If you ever wanna be successful in life…and there’s a whole ton of different definitions of “success”…in addition to your own talent, abilities & work ethic, you MUST learn to depend on, and contribute to, your team.
No man is an island.
Though there is an Isle of Man (between England & Ireland).
As a leader, it’s automatically inferred that you’re leading a group of people, you know, human beings, regardless of the size, makeup, location, differences, etc..
Don’t ever underestimate their importance nor their power. You may think that you’re “the boss”, but that means absolutely shit if your people are not 100% in lock step with you!
Sure, you’re all different, be it psychologically, religiously, racially, ideologically, and a thousand other aspects.
But when it comes to accomplishing business goals…
…you’re all one!
One mind, one heart, one soul.
And as a leader, you must demonstrate…EVERY SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE…that you are totally obsessed with their well-being (mentally & physically), that you’ll do just about anything under the sun on their behalf, that your love for them exudes from every pore of your body!
With concrete, tangible actions.
Emotions are cool, but they don’t pay the bills.
> > Back in early-to-mid ’80s, when I assumed responsibility for the Regional CitiPhone business in NY (Melville, LI) under John Gang, it was the beginning of a special period of incredible change & growth for the Consumer Banking business.
The Citismart account servicing application (that served as the mainstay for Customer Service for decades) was completing its development phase & getting ready for rollout.
The Brooklyn/Staten Island & Long Island Regions in NY had recently merged (as did Queens & Bronx/Westchester/Rockland) and the site @ 100 Baylis became the new home of the consolidated B/LI/SI CitiPhone unit.
Similarly, the Brooklyn site @ 6300-8th Ave housed the combined Investigations Unit for the Region.
The whole “Service” culture…throughout the banking industry…began to really take hold. Wait time, for example, was now measured in seconds (both in Customer Service as well as the branches) instead of using a sundial or a calendar.
There were several conscious efforts to “remove service transactions” from the branches & help free up that staff to concentrate & capitalize on sales opportunities. Customer Assistance Phones were installed in our branches to offload customer account maintenance & information requests from their service counters to the phones.
Customer education surrounding telephone service & the ATMs began in earnest, extolling the convenience of obtaining service over the phone & by using the ATMs (vs. having to wait on long lines in the branch itself).
The shift of moving customer traffic to more “efficient & effective servicing vehicles” was well underway…and we felt it!
Our CitiPhone business began to grow exponentially!
We also purchased a new ACD/Automated Call Distributor & completely reconstructed our entire call center.
Part of this explosive growth included the use of new & improved computer terminals for our CSRs/Customer Service Representatives. Previously, they had limited access to account information & servicing functionality through the use of Type 1 terminals, Datasaab & other rather-primitive tools.
During this Stone Age period, after we killed off most of the dinosaurs & built a giant moat around our facility, we installed brand-new, state-of-the-art Raytheon CRTs for every rep.
(CRT stands for “Cathode Ray Tube”. I don’t know about you, but back then, it was a pretty-scary term.
They were rather new in the industry & didn’t have a long track record of performance, reliability, issues, etc..
I started doing as much research as I could about them for that exact fact…they haven’t been around for too long!
What happens when they start to age? What defects have been found? Had there been any adverse effects of their prolonged use on workers?
*********** FLASHBACK ***********
I remember growing up when I was constantly reprimanded for “sitting too close to the TV!!!”
“It’ll ruin your eyes!”, “You’ll grow another arm out of your forehead!” & a bunch of other silly stuff.
But were those warnings really silly??? 🤔🤔🤔
Flashback #2: In 1980, my Dad (a staunch Chevrolet supporter over the years) decided to buy a new Chevy Citation.
But not only was the car itself new, but it was a brand-new model that Chevrolet just rolled out. And it was their first attempt ever at front-wheel drive!!!
“Dad, don’t do it!!! They have -0- experience developing a successful front-wheel drive vehicle or servicing one!
“You’re as new to it as they are!!!
“What happens at 10,000 miles? 20,000? 30,000? You have no idea & neither do they!!!”
So, of course, he bought it…what the hell does a 24 year old know, right?…and, for the 2 years he had it, he had NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS with it!!!
He eventually switched to Oldsmobile, albeit reluctantly.
Now back to our story…
Will these new CRTs become my Citation?
I came across an interesting article in one of the many industry newsletters to which I subscribed, e.g., banking, telephony, etc..
A study had been conducted at the Pacific Bell Operator Service division in California regarding the use of these CRTS & the (perceived) effect it had on their female operators.
Apparently, the incidence of miscarriages & birth defects INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY amongst their pregnant workers after the CRTs had been used for at least 18-24 months.
