Common Practices

Back around 1987, there was a major organizational realignment in the New York Banking Division.

Historically, there were 6 “independently -operating” Regions in the NY metropolitan area: Brooklyn/Staten Island, Queens, Long Island, Bronx/Westchester/Rockland, Lower Manhattan (below 42nd St) & Upper Manhattan.

Each Region had its own branches, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service, Investigations, Credit/Collections Ops, Branch Ops, Check Processing & Statement Rendition areas.

Then, in 1983, it was reduced to 4: Lower Manhattan & Upper Manhattan remained the same, while combining existing regions created Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island and Queens/Bronx/Westchester/Rockland.

Then came 1987 when the New York Bank decided to “go functional” from an organizational & reporting perspective.

All the branches were now combined into the NY Retail Bank (headed up by Anne Slattery).

All Marketing departments were centralized into one consolidated unit; the name of the Head of Marketing escapes me (it was a female, but I can’t recall her name).

Joe Redington (JJR, Joseph J. Redington III), formerly the Regional Manager for Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island & “my big boss”, was in charge of all back-office Operations.

I was still the Operations Manager for BLISI Customer Service & now, had to work very closely with the 3 other CitiPhone Units to “standardize our service offerings to the customer & the branches”.

Over time, differences in how each area handled certain specific customer request grew amongst the 4 units.

In some cases, we would handle the customer’s inquiries/requests with certain Credit products while other units transferred the calls to their Credit Operations area to handle.

In certain customer situations, one CitiPhone Unit would transfer the call to the branch for resolution while another would resolve it in-house.

So we undertook a massive project effort to document every possible customer inquiry & request we would receive.

One group involved processes & procedures that were “internal to CitiPhone”, that is, we could decide amongst ourselves exactly how we wanted to handle the customer.

This first group included 24 different procedures for which we need to come to agreement.

The other group involved those procedures that involved the branches, in one way or another. For these items, we needed the Retail Bank’s concurrence on our proposals on how to handle them.

There were well over 150 items in this category.

The whole effort was dubbed “Common Practices”. The term “Best Practices” had yet to come into vogue.

We tackled the 24 “internal-to-CitiPhone” items first. (Note: We handled hundreds of different inquiries & requests from customers…these 24 merely represented those where at least one CitiPhone unit did it differently than the others.)

I met with my 3 peers to review the items & come to agreement on one “common practice” for each process/procedure.

It took almost 2 full days before we all signed the treaty… one of my most exhausting & frustrating experiences ever!

We were all extremely knowledgeable leaders…as well as independent, pig-headed & stubborn.

Of course, we all believed that OUR process was the best one possible as we had probably created it ourselves. Besides, if it wasn’t the best, we would have changed it ourselves as some time in the past.

But when all 4 of us think the same way…”I’m right!”, “I’m right!”, “I’m right! & “I’m right!”…it gets kinda difficult.

I don’t believe that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was available to “negotiate” due to scheduling conflicts. We didn’t have a moderator or project leader with us.

So we battled!

Eventually, we came to agreement on a final, official process for the 24 internal-to-CitiPhone items.

For the 150 or so items for which we needed to review with, and get approval from, the Retail Bank, I had already volunteered to represent CitiPhone in dealing with our partner organization.

And there was no way in Hell (or Heaven) that I was gonna spend the rest of my life dealing with my branch counterparts on this stuff.

At the same “24 items in 2 days” rate, it would take us 2 1/2 weeks to resolve!!!

No way, Jose.

I scheduled a 4-hour meeting with the 6 AOMs/Area Operations Managers (responsible for everything other than sales in the branches), all of them very experienced, incredibly-knowledgeable & really “grizzled veterans” who knew their stuff, inside & out: Mike Gaffney from BKlyn/SI, Bill Mullins from Long Island, Tom Grant from Upper Manhattan, Norm Merritt from Lower Manhattan, John Healy from Queens & Tom Gearity from Bronx/Westchester.

1 against 6…I actually liked those odds! I also knew that I would be pushing for the way that MY CitiPhone unit handled these requests that involved the branches so I was very comfortable in defending/promoting/pushing for the recommended procedures.

We met in Manhattan, rolled up our sleeves & immediately got to work.

I told them of the 2-day marathon session that CitiPhone needed to agree on (only) 24 items.

We had 150 items & after they got this glazed-over looks in their eyes, i guaranteed them that this process would go much, much smoother!

I then went over to the conference room door & pretended to lock it…”Ain’t nobody gettin’ away, ya hear? We gonna finish this & finish it on time!”

We sailed through all the items!

A few items evoked some discussion amongst the group, but there were no issues of “ownership” present. No problems of “My way is best!” to overcome. Everyone was helpful & cooperative.

And to be honest, my proposed process for each of the 150+ items was quite “branch-friendly”.

And that was it. I followed up by documenting every agreed-upon item in an e-mail to get their written approval & to allow them to share the information with their branches (and specifically, the Branch Managers & the Branch Operations Managers).

It was one of my better efforts in my entire career. I had already worked closely with Mike Gaffney (Bklyn/SI) & Bill Mullins (LI) as we all worked for the same Region previously, but this gave me the opportunity to form some excellent working relationships with the other 4 AOMs.

Got a lot of great stuff done rather painlessly & strengthened relations with my buddies from Retail Bank.

As my career took me to different places & positions, this whole “Common Practices” effort proved invaluable to me.

After leaving CitiPhone in ‘88 to head up One Bank Practices (later, Process Improvement & Development), I was tasked with doing very similar work, but on a national level.

Citibank had bought a number of failed Savings & Loans and converted them to Citibanks to various states: Citibank-Illinois, Citibank-Illinois & Citibank-Florida. We also took existing Citibanks in DC/Maryland, upstate NY & Maine and brought them under one leadership/organizational umbrella.

I had to work on developing & coordinating Common Practices for all of National Operations’ areas (Investigations, Credit Ops, Branch Ops, etc.).

And then, when I transferred to the USCC in ‘93, I eventually became Service Director for the site & amongst my many responsibilities was serving as the main liaison with the entire U.S. Retail Bank.

It’s great when you can look back on your career & all the relationships (& friendships) you made with such wonderful people across the country & just appreciate all the hard work you put it & where you came from.

The saddest day in my life (aside from the deaths of Laurie & my Dad) was the day I left Citi in November 2006.

Oh, well…

As always, thank you so much for listening!

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