Collection Training: Developing Self-Management Work Teams
"We have 20 skip tracers, two analysts, and one part-time employee," says one Wisconsin collection department manager. He also had a directive from management: implement a self-management program in the department. Implementation involved:
Training. There were two initial hurdles. One was that the skill level of some employees was not high enough to begin working in a self-managed environment. The other was that many employees had established work habits over the years that were not conducive to productivity and cooperation.
A training program was set up to address these issues. In addition, he manager arranged for cross-training to encourage employees to learn one another's jobs.
Next, he arranged for some employees to visit other departments in the company to learn skills that they could bring back to the final bill department. These assignments included work in the training department, in the procedures department, and at walk-in centers.
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Communication. Then the department focused on communication skills. The manager offered employees the opportunity to take personality tests. During the discussions of the test results, employees began to understand that people have different ways of thinking and communicating.
Through a series of programs put on by the training department and outside consultants, they learned communication skills, conflict resolution, stress management, and self-esteem strategies.
Soon the first real signs of progress were apparent. "Things started to click," he reports. Employees began to resolve conflicts with one another rather than brood about them.
In one case, a team assigned to help introduce a new piece of equipment to the department had divided into two factions that were at odds. After meeting with each faction to discuss their differences, The manager promised to meet with the team as a whole later in the week. The next morning, the team reported to him that they had met on their own and ironed out 95% of their differences.
Peer review. The next phase was getting employees comfortable with the concept of peer review. Members of each team reviewed one another, using eight questions that focused primarily on team communication. The exercise helped them assess the validity of the questions. As a result, some of the questions will be dropped and others added to improve the effectiveness of the process.
The manager is also in the process of getting employees involved in departmental goal-setting, budgeting, and decision making.
Employees have learned to accept change, to work with each other, to improve their skills, and to handle responsibility. This is reflected in the overall performance of the department, where total dollars recovered has improved by a significant amount.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Credit & Collection Manager's Letter.
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