There are several key elements that separate ordinary collection organizations from extraordinary organizations, several elements that distinguish those that continually attempt to survive from those that consistently thrive. One of those main key elements is the collection organization’s culture. Culture, when defined as a verb means to “maintain in conditions suitable for growth.” From an organizational standpoint, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Few, if any organizations remain at a constant medium, especially in the credit and collection industry. With that in mind, here are five steps organizations can take to create and protect their ideal company culture.
1) Build It
Most have heard the saying, “if you build it, they will come.” That resonates true with a collection organization’s culture, a great culture speaks for itself while it’s employees also speak for and to it. The first step in creating the culture is to build it. Each collection organization is unique and therefore their culture is as well. Creating a culture must start at the very top. Without buy-in from executive leadership a culture cannot be built. What qualities and characteristics does the organization want to embody? What does it want to show to its most valuable assets: its collectors? Also, what does the culture say to the outside world and, most notably, to the collection firm or department’s clients and prospects. Lay the foundation for what makes your organization tick, what you excel at, and what you seek to become.
As it relates to a collection agency specifically, building the culture starts with taking an inventory of how the agency wants to be portrayed to both clients and consumers. This is a good time to develop the mission and vision statement which will lay down that all important foundation. Also, take the time to list four to five bullet points that summarize exactly what the agency is about from a macro perspective.
2) Live It
Once the foundation is laid during the building phase, the next step is to live it. While the building phase never ends, there comes a point where a solid foundation is built and it is time to start living out the culture and the beliefs. There’s a saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” To live it, everyone in the collection organization needs to buy in and create successful habits that embody what was built. From mission statements to vision statements, the directional force of the collection firm or department will lean toward those statements and each act and habit should be done in cohesion with that vision and mission. There needs to be authenticity as well because when a culture is not authentic it can be smelled out from a mile away.
Living out the culture means practicing what is preached. Start with putting together a presentation that outlines everything we have mentioned so far and sharing that with the entire organization. Sometimes it may be beneficial to also put together a quiz regarding the culture to ensure the employees comprehend. Referring back to the four or five bullet points put together from a macro perspective, it’s a good idea to place those big and bold in the call center so employees see them everyday.
3) Value It
Now that the foundation of the culture has been built and employees have begun living it, the next step is to value it. The organization’s culture is like a treasure that you can’t put a price on, so it is important to value the culture because it plays such a dominant role in the success and or failure. Be sure to internally promote what makes the culture tick on a routine basis and intertwine it all throughout the collection firm or department so it is shown just how important and valuable it is. Don’t hide the most important elements of what the culture is doing, be sure to shout them from the rooftop loud and proud.
Valuing the culture starts with management and works it way down. Management should embrace the culture and incorporate that into the daily lives of the employees. Most, if not everything that is done on a daily basis, should refer back to the mission or vision statement. If it doesn’t, then that particular decision should be evaluated.
4) Reinforce It
Reinforcing the culture is what puts it at the forefront of everyone’s mind day in and day out. We discussed intertwining it all throughout the collection organization and that is the best way to keep it front and center right where it needs to be. If the culture starts to take a back seat you should be able to notice it quickly. Putting it back front and center will reinforce its importance and how the culture is the key to success. Constantly ensure that each department and department head are putting the culture where it needs to be, at the top. There should be cohesion across all departments as one stray individual can start a leak in, what is to date, a strong ship moving in the right direction.
One great way to reinforce the culture is to include the four to five bullet points put together in collectors monthly or quarterly reviews. How have their results and actions followed along with the mission and vision of the organization? If for some reason they are off the tracks, then the mission and vision can realign them. If they are on the right track, then reinforce how their results and efforts are helping the organization.
5) Fight for It
There are going to be times when things simply aren’t going your way or maybe not the way you envisioned. Always remember all the hard work that was put into building the culture, how long the collection firm has lived it, how much each employee valued it and how many times you had to reinforce it. It’s at those tough times you will enter the fight or flight mentality. While it won’t always be easy, you simply have to fight for your culture. Regardless of what you are up against, the culture has taken a long time to get where it is and it is something that not just leadership believes in but everyone in the firm. It will take each and every one of them to constantly fight for the culture they worked so hard to build.
There is no doubt that collection organizations’ culture will be tried, even on a regular basis. That is why when challenges for the culture come up, the firm must step up and fight for it. Maybe a client is unhappy about results or the agency just received a lawsuit. Regardless of what it is, it is important to fall back on the mission and vision of the organization to maintain alignment.
Nick Jarman is the Owner of RightAway Consulting & Coaching as well as the Chief Operation Officer for Credit Collection Partners.