Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Friday, April 26, 2019

Culture Is King

There are companies that people brag about working at – Google, Toyota, Zappos … few people brag about working in a collection agency.  The reason is occasionally the job itself, as not everyone is built to call people and arrange to collect overdue accounts.  It takes a very unique kind of person to take a job in credit or collections.  But the failure of most collection agencies is to attract good staff and keep them, is culture.

Culture is king.  Without a positive culture, your company will fail in the long run.

Culture is a number of things – it’s the written rules, it’s the perks you give your staff, it’s the physical environment you provide for your staff.  But it’s your staff themselves who propagate and evolve the culture, and every person who is added or removed from a company changes it’s collective makeup and personality.

A poor culture will have people leave for greener pastures.  A poor culture will have your team members put in only 80% (or 40%, or 10%).  A poor culture will reflect in quality of work, how to address consumer complaints, and ultimately, kill the company.

I have worked for companies with poor culture.  Once poor culture sets in, turning the company ship is incredibly hard.  But here are some lessons I’ve learned.

Set The Ground Rules

The rules you set determine how people in your company will behave.  It’s not just about absenteeism policies and annual staff reviews, it’s about how you reward your staff, allow them life balance, and setting down in writing what the company stands for.

Hubspot does an excellent job of this with their Culture Code Deck.  It’s long, 128 slides, but well worth perusing, and was inspirational to our company when we decided to set down our ‘rules’.

The image at the top of this blog is Rule #1 of our company’s social contract – we have these posted on art prints in each of our branches.  Our company currently has eight rules we live by, and rather than just have written manuals, we set down the guidelines for our culture through these images, and refer to them frequently.

Of course, you need to have traditional rules on how you will deal with problems, disagreements, disasters, or new products or services, but don’t forget to have written rules that factor in the people part of your company.

Make Small Course Corrections If Needed

Every new staff member brings their own experience and outlook to the company, and shifts the collective personality of the company ever so slightly by just being within the four walls.  Everyone will bring a differing level of commitment to the company, and everyone will react differently to changes.  That’s okay.  The company I work in now is not the same company it was three years ago.  As we’ve grown and added branches, each one has taken on a unique ‘personality’.  The important thing is to watch where it is headed.

When we had a disagreement in one of our branches a couple years ago, it became obvious we hadn’t laid out a roadmap for how to challenge other staff and how they should respond.  That became a new rule in our social contract (rule #7 for those keeping track) and was printed and discussed in all our branches at the next weekly Scrum meeting.

Also keep an eye out for perceptions – it may be perceived that one person is bottlenecking the company, or hoarding power, or isn’t pulling their weight.  It’s important to be able to have a conversation with that person about the perception and address it.  It might also involve tweaking a policy or process.

As an example, as our company grew, more and more administrative tasks were getting dumped on the Branch Managers of our company, and it appeared that there was becoming a power imbalance in an otherwise flat or Agile environment.  It was also apparent the Branch Managers were overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up with the workload of managing so many things – so we made some changes.  We pushed authority to project managers to ensure focus on specific clients, we retitled the Branch Managers as Site Managers to remove the perception from new people that they were in charge of employees like a traditional company, and we met with the Site Managers to discuss perceptions and how to change it.

Defend Your Culture At All Costs

Sometimes, things will go horribly wrong.  Someone will not follow a process, or they will create a toxic environment.  You have to defend your culture as vigorously as you would defend your clients’ relationships, your building and data, or your legal liability.  If you don’t defend your culture, you lose control of your company and the faith of your team.

I worked at a small collection agency many years ago, and I saw the culture change slowly over a few months – people stopped working together and being friendly.  New staff left within two to three months.  Absenteeism increased.  The whole problem was centered around a small group of people who went out behind the building to smoke.  They bonded (which is expected), and vented about work (which is also to be expected, it’s a time honoured tradition for people to not like the boss or a policy).  But it eventually turned toxic, with people talking behind other staff members’ backs, and killed the trust and teamwork in the company in short order. 

One morning, I pulled every single one of those toxic people into my office and fired them, one after another.  I fired three otherwise productive staff members in a 15 person office.  I thanked them for their time with the company, paid their time in lieu of notice, and shook their hands.  The fact that no one saw this coming was an understatement – people had assumed I had gone off my rocker, and climbed under their desks, for fear of them being next.  It was very subdued in the office for a day or two … and then, as people relaxed, and realized that the toxic environment was gone, every single one of the remaining staff came and thanked me.

It shouldn’t have gotten to that point, I shouldn’t have had to fire those people, but it was them, or the company’s future.


Culture is such a tricky, complicated thing, that sometimes can’t be measured in a report or a staff meeting.  It requires listening to the hum of the office, watching human behaviour, and asking people questions.  It requires multiple people ‘on watch’ and communication channels put in place as the company grows, and guardianship of culture goes from one person to several.  It requires small tweaks and nudges when things are going right, and drastic measures when things have gone horribly wrong, but your culture is what makes your company unique, and makes it successful, otherwise you are just an empty building with a logo on the wall…

Questions about culture?  Ideas on how to build a better environment?  I’m always willing to chat – feel free to reach out to me.

Thanks kindly,

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data & Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

No comments:

Post a Comment