Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - June 17, 2015

Listen to your Thoughtless Employees!

Do you have some thoughtless employees?

We generally think of being "thoughtless" as a bad thing. But the truth is, we all face situations where we have to react quickly, when we don't have time to research the optimal response.

In working with your customers, sometimes your staff will face those immediate reaction situations and they'll have to make their best guess at the right response. Other times, they'll encounter new situations, new requests or demands or conditions, that are not explicitly covered in the rulebook, so to speak. Policy and standard procedures might not have anticipated a particular customer need or a specific potential opportunity.

That's when we get these expressions, "go with your gut" and "fly by the seat of your pants", and that's what employees end up doing. It is just part of doing business.

While you may be working hard to keep these "thoughtless responses" to a minimum, you can also learn from them. What your employees do when there isn't a clear right answer spelled out already, or where the response time is simply too short to completely analyze and reason through the decision, is a window into your culture.

I often talk about culture as being "how we do things around here". But it isn't hard to figure out how things are done when you face a typical application for a typical credit product with typical structure, all covered thoroughly in training and policy and other documentation.

It gets more interesting when you have these more ambiguous situations. Do different employees come up with different solutions? Do they lean toward booking the business if it is even marginally viable? Do they avoid the risk of getting it wrong, and being chastised, so they pass on some good, but unusual opportunities?

Do their thoughtless responses consistently reflect the broader values and principles that underlie your policy, process, systems, and procedures? Or do things break down quickly when there aren't clear and ready-to-hand guidelines for the situation?

Thoughtless responses can be, to use another expression, "the canary in the coal mine".

When it's easy to play by the rules, it can be hard to tell whether your employees really believe in your policy and support your designated practices, or whether they are just going through the motions. But when they have to come up with a response where the correct path is not completely nailed down in advance, their first responses give you early warning of what they really believe, how they think about their work.

So it pays to pay attention to these situations that arise in the gaps in your policy and procedures. If every employee responds differently, you have to wonder how strong, how "tight" your culture is.

And if new situations field a wide range of responses from your staff, you also have to wonder about how they approach the more typical, bread-and-butter customer relationships that make up most of your business.

You can't describe every situation and every response in advance. There will always be a need for quick answers to customer requests, answers that may have to be given without the benefit of written guidance or previous experience.

Thoughtless responses that are consistent with your chosen values and practices are good for you. They enable rapid, appropriate responses that give you a competitive edge.

Thoughtless responses that are inconsistent, with your values and with the responses of other employees, increase your risk and spawn inefficiency.

Which kind of thoughtless responses do you make at your institution?