Monday, November 26, 2007

Your Political Correctness is Upsetting My Freedom

Anyone living in the U.S. will know today, Monday November 26, is a very significant day. Today is the day that retail outlets post the outcome of “Black” Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day. Over recent years the economic barometer has been carried by

Wal-Mart. If the Big Box retailer said Black Friday was great, the economy rages forward, if not, it tanks. How this day ritual came about is probably lost in the annals of time. I hope that every collector out there will be eagerly awaiting the release of this very important information, as it will shape your year end.

As I await the outcome of what is in essence consumer confidence in the economy, two thoughts run through my mind. First and foremost, what the outcome will be – boom or bust. (I already have a fair idea where the gavel will fall). However, the second thought is how it will be presented; will they call it “Black” Friday? One thing I have always known is you can always get what you want if you make infinitesimally small changes; you will get what you want while the other party doesn’t realize what is going on. The English have a mantra that speaks volumes to this “Slowly, slowly catch yee monkey”.

Last week, for some reason, I was reflecting on my adult life and came to realize how radically the world has changed since the last century- when I was a child. As a child in the 1900s, we had very old people, old people, parents and children. Today we have grouped them into: Mature, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Recently I attended a lecture that focused on how to get these groups of people to work together. However, back in my generation – they seemed to just ‘work together’, but they were called old.

In my adult life I have witnessed many changes in how we communicate with one another. These small changes that have been insignificant through the years have now been entrenched into our daily lives. According to my Human Resources person, one must not ask about people’s weekends as that can be a form of harassment. In one company I know of, they have legislated what employees can have on their desks and can’t have any pictures or posters. As some displayed trinket ‘could’ be offensive to someone else. In the five years, one country has banned the Children’s Nursery Rhyme… Ba Ba… Black Sheep. It has been since re-released as …Ba Ba Sheep. Just this week in the news, the television series every North American child grew up watching, Sesame Street, is not considered politically correct. That big Yellow goofy bird said things in the 1950-1990’s that by today’s standards cannot be said! Oh…my all time favorite, one country has mandated their Store Santa to say “Ha Ha Ha”, instead of “Ho, Ho, Ho”.

All of this political “correctness” has really impacted my collections. I spend too much time trying not to offend someone that the message of what I am trying to get across gets lost in the rhetoric of today’s communication requirements. I was recently privileged to read communication from a managing partner to a senior partner about the position of the person’s work in progress and accounts receivable. In the 150 words of verbiage, I was left wondering what was going on. The fact of this partner’s sloppiness in managing his practice got lost in the words. So how effective was that correspondence in motivating results?

In the past decade I have met some of the most “politically correct” professional services practices that I could ever imagine. I would like to take this opportunity to share a few of my favorites. The firm, a large west coast firm, invited me to meet their revenue partner, CFO and collections manager to discuss collections strategy and to look at the integration of technology. At one point in the conversation, I said “you should send statements to your clients”. With that the room went silent and the partner said “we can’t send statements to our clients, it will upset them”. What? Informing clients what they owe will upset them! I get statements every month from credit card companies, public utilities and I never get upset. However, in this firm’s mind, their clients would get upset should they receive statements.

However, my favorite firm that tops the political correctness ladder is a Midwest firm that took 5 years to agree to send their clients statements of account. Within 3 months of sending statements a senior partner put the brakes on the whole project, the partner’s reason, lack of “correctness” in the statement. In this person’s reasoning the title ‘Statement of Account’ represented a full account of what the client owed. However, the partner reasoned the caption was a misnomer, for the client owed the amount in AR and the amounts in WIP. So it was back to the committees to deliberate on what to do. The result after 90 days of deliberation was to change the caption to “STATEMENT*”. Where the asterisk lead the reader to the end of the correspondence where the term ‘STATEMENT’ was defined in several sentences. What!?

Back to reality, in a business transaction both sides should benefit. Someone received goods or services and someone is due payment. If the originating side received what they were to receive then they should make payment, whether they receive a bill or an invoice. Payment is due! It is the right of the providing party to receive payment. Very simply, these transactions are people processes. I think we should ‘can’ the political correctness get a copy of the Fair Credit and Collections Act (get the rules for your jurisdiction) learn what you can and cannot say. Then pick up the phone … say it… and collect the amounts due and banish from your mind whether it is a bill, an invoice or a statement! It is money due to your firm….so get it!

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