Lessons learned in the dojo   by Simon Donaldson

Head of Customer Operations
December 2018

Lessons learned in the dojo.
Creating a highly engaged & motivated team.

There is nothing more powerful than someone motivated and determined to tackle whatever life throws at them. One of my passions is to help people grow in confidence and achieve beyond their expectations. This belief in people is deep rooted and woven through my professional life serving me well in my career and in my current role, leading a contact centre of 100+ co-workers.

It started in the dojo

Whilst learning my trade as a team manager in grocery retail, I studied martial arts in the evening to keep fit. Fast forward a few years and I reached the holy land, attaining black belt and opening a club as Sensei, the karate world’s way of saying instructor.

Teaching young karateka (student of karate), I quickly learned there were two types of students in my dojo, one fully engaged with a ton of energy to learn and be the best they could be. The second type, were prisoners, there because their parents thought it was best; they had no real interest or drive in martial arts.

What do you do with a child who doesn’t want to be there? Give them a belief they can achieve and set yourself the challenge to keep them motivated and inspired to learn. Success for me was the 6 year old who stayed the course, at 10 years of age achieved his black belt, at this point highly motivated and engaged, a very different child to the one whose parent gave me a demotivated prisoner unwilling to learn on day one.

Fast forward to the contact centre - today

Lessons learned in the dojo, years of experience in the call centre and continuously developing as a leader have driven a simple & effective approach to co-worker engagement. In Operations, our goal is a team who are highly engaged & highly motivated, an essential ingredient in delivering an excellent customer experience. Focussing on co-worker engagement makes people happy and happiness is infectious. Quite simply focussing on co-worker engagement helps make Ikano Bank a unique place to work.

Our team has over 100 co-workers. They come from all walks of life, are in different stages of their life and are individuals with different needs, wants, likes, dislikes. It is a challenge and a wonderful opportunity to create a team that comes to work each day, highly motivated and highly engaged to deliver a great experience.

Growing co-worker engagement through a balanced scorecard

Our balanced scorecard consists of 4 key areas: gifts, praise, recognition & development. Focussing on these can help our co-workers consistently engage in the workplace.

The gift of giving

Make someone’s day by thinking of them. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive; it’s the thought that really matters here. The positive impact comes from doing something kind, unexpected and thoughtful. In a time when many businesses are cutting back, I’m proud that our business gives co-workers gifts of appreciation. This might be fika (Swedish for coffee & cake break with friends) or an endless supply of fruit to keep us healthy. Our co-workers always look forward to their Christmas present & the big Summer Party.


The simple stuff really works here. Here is an observation of two team managers – no names of course. One team manager, I would class as highly motivated / highly engaged. He’s animated and energetic around the team, great eye contact, genuinely saying “Thank you” and “Well done”. This is really visible and you can feel the positive vibes with his team across the floor. In contrast, another disengaged team manager sits with his back to his team, no interaction and no conversation. Which team drives stronger results? When you benchmark the two teams in quality and efficiency measures, they’re worlds apart.


This is above and beyond praise, requiring a framework to ensure your Highflyers are identified and recognised throughout your whole business. We do this quarterly based on assessment criteria in customer, conduct and performance. Their name goes up in lights and they’re awarded a range of high street vouchers. Our co-workers have said it’s fantastic to be recognised for your work and they feel valued for their contribution. Recognition done right is truly engaging and really identifies your talent pool.


The set up for success starts with the recruitment and selection process. We identified in the early days that a defined skills path is the foundation for success. Training, on-going support and coaching from team managers are essential ingredients to keep our contact centre moving forward.

Start as you mean to go on, your induction experience is vital. Once you’ve on boarded your new co-worker, it’s time to embed on-going development. Personal development plans and Engagement dialogues must be solid, consistent and living & breathing documents. Development for our team means being the best you can be in your role whilst developing new skills along the way. Doors to new opportunities open with the right development plan. This might mean moving outside of Operations or even outside of the business.

It’s important to have a mix of internal and external training. External training offers specialist knowledge. You may not have the ability to deliver what you need using internal resources or your organisation may need to think ‘outside in’. Remember 70:20:10 a good rule of thumb for learning:

  • 70% learn and develop through experience
  • 20% learn and develop through others
  • 10% learn and develop through courses and programmes

Being balanced

Gifts, praise, recognition & development

Focussing heavily on one area alone of the scorecard will alienate part of your team; we all have different drivers & motivations. Giving gifts without a great team manager is meaningless, lots of praise is great but only fulfilled if you give your team the recognition they deserve. Training must meet the needs of the individual and business objectives. Offering training for the sake of it benefits no one.

Interaction = emotional response

Every interaction with a co-worker is an opportunity to create an emotion. It could be negative or positive. We’ve all experienced the moment you’re called in for a quick chat. With a good leader you come away highly motivated, an experience with a bad leader might leave you feeling deflated and disengaged. We know low motivation leads to poor service and has a knock on effect on the people around you.

Leading by example

For me, I’d say that the key ingredient to having highly engaged and highly motivated co-workers is leading by example. If you’re not prepared to live it, breathe it, how can you ask your team to? I’ve been a loyal fan and a highly motivated co-worker at Ikano Bank for the last 19 years. It gives me immense pride and satisfaction that by leading and showing, not just telling my team what good looks like I have made a positive impact. Not too long ago, I was contacted by a co-worker, colleague and friend who had recently left the business:


“Thank you for being a great friend and support over the years. You’ve always believed in me and that’s helped me through some tough times. I’ll miss you!”


From my point of view, it’s the ultimate reward to receive this from a former co-worker and true testament to the power of believing in people and leading with positive intent.


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