As a credit management consultant and trainer I have the opportunity to meet credit professionals at all levels in many different companies and industries. They all seem to have at least several things in common. There are too many priorities, too few resources and a lot more to do than time available in a normal workweek. Sound familiar?
Part of the problem is just how to balance priorities that seem to constantly change. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the word “priority” is based on the Latin word “pri” meaning first, preceding in order, time or importance and “ordo” meaning a straight row, a regular series.” A priority therefore is the first thing that needs to be done.
The challenge is to have a plan on how to approach and order multiple priorities so the right things get accomplished first. The real difficulty comes when something that seems to be the top priority one minute is overshadowed by a new problem that seems to take precedence the next. Your day is planned until your boss walks in with the first fire drill.
Credit professionals today have a much deeper problem than just priority setting. We have to deal with multiple constituents as well. There is your boss, sales, operations, customer service and of course the customer. If you supervise a staff add that responsibility and of course there is family. How do we establish our value to the organization and manage all these competing priorities and constituents.
In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen R. Covey starts with the concept that in the end, the only person you can control is yourself. It is up to you to take responsibility to develop your capabilities and exercise the effective habits necessary to become successful.
It all starts with perceptions. For a credit professional, the perceptions we have of our supervisors, workplace, and co- workers determine how we approach our jobs and appear to others. We each have the ability to rethink our habitual perceptions and as Covey puts it, “change the paradigm”, our interpretation of the world around us.
Covy suggests the following seven habits:
Make your own choices on how to respond to a business decision or challenge. Take responsibility for your own actions. Do not be reactive. Let your own values drive your decisions. Too many times we can be influenced by the opinion of others and lose sight of our own values and our value to our company. A credit professional’s value starts with the ability to make independent well informed decisions rapidly.
Begin with the end in mind.
All things are created twice. First determine what you want to accomplish, and then create a plan to get there. By focusing on what you want to accomplish first you can be a leader. Covey uses an example of a group charged with the task of cutting a new trail through a dense jungle. The leader is the one who climbs the tree and announces to the group, this is the wrong jungle while the others are heads down drawing plans and starting to chop their way through. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you are in the wrong jungle.
Stay informed on business conditions and new techniques affecting your job responsibilities.
Organize Your Time Around Your Priorities.
Practice good time management. What is really important? How urgent is an issue? Does it require your immediate attention? Top priorities are both important and urgent. Some things are important but not urgent and some things may seem urgent but are not really important. Look at the work on your desk. Are you spending a lot of time on things that seem urgent but are really not?
Think Win Win.
Your success in any business interaction should not be at the cost of someone else’s success. Do not feel that the only way you can succeed is by “beating” the other person. This could give you a shallow victory in one situation but create bad will going into the next. This concept applies to negotiations with customers as well as how you deal with your boss, coworkers and subordinates.
Realize that sometimes no “deal” is possible and both parties are better off just agreeing to walk away.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.
See the solution to a problem from the other person’s point of view. This will give you a new perspective on your viewpoint. It will also help you better communicate your concerns, priorities and solutions. Listen first with the intent to understand, not just to convince the other person. Don’t fall into the trap of proposing a solution before you understand the situation. Covey calls this empathic listening. You are giving the other person “psychological air”. By listening first, you enable others to get their points across and create an atmosphere of trust. There is an old saying, “We have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak”
This is based on the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Creative cooperation will bring the best results. Often times your role in tough business situations is to initiate new alternatives that did not exist before. This is where you as a credit professional can bring real value to your company. You can provide insight and alternatives through professional training along with access to useful resources and information.
Take Time to Sharpen the Saw.
Covey uses the example of a person who observes a neighbor sawing down a tree. The neighbor looks totally exhausted and has made little progress over several hours. The observer suggests the neighbor stop for a few minutes to sharpen the saw. The reaction is “I don’t have time to stop, I am too busy sawing”.
Take time to sharpen your saw. This makes all the other six habits possible.
Covey explains there are four dimensions of these seven habits of highly successful people. He suggests you work on each of these an hour a day, every day.
All four of the following dimensions are interrelated. Anything you do in one area has an impact on the others. Work on all four dimensions in a balanced way.
- Physical: Take the time to eat right and exercise
- Spiritual: Evaluate your end goals, principles, and your personal “mission statement”. Continually renew a commitment to your personal values. Take time when you are off work to recharge your batteries with personal activities and family.
- Mental: Write down the issues at hand and prioritize. Keep on top of your professional game, read, attend training, and take advantage of networking opportunities to learn from others.
- Social Emotional: See relationships as win win. Understand others first, be empathetic, strive for synergy.
Each of the points raised in Covey’s book are leads into how the CMA can help you as a credit professional. Our decision making process is based on our own principles and frame of reference. To be effective we first must be well informed and well networked with people who are both informed and networked. The CMA is a great conduit to these things through its various services, trade groups and www.anscers.com Encyclopedia of Credit and Community Bulletin Board.
The seven habits above may seem utopian or theoretical in the midst of our busy work day and pressures. Remember however that these are the habits of “highly effective people” not “highly ineffective people” Do the things that less successful people avoid doing. This is a journey you will never finish.