As I looked out over my call center floor, I had at least 4 pregnant ladies & duh, everyone had a CRT!!!
I immediately began raising the issue up the proverbial flagpole. When I got to Joe Redington (our Regional Business Manager & such a well-respected leader), he had no answers for me, but clearly understood how very upset I was.
He recommended that I speak directly with the head of Citi’s Medical Department, Dr. Whatshisface.
I immediately sent a memo via inter-office mail (e-mail? Ha! Ha! Ha!) to his attention, outlining my concerns, citing a number of related articles I had read & looking for some general direction from him.
I also wanted to know if Citi has done its due diligence & was aware of any possible side effects regarding prolonged use of, and exposure to, these CRTs.
(Look, I know it must sound silly to you guys, but these were way different times back then. There were no cell phones or e-mail. About 15% of customers still used rotary-dial phones. We had no IVR/Interactive Voice Response & Citibank On-Line was called Direct Access (a 10,000 friendly-user test & they used dial-up service). Mortgage rates were in the 10%-14% range & CDs were out of sight, especially since the Fed eliminated the regulatory 1/2 pp advantage that savings institutions had over commercial banks.)
Where was I? Oh, yeah, Dr. Frankenstein basically blew me off in his response. “There’s no documented evidence, blah, blah, blah.”
So I call him. (BTW, it’s way easier to ask for forgiveness than permission! I’ve always lived by that axiom.)
Now, he’s blowing me off over the phone!
“I’ve shown you where studies have been done that raise some very serious questions, Doctor. They may not be conclusive, but they’re scary as hell! What are you doing about this whole issue??? And because there’s no huge ‘documented, concrete evidence of a direct link between the continual use of CRTs & harmful effects on people’, it’s what we don’t know that scares me!!!”
He gave me some bullshit reason about the equipment manufacturers providing information to the government & the public regarding the safety of their equipment.
“And what about all those Pac Bell operators with their miscarriages & such?!? How can we even know what the prolonged effects will be when we just got these things?”
The call didn’t end well.
I went back to Joe & told him about that obstinate bastard who refused to even look any further into the matter.
“You do what you think is right for your people. If it’s something drastic, pls just pass it by me first. I don’t wanna hear that you threw the terminals into the garbage & now we’re stuck.
Ya hear me?”
What do I do???
A few days later, it finally dawned upon me! 💡
If we’re talking about some weird freakin’ gamma rays or radiation or whatever that could be “leaking” from these terminals, well then, what do other people do in similar situations?
Scientists? Power plant workers? Chemical engineers? Astronauts?
BINGO!!! X-ray technicians!!!
And while I couldn’t have the CRTs placed behind lead barriers while my people peeked at the screens through special periscopes…
I looked through some medical equipment catalogs & came upon several “lead-filled” aprons (front & back) for X-ray techs that extended past the knees! The price was reasonable (that was NOT a factor), they weren’t overly heavy or too bulky & they appeared to cover everything below the shoulders.
And they came with a solid return policy.
I immediately bought 8 of them.
My pregnant ladies (my ladies, not my pregnancies) were so extremely appreciative & donned them immediately…and wore them religiously!!! To be honest, I was extremely sensitive to this whole issue as Laurie had just recently given birth to a very healthy Heather Ann & I thanked God that the whole pregnancy & birth had gone rather smoothly.
(Yet another reason why you need to treat your people as you would your loved ones!)
> > AIDS
Back during this same time period, the country was not yet “socially-conscious”, at least not to the level that we should’ve been.
(Oh, we’re still not there yet, but tremendous strides have indeed been taken!)
I had an openly-gay male rep, Tom, who began missing a lot of work due to “yet-to-be-officially-diagnosed” ailments.
He saw several doctors out on Long Island & in fact, I sent him into “the city” (Manhattan), specifically to the Corporate Medical Dept for a complete work-up.
Long story short (“My, how shocking, Mike!!!”), we started to experience noticeable “rumbling” amongst the staff.
As CitiPhone was growing so quickly, our off-hour people had to sit at the same workstations previously occupied earlier in the day by other employees…and I caught hold of some “unusual behavior” by some people.
Who refused to sit where Tom had previously been. The sudden (excessive?) use of Lysol & other disinfectants around the place. A lot of whispering & other crap.
I immediately consulted with the higher-ups in Human Resources (way past those in our Regional offices) & my senior leaders.
Net, net, we became one of the very first companies (and, definitely, the first group @ Citi) to conduct focus groups, informational seminars & counseling sessions regarding “AIDS in the Workplace”. We brought in skilled medical experts & psychologists trained in this rather-new arena to help educate our people (at the entire back-office site, not just CitiPhone).
> > In 2007, I joined