Paul Bajus began the role of Head of TD'S U.S. Contact Centers at the start of COVID-19.
Never did he think he'd still be working from home, along with his more than 2,000 colleagues, serving TD's customers 24/7, but Bajus has the experience and the mindset to lead his team past any obstacle.
We spoke to the self-proclaimed "servant leader" to ask him what that exactly means to him, how his 15 years in the Army shaped him into the man he is today and why empowering and investing in his employees is always his top priority.
You head the U.S. Contact Centers for TD Bank. For those who don't know, what does this line do for the Bank?
In my role, I lead TD Bank’s U.S. Contact Center strategy and operations with a team of more than 2,400 colleagues working across four sites responsible for providing customer care and solutions during approximately 20 million interactions per year via phone, messaging and social media.
The other thing is we're always here for our Customers. Even though we are America's Most Convenient Bank, our Stores still close at night. But our Contact Centers are 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So, from my perspective, the Contact Center's always-on Customer support is critical to be there for our Customers when they need us, anytime, anywhere – even when many of our Colleagues are fluffing their pillows at night.
What drives you as a leader?
I consider myself a servant leader, keenly focused on building the smartest and most capable contact center leadership team in all of banking. In short, A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of the people they lead and to the communities they serve.
From my perspective, our Colleagues are my customers. My leadership team and I are responsible for guiding, coaching, supporting and developing them. Developing others is a passion and leading them is a privilege. I am always striving to be better as well.
You must make the time to connect because you can never truly know how they are feeling and what the atmosphere is like unless you are engaging with them. My most important meetings are focus groups I hold with our Group Managers and team leaders where I can get a pulse on how the team is feeling and issues that need attention.
I have an opportunity – a responsibility actually – to enrich the lives of the team, which in turn, allows them to enrich our Customers' lives. So, if you think of that from a leadership perspective, if I can have a positive influence on my team's life – whether it's their careers or their financial well-being – it not only has a lasting impact on them, it carries forward to the passion and level of service they put into supporting our Customers.
How do you develop and empower the leaders and people on your teams?
It's so important to play to people's strengths. If you can figure out what motivates someone and what they enjoy doing, you can use that for the benefit of the organization.
Soon after I started in my role, I instituted my quarterly Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) series for our Team Manager and above roles. The intent is for me to have an informal, two-way dialog with our team leaders that focuses on interesting leadership topics, creative people management strategies and useful interpersonal communication skills that I've picked up along the way.
What are we doing now that excites you most as we focus on creating the Contact Center of the future?
Admittedly, we are still in the early stages of our transformation efforts, but there are a couple big rocks we need to focus on immediately.
One is bringing the Contact Center and Digital closer together to develop a more integrated approach and experience for our Customers. Another key is standing up messaging, specifically chat functionality into the channel, which we're seeing is becoming a more preferred way to connect with us. Another is driving Employee engagement and performance by offering meaningful long-term careers that set our teams up to evolve into product and customer service experts.
How do the U.S. Contact Centers bring our Unexpectedly Human brand promise to life?
For the most part, Customers call us when they need our help. I don't think many customers wake up in the morning and say they look forward to calling TD Bank to chat. They are reaching out because there is an issue and we are here to help facilitate the solution to their problem in the most compassionate, empathic and understanding ways we can. Being here for them in their time of need and doing so in a kind and caring way -- That is how we bring that promise to life as the voice of our unique brand.
How will you work to create a better and more inclusive environment in the Contact Center?
We have a big opportunity to make sure that our leadership team mirrors the population that we have on the phones. We do not have that today, but we are focused on moving in that direction. We have a lot of opportunity to really look at who we are mentoring and grooming in a more deliberate way.
One of the ways we're going to do that is through our new "Emerging Leaders" program, which will help us ensure that the front-line Colleagues who we plan to grow into leadership roles represent the wonderful diversity of our team. The program is intended for the top 10-15% of our front-line Colleagues, not only from a performance perspective, but they also have to have the endorsement of their leaders that they are strong from an overall team culture perspective and that they match the values we are looking for in our leaders.
Once they receive that endorsement, they get the same leadership training that our senior leaders go through and play an active part of the LEAD series. I like to think of it as like a college curriculum with more than 100 development activities that they'll work through that will prepare them for leadership roles.
What formative experiences made you who you are today? What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think that being on the phones for the first four years of my career really taught me a lot. Back then, I always told myself that if I ever get to a leadership role, I'll make sure that I treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I've had my fair share of bad supervisors and they showed me what not to do as a leader. Those experiences really helped shape who I am today.
Also, I've had two very strong mentors in my career that have helped guide me, act as a sounding board and give me advice and I think they really helped me become who I am as well.
You served in the Army for 15 years. How has your military service shaped your career and perspectives on leadership?
One of the things that military taught me more than anything else is the idea of being a role model as a leader. Younger soldiers often replicate what they see from more senior officers. That means as a leader you always set the tone and the pace. Everything you do, the way you carry yourself and respond to even the most seemingly minor things is absolutely critical. Just as a captain must see the innerworkings of the ship through eyes of his or her crew to empower them, gain their trust and confidence to ensure peak performance and mission readiness, an executive must lead by example, listen aggressively, communicate with purpose and above all convey a sense of purpose greater than oneself.
What advice do you give a new Employee for advancing their career?
Nobody is going to manage your career and care as much about it as you are – so, own it. I think a lot of people look to their team manager or to the HR department to manager their career, but you are in control of your development and your future. It's very important not to forget that. Additionally, make sure that you continue to learn and grow. I don't believe that I've figured it all out and strive to learn every day.
A lot of leaders have said COVID has put things into perspective for them both at home and at work. How have you personally been able to adjust to working from home and in a virtual world now?
When we made the decision to adjust our Store model and temporarily close certain locations during the height of the pandemic, the Contact Center was a critical human connection for our Customers.
It is truly amazing all the team has continued to do in support of our customers -- from standing up a completely new work from home model in less than three weeks to posting unprecedented gains in our LEI scores while leading through some of our highest call volumes ever.