Monday, July 16, 2007

Successful Collections, a team sport?

In one of my earlier writings I made the point of paradigm shift; the need to make that quantum leap into a different way of thinking and doing business. This, I feel is, essential to cast off the bondage of old ways of doing things. I have noticed that all too often, most businesses continue in a lock-step of their past. Although they achieve success, the success isn’t near what they could possibly achieve. Over the past few weeks I have met many people who practice the concept of truly thinking out of the box. These people have developed such a skill they have become consultants to multi-national and global companies.

If you have experienced even one of my seminars on collections you will know that accounts receivable delinquency dates back to 1500 BC. One would think that over the last 3000 + years we would have rationalized AR collections to a science. However, that hasn’t been the case. It hasn’t, simply because AR collections is a people process, we must work through with other people to get what we want; our bills paid. With that said, I am sure we can draw knowledge and insight from other facets of industry.

The human phylogenic roots orignated about 6 million years ago. As one traces the evolution to modern day humans, it becomes very clear that human beings are communal animals. Our entire survival rest in our ability to be part of a group, tremendous research has been done on group behavior. It was found that the optimal group for humans to be part of is 75 individuals. It was found that groups of 75 individuals function the best, when the size of the group exceeds 100 individuals the group breaks apart in to smaller groups. It has been postulated that human survival requires being part of a group. What can we learn from that? One must ask the question, why? I have reasoned that groups of 75 provide both enough diversity in skill and the ‘right’ degree of formality. To play on the skill aspect, each person in the group brings a certain skill to the group, which enhances its probability of survival – team work!

Let’s apply this to the typical professional service practice, with its diversity of skill. The collector is a responsible member of the team bringing their unique skill set for the betterment of the overall team. Their role is to work with the client to get the bills paid. These are the same bills that the billing attorney instructed the billing specialist to create. The file was probably brought in by the responsible partner and the work was managed by the supervising attorney. Is the picture beginning to unfold? Each person in the firm injects their expertise to ensure the entire operation not only runs smoothly, but is successful.

Success is a relative term. What defines success for one person could be considered failure for another. However, if we contend that the law firm’s definition of success is to provide outstanding legal services and earn a profitable return on investment then we have succeeded. We can see that everyone on the team plays a vital role and is responsible for their part in the ‘successes of the firm. Taking this a step further, if profitability is tied to success then everyone should support the expertise of the collector in getting bills paid. That assistance provided to the collector must start at the very beginning of the attorney client relationship, at the initial meeting. It is the attorney’s responsibility to set the stage of how the relationship will progress, how services will be rendered and when payments are expected. All too often, I don’t feel this happens – sadly enough.

Over the last few weeks I witnessed true team work in action! Lately I attended many conferences and conventions and I watched how the wait staff took care of upwards of 2500 people. During one such conference a waiter talked about a recent conference of 8,000 people. Think of it, feeding 8,000 people. Every meal is perfect down to the temperature and the presentation. Now that is team work!

Recently I had the opportunity to dine at Maggiano's, an upscale Italian restaurant in Las Vegas. During my meal selection process I was approached by Michael Pawlowski, the Executive Sous Chef, who took tremendous time in ensuring that every question from the group was answered. Throughout the meal, Mike stopped by regularly to check on the group. Through discussion we found out that the restaurant serves upwards of 400 people per day and that doesn’t even consider their entire catering business. One would think that kind of pressure would be the seed for chaos. However, Mike spoke of how the entire process moves in lock-step to the challenges. In a rare act, Mike took our party for a tour of his kitchen and sure enough, his staff of 20 focused and synchronized to the fulfillment of their goal, their success; making sure each order was perfect!

I think it is time that the concept of teamwork becomes emblazoned in the hearts and minds of today’s professional practices. Each one of the players must not only understand, but feel, how the actions of others impact what must be done for the success of the team. If the goal of the firm is profitability, one must ask oneself, “How does what I do help the team achieve our goal AND what can I do to help my team members achieve their part of our overall goal!