Sunday, November 24, 2013

Take a moment for others

In my blog, I rarely bring in my day to day job into the discussion.  Today is an exception.  My primary career is that I manage a contact center in the student loan industry.  Whenever I tell people this, the initial response that I receive is, "Oh, you're one of those people".  My response invariably is, "No, I am one of those individuals with the white hats that can provide people with the best options for their situation." 

While my career has been within several verticals within the debt collections and customer service industries, my current path is one that provides guidance and solutions for individuals who are frustrated by their situation.  The team responsible for providing counseling to the consumer are all focused on one goal, and that is to get it right the first time we speak with an individual so that the consumer is able to make better informed decisions through resources and feedback we are able to provide to them.  We don't collect money and we don't set up payment arrangements.  Simply put, we explore options and solutions with consumers to allow them to successfully manage repayment of their federal student loan debt.

It is amazing how much information is available for consumers that people do not take advantage of.  There are times that bad things happen to good people.  Take for instance the situation of an individual who has become 60 days past due on their student loan pay.  The first thing that needs to be understood is how a person became past due (besides the obvious of not making a payment).  Not making the payment is the result, but getting down to basics and understanding if their were triggering events which caused payments not to be made timely.  In this example, the person had their hours cut 3 months ago, which forced them to make decisions about how their money needed to be spent.  The quick answer would be to choose a discretionary hardship forbearance on this debt.  However, what the consumer may not understand is that this is going to cause capitalized interest to occur as a result of the interest accrual since their last payment was made.  Due to interest capitalization, their principal balance will increase, resulting in a higher monthly payment amount.  By gaining an understanding of their situation, it may be learned that the spouse lost their job during this period for a family of 5.  Again, bad things happen to good people and their are better options than just digging a deeper hole.

As we enter the holiday season, it is important, that we all recognize that bad things happen to good people.  There are some out there that have been through situations that are completely outside of their control, while there are situations that people have made some poor financial decisions.  Most of us have been their at some point in our lives.  These situations cause stress for individuals and their families.  Typically, without intervention, bad decisions lead to worse decisions.

While not everyone will have an opportunity to positively impact a persons financial situation in the way that we are able to in the contact center I'm responsible for, we all have the ability to provide fresh perspective to those around us.  Take the time to be a positive moment to a complete stranger.  Ask a friend or a family member how things are going and if they have a plan.  Bottom line, invest time in others not just during the holiday season, but all the time.

If you are in a bad situation, know there are a myriad of non-profit resources available for you to talk about your situation.  Also, know that bad situations will lead to sacrifice.  Things you were able to do, you may need to give up until things are back in balance.  There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and usually it is not a train coming at you.  Take a step back, breath, re-evaluate, and move forward. 

Situations can change, but only if there is a catalyst for them, and it all starts with us as individuals. 

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah over the course of the next week and remember to have a positive impact on someone this week.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The River of Negativity

Recently, I was asked if I could share my views and feelings on how to counter workplace negativity.  It is a topic that hits home for me.  I have had the fortune of working in environments where there have been very strict rules with very prescriptive consequences, as well as environments where there have been very fluid rules.

As I pondered this, it was apparent that I did not have a magic formula that has led to a lack of negativity in my current environment. I did realize the following though:
  • Change breeds negative thoughts
  • Negativity without a proper outlet festers and becomes a culture
  • Culture determines employee engagement and ultimate satisfaction
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction contributes to customer satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction is synonymous with the customer experience
  • Customers typically will not speak highly of products and services that they have a negative experience with
  • Organizations lose customers as a result of negative customer experiences
How can negativity in the workplace be combated?   Taking a look at the above simplistic negativity flow, it is easiest to combat negativity before it even is allowed to manifest itself.  As a leader, you have to take negativity out at its knees.  Here are some strategies that have worked.
  • Ensure that change is communicated in a timely manner.
  • Encourage staff to ask questions and follow-up on their concerns.
  • Engage staff where they are, not where you think they are
  • Inspect what you expect, but don't micro-manage
  • Allow for midstream adjustments as not all changes or decisions deploy as envisioned
  • Don't hide from decisions.  Be visible and approachable
  • Provide status updates as to how change is progressing, even acknowledging learning opportunities
  • Recognize staff whenever possible
  • Celebrate milestones and accomplishments, no matter how small
Much of what is mentioned above are things you see talked about in books, articles, training classes, etc.  I can attest from experience that the first list can become your reality, if you don't adopt items from the second list.

What changes do you have planned?  Hopefully this post provides some nuggets to assist you successfully avoid workplace negativity by eliminating it before it has a chance to take hold. If it exists in your environment today, know that the course of negativity can be reversed through focusing on items in the second list, primarily through being visible, approachable, communicating, and taking the time to recognize positive outcomes, no matter how small.  Most importantly, have fun!

Have a great week!