So, you are a credit or collections manager, and you have your loyal staff working efficiently under your expert guidance. Right? So, what are your staff doing? Are you challenging them to think and grow, and giving them as much authority as they can handle, or are you shunting them into small job-description compartments and preventing them from influencing how your company runs?
Nothing makes me happier than one of my staff coming to me and telling me “I don’t think the way we are handling [XYZ] is best ... I have a better idea.” – Excellent! I love it when staff can improve on my ideas, or prove me wrong. It means they are contributing to the company, and bringing their brain to work, and the company is better for it.
In a third party collection agency, a collector is basically, at the heart of things an organic decision-making machine. Every single call they are attempting to route a debtor pay their account, and determine whether an account will be resolved or not. You want to harness that thinking, and have them apply it to their work environment. Have them contribute opinions and views on how to make their environment better, more productive, or simpler. But you need to draw them out of their shell into the management process. And you don’t want chaos or a sense of preference or favouritism ... you need to have them contribute, but maintain structure and consistency in the company.
The role of a manager should be pro-active, not reactive. If you are spending your entire day putting out fires and dealing with issues, either because you won’t let go of handling them personally, or the people you have put in place can’t manage to get the job done, you really aren’t managing the company, you are just doing damage control.
Any good manager knows that they can`t do everything themselves, and delegation and communication is at the heart of management. The issue with delegation is handing off responsibilities and functions, while maintaining control over these functions. Control does not have to be a need to be a control freak over your staff, but can include a light amount of control, such as communicating with the responsible staff under you, either verbally, or through a structured environment or key reports to be provided on functions reporting to you.
In my opinion, a core value for a good manager is patience, and the ability to work with different personalities. We are not bland robots in our workplace, and management is about meshing individuals together into a functioning team. A successful collection agency draws dynamic and outgoing people, and a real challenge in such an environment is keeping everyone pointed in the same direction, and providing structure without stifling thought.
Getting 110% Out of Your Staff
To encourage your staff to contribute, there are a number of tasks a proactive manager should undertake in my opinion. I feel a manager is ultimately responsible for the environment, and therefore the happiness of their staff. No person comes to work to worship at the altar of the management, or the company – they come to earn a wage to satisfy their lifestyles at the very least, and to achieve personal growth and happiness if the management is successful in building a healthy work environment. I strongly believe in making the workplace a better place, so staff will stay with the company, and help the company build and grow over time.
1) Lead by example! If you enforce a stringent absenteeism policy, but are absent from the office once a week, what example are you setting for your staff? It says “do as I say, not as I do”, which does not encourage staff to give you their complete dedication. Armchair generals can command their staff, but not earn their respect and acquire their full commitment.
2) Take the time to talk to your people, especially about the big picture. If you have a team working on a specific client portfolio, or function within the company, share with them how it impacts the company as a whole, your client’s perception of the company, and how well the team is functioning to serve the company’s needs. In a collection environment, that means explaining the monthly batch tracks or liquidation reports shared with the client, or showing the staff how to measure their efforts against the clients’ expectations. But give the staff perspective, and the understanding what their efforts can accomplish.
When I measure liquidation reports with my collection staff, I build them a report that is measurable that they can relate to. If the client expects 25% liquidation, and we are at 22%, that is an abstract number. But if you dollarize that 3% into explaining that the company needs to recover a further $11,000 by the end of the month, now the collectors can know exactly what their contributions are to satisfying the client’s needs.
3) Make sure you give your staff positive reinforcement – often, managers need to deal with exception management, which means calling out and dealing with the shortfalls or aberrations to the company’s work process. But that can become an overriding focus, meaning that managers are constantly dealing with negative situations, and critiquing or criticising shortfalls. In turn, they can often project an overly critical or negative message to their team. Make sure you take the time to call out the successes, and commend your staff when they do a good job. It makes them feel accomplished and part of the team, and appreciated for their efforts.
4) Build a structure where positive behaviour is rewarded. If your collectors are expected to call at least 150 files per day, try to build a structure where the staff are rewarded or recognized for exceeding your goals, rather than punishing or calling out the staff for failure. Build rewards into certain expectations, such as allowing staff the opportunity for flexible hours in the work week if they maintain certain revenue levels, or less stringent or frequent call reviews if they consistently demonstrate their ability to convert right party contacts into payments, or allow them freedom from the structured daily work flow if they demonstrate the ability to manage their time. Rewarding positive behaviour has a more lasting effect than punishing shortfalls, and creates a better work environment.
5) Promote from within. Give your staff small responsibilities and delegate functions to them, and see how they handle the tasks you give them. If they handle the roles you assign, thank them and give them more – rather than creating artificial supervisory roles and hiring externally, you can organically develop future supervisors and managers, one responsibility at a time. And for goodness sake, don’t assume your best collectors will be your best managers! People skills, responsibility, organization, and diligence don’t always go hand in hand with the numbers on the board – promote those who excel at delegated tasks, not simply bring revenue to the office.
Go Forth And Be Excellent
Every manager has a different style, and each one brings their experience and personality to the table. This strongly affects your work environment of your staff. A collection agency, at it’s heart, is based on people. Without skilled people in key roles, the company will fail – it will not matter how elaborate your contact management software or predictive dialer campaign is, or what clientele you have acquired. Without people, collections cannot happen.
I think many agency managers become enamoured of technology such as autodialers, databases, KPI reports, or meetings, and forget that the core task of a collection agency is to have one person speak to another about an outstanding bill, and recover those funds. This is something accomplished best by real people, personally reaching out and speaking to another.
Empower your people, educate your staff, and be worthy of their respect and emulation.
If anyone would like to discuss further the organization of a collection agency, what I have developed in my years in this business, or how agency structure and delegation affects client performance, I would be happy to discuss this with anyone, be they creditor or collection agents. Feel free to give me a call at our Cambridge office.
Kingston Data and Credit