Albert (not his real name) grew up on a subsistence farm in a rural area in the Philippines. His parents were palay (rice) farmers, working as tenant farmers for most of Albert’s life. They made less than $1,000/year, and Albert’s father sold ice cream at the local town on the weekends to supplement their income.
Albert learned to plant and harvest palay, starting at the age of 4, to help out. During harvest months, he had to work extra hard to help his parents harvest the palay so it could be sold in time. His parents harvested the rice fields twice a year, which left the land bare for a few months when the rains didn’t come. But the family planted other crops, and so, the work was never-ending. Albert and all of his brothers and sisters were expected to help out.
But his parents knew they wanted more for their kids. They were fierce about putting Albert in whatever school they could afford — which wasn’t much of anything. So, Albert went to the local public school. His parents were strict about finishing his studies, so Albert wouldn’t become a farmer like them. He learned to read, write and do Math, in both English and Karay-a (a local dialect spoken in the Philippine island of Panay).
This inspiring story is a common one. It’s a story about how people in the developing world are lifted out of poverty, and it almost always involves making education a priority. If Albert’s parents hadn’t been so concerned about his getting an education, he would have never qualified for his first job at Rethink Staffing as a data encoder.
When Albert first joined Rethink Staffing, his English skills were tested. Based on our English Proficiency evaluations, his skills were at a level of what we now call “low.” Meaning that he could and write English, but not speak with much fluency at all.
(Author’s Note: To learn more about how Rethink Staffing takes a rigorous, data-driven approach to English proficiency, see here.)
This is a consequence of that government school Albert went to. In these schools, all writing is carried out in English, and as a student progresses in school, the teacher gradually changes over to communicating with the students in English, from their native language. But the students themselves are never required to speak to the teacher in English — they can still speak their native dialect. And so they do. Thus, they never learn the primary commercial language in the Philippines.
But Albert had learned well the lesson from his parents — education is the key to progress. Even though they couldn’t afford a government school — when it was time to harvest palay 2x a year — Albert still only harvested at times his studies would allow. In this way, his parents made sure to communicate to Albert what was important — education vs. subsistence farm work.
So when Albert heard that Rethink Staffing, in addition to employing him, also had programs that would improve his English, he jumped at the chance. Rethink Staffing was the first all-English environment in which Albert had ever been. Even before Rethink Staffing formalized its English development programs, he asked senior people in his group, who worked on the phones and who were from the city with families who spoke English, to speak only English with him, to tutor him and answer his questions about English when they came up.
When he started on his small data entry team of 5 people, he was just an Agent like anyone else. But Albert showed up for work every day, on time, and made sure he was productive. He also made sure he was speaking and learning English every day, even going so far as to speak English back to someone who first spoke to him in the native language.
After about a year, his team leader was moved to another team, creating an opening. One problem: in any data entry account, the team leader must be able to communicate with the client. Day-to-day, the communication was written (emails and chats), but occasionally the team lead would have to speak verbally to the client, during the monthly catch-up.
Going through another English language evaluation, Albert, through the help of his peers and his own persistence, passed the test, and given his good performance and attendance, was awarded the position. The best part, the team lead position came with a 33% raise for Albert, money that would eventually be used to help his family, including purchasing land, building his family their first concrete house, and securing their future.
It’s not that training doesn’t occur or exist at other BPO companies; it does. But it takes only two forms: 1) training that helps someone become billable to the client, and 2) training for compliance & security as required.
At the typical BPO supplier, companies pay for the time it takes to train Agents, not the clients. Big BPO companies’ attrition rate is so high (industry average in the Philippines is 50% per year) that clients just won’t pay for training, knowing that the majority of Agents don’t stick around for even a full year. Thus, the BPO supplier must make an investment now to earn money later. Every time a new account starts or a new person starts in an account, the BPO supplier is losing money.
Literally, educating Agents for more than just the work they will be doing is a money-losing proposition. Considering how much money BPO companies lose because of attrition and daily absenteeism, they can’t afford, or won’t, break the cycle of non-investing in their people.
The results are predictable. With the BPO supplier willing only to invest the minimum in the Agent, the Agent gives the minimum in return to their employer (and by extension, the supplier’s client’s customers).
Humans at our basic, innate level, believe in reciprocity. As the proverb says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Until the profit motive gets involved, or worse, until the need to recoup one’s investment and sunk costs gets involved, then all innate beliefs and some ethics seem to go out the window in the BPO industry in the developing world.
Unless we consciously break the cycle by guaranteeing access to personal progress.
At Rethink Staffing, we are still a professional BPO, and as such, account-level training and security/compliance still happens. These are essential learnings for Agents to absorb in order to work on client accounts.
But we also go further: we make sure we’re building up people’s capacity — training people for their tomorrows, not just for the demands of the job they have today. Thus, Agent Bill of Right #2: “You will have access to programs that fuel your success.”
The ABOR, in its complete construct, seeks to create a system for helping lift people out of poverty in the developing world (or soon: in economically depressed places in the developed world — see here).
These guaranteed rights enumerated in the system are all critical supports given to the humans, our Agents, that participate in the system.
Progress (or “Happiness” as promised in the U.S. Bill of Rights) is an inalienable, indivisible human right. If you don’t view it as a right, then at least, consider it as a necessity to the subsistence of life, or at a minimum, to a human’s psychological health. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains, once basic needs are met, humans must have self-actualization. Self-actualization is most easily achieved by giving people the ability to progress in their lives toward a place where they feel most useful, finding the best purpose for their lives.
Therefore, within the RTS system, personal progress is most certainly a right — but only if you have achieved the skills necessary to progress. As a company where Agents spend 40% of their waking time at the office, we must make programs available to help build our Agents’ individual capacity, so that they can self-actualize into not just higher-level work that is more challenging, but also giving them the ability to earn more — sometimes much more — with each new step forward in our system.
As in Albert’s case, a 33% raise is a wonderful thing for both the Agent and the company when it’s done within the economic necessities of a client account, and the attainment of new skills. Both the Agent, the Client, and the Company benefit. It’s a classic win-win-win.
And, of course, ABOR #2 — like the rest of the ABORs — exists not just to alleviate poverty, but also deliver outperforming results to clients. Agents know that the work they do today, even if it’s just data entry, is a stepping stone to more challenging work, greater skills achievement, and of course, personal and economic progress.
When that is the mindset of the person doing your work, what do you think the outsourcing outcome will be? Don’t you think they will achieve a higher level of work ownership, work quality, and production, than someone who is in a system that on both ends, drives performance to the minimums?
Since implementing ABOR in January of 2018, that has largely been our experience. Our agents are more engaged, more productive, and take a greater level of ownership in what they do. They also seek out avenues for personal progress that are outside of what the company offers.
Looking deeper, there’s one important principle to keep in mind with ABOR #2: RTS is guaranteeing access to programs that will fuel success and personal progress. We are not guaranteeing progress itself because, of course, as we all know knowledge and skills for personal growth can only be obtained by the person themselves. The person has to be self-motivated to improve themselves, we cannot, and do not force them to participate.
But we make large investments to make sure they have no obstacles and have only access, if they wish, to improve themselves. It’s critical to the promises made in the ABOR, and the right to personal progress is core to the mission and vision of Rethink Staffing.
And best of all, it creates that win-win-win that the BPO industry is capable of producing.
Author’s note: This is the second article in a series about the Agent Bill of Rights, why it exists, and what it does for people and the BPO industry. Please click here to read the next article, “ABOR#3: We will never deny you job movement or advancement.”Tags: ABOR, Agent Bill of Rights, Capacity Building, Learning and Development, Mike Dershowitz, Rethink Staffing