills for success.

How can you use these right-brain skills in the support center to impact performance, efficiency, and even effectiveness? They could become part of a skills assessment used to conduct a skills gap analysis on a current team. They could become a part of your knowledge, skills, and abilities assessment during the hiring process. They could become part of a mission statement for the support center or even part of setting goals. They can benefit a support center in so many different ways. Before utilizing these right-brain skills in any one of the processes mentioned, think about the following:

  • Define each skill. What does it really mean for your support organization?
  • Determine how to assess the skill for the current staff. This is part of a skills gap assessment. What skills does your current staff have? 
  • Create assessments to test for the skill in potential staff. This requires defining, creating assessments, and validating the testing/assessments.
  • Define measurements to validate skills for performance. What can a support center measure? How do you want to define performance measurements? 

There are many ways you could define, assess, and measure each skill. Let’s take a look at some different ideas that will hopefully inspire you and your support center.

Strategic Imagination

This skill focuses on thinking outside of normal, routine, roles, and tasks that are performed on a daily basis. An important part of developing strategic imagination for a support center is to first have a strategic vision to draw from. HDI defines vision as the view of the future state of the organization or department. It communicates what an organization wants to become, where it is headed, and goals for the future. These goals are sometimes called BHAGS (big, hairy, audacious goals) or stretch goals. The term stretch is applicable here for strategic imagination. How can you stretch your team’s way of thinking and get them to think beyond the present to the future? As an organization, you have to encourage this way of thinking and also look for team members who can think strategically. Strategic thinking for the support center is looking at more efficient ways of doing things. What can you do to operate more efficiently and effectively? In our HDI certification courses, we discuss three key questions related to creating a strategic vision: 

  1. What makes your organization special? 
  2. How do you want others to view your organization?
  3. What unites your support center with the rest of the organization?

Ideas for inspiration:  

  • What are areas of inspiration within the organization and outside that you can leverage?
  • Where do you see our support center in the next five years?
  • What processes and procedures would you like to change and why?
  • When you interview potential candidates, ask questions such as, “What inspires you? What inspires you to want to work for our company? What changes have you implemented in other organizations previously? Based on the research you have conducted for this interview, what is a suggestion you would make for changing the organization?”

Provocative Inquiry

This skill focuses on asking the right questions that may shake things up in an organization. This isn’t about asking questions just to ask them; the focus is on how you can improve. What can you do to make things better? In his book, The Question Behind the Question, John G. Miller focuses on asking the right questions and taking personal accountability. You need to move away from asking why, who, and when questions and focus specifically on what and how questions. As a support organization, you must foster a culture of personal accountability and create a culture where it is not only acceptable to ask these what and how questions, it is constantly encouraged!

Ideas for inspiration:

  • Consider conducting a quarterly strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis with your team. This exercise allows everyone on your team input and asks the tough simple questions. What do we do well? What are our weaknesses? What are opportunities we aren’t capitalizing on? What are threats that can keep us from success?
  • Consider implementing process improvement contests and allowing time to work on new ideas.
  • Consider training on new processes or procedural training so that employees understand current processes they can build on.
  • Consistently focus the team on creating new knowledge and new standard operating procedures. By constantly updating and creating you can be innovative and provocative, instead of playing catch-up.
  • When interviewing candidates, consider asking questions such as “How do you come up with new ideas to implement for process improvement? Do you feel comfortable being challenged to create new processes and procedures?”

Creative Problem Solving

This skill focuses on how can we use best practices to effectively and creatively problem solve. This is a skill that we focus on developing in our HDI certification courses, specifically in the HDI Support Center Analyst, HDI Technical Support Professional, and HDI Desktop Support Technician classes. We focus on questioning skills, developing ways to think creatively, and how to employ specific problem solving approaches. Using best practice problem solving approaches encourages the team to use a consistent format and think creatively.

Ideas for inspiration:

  • Consider implementing training on problem solving processes and procedures that encourage creativity.
  • Develop assessments for analysts to identify areas of weakness.
  • Consider using tools to help analysts identify what style of problem solving they utilize.
  • Team members together and task them with finding solutions to current issues in the support center.
  • Utilize root cause analysis approaches like Kepner-TregoeThe Five Why’s, and the fishbone diagram as structured approaches that foster creative thinking. 
  • When interviewing candidates, consider asking, “How do you creatively problem solve, how do you approach a problem when you don’t have much information, what is the most difficult situation you have encountered, and how did you solve it?”

Agility

This skill focuses on how quickly an analyst can think on their feet and adapt to a changing environment, situation, or task. This skill is vital to the success of a support center as it relates to being able to handle and adapt to changes with skill, ease, and a customer service mindset. How quickly and adeptly can your team handle change and unplanned situations? Are they encouraged and empowered to properly prioritize? How does an individual react to stress and pressure?

Ideas for inspiration:

  • Encourage and cultivate agile ways of thinking in the organization. Implementing service level agreements, operating level agreements, and standard operating procedures allows the team to know and understand how to act in unforeseen situations.
  • Do your tools allow for quick notifications and alerts across the support organization so that agility is possible?
  • Do analysts understand business priorities so that, when situations occur, they can make appropriate decisions?
  • When interviewing candidates, consider asking, “How do you handle a situation that you have never come up against before? What do you do when there are no procedures for how to handle an issue? Describe a situation where you felt pressure to resolve or solve?”

Resilience

This last, but oh so not least, skill is extremely vital for the Conceptual Age and moving forward into a new era of right brain thinking skills. Resilience is the ability to pick up and move on after a failed change or implementation. Perhaps the ball was dropped and an honest mistake happened in the support center. Instead of dwelling, blaming, and pointing fingers, resilient employees learn, take accountability, and move forward.  What obstacles does the current team face? Are there certain areas or roadblocks? Building a resilient team can require directing a specific focus and making a strategic effort. Finding individuals who are resilient has become a key focus for many organizations. 

Ideas for inspiration: 

  • Focus on building resilient employees and teams by empowering them to make decisions and fostering creative thinking.
  • Stress relieving activities and team building fosters a strong team and individuals. Resilient employees are healthy employees.
  • Does your team have a sense of purpose and direction? Creating a vision and mission statement, clear goals, and objectives will help foster resiliency.
  • When interviewing candidates, consider asking “When have you failed, and how did you handle the situation? What do you do when you have an idea or process rejected by a co-worker or management?”  

These five right-brain skills represent the skills that can move us into the next era. Does your current team have these skills, or do they need to be built and taught? What is your plan to assess the skills of future employees? These skills should inspire us to take a long hard look at these questions and our current teams as we move forward to the Conceptual Age.


Fancy Mills has more than eighteen years of experience in training, recruiting, and workforce management in the technical support and call center industries. As a certified workforce manager, she has helped companies develop best practice staffing and workforce management processes. In addition, she has developed and facilitated customized training for Fortune 500 companies in the areas of presentation, communication, and time management skills. As an HDI Faculty Member since 2006, Fancy has certified thousands of support professionals, managers, directors, and corporate trainers around the world in virtual and classroom environments.

 


Tag(s): culture, future of support, human resources, people, problem solving and troubleshooting, support center, supportworld

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