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Book Summary: Uncommon Service

Authors: Francis Feri and Anne Morriss

Substory: Verizon

Verizon wrestled with the importance of an integrated employee management system when it was staffing up call centers to service two separate business lines—its traditional local and long distance business and its new DSL offering. Local and long distance worked beautifully along the four elements of an employee management system: Verizon knew just whom to select (people who like building up expertise with repetitive tasks) and just how to train them. These new hires received three months of intensive training that set them up to execute seamlessly on a job design that was very well understood. And performance management was relatively easy with phone scripts that gave employees very little latitude on what they could say to customers, who were highly unlikely to be calling in with something the company hadn’t heard before.

It all fell apart next door at the DSL call center, at least initially. Because it was difficult to anticipate what DSL customers were going to say when they called, scripts weren’t particularly helpful. People who liked repetitive tasks were likely to get anxious and flustered with the uncertainty of customer demands, and so the company needed to hire an entirely new type of employee, the type that was comfortable with ambiguity and excited by variation. Verizon needed to hire new people who could help them to learn—a critical distinction in organizational goals that our colleague Amy Edmondson has articulated.a And there was no use putting these hires through a three-month training program when the company did not yet know what the job would actually entail. Ultimately, Verizon built a successful new employee management system for its emerging DSL business, but not before trying to import the old one. After more than a few rock-star local and long distance employees crashed and burned in the instability of the DSL universe, the company went back to the drawing board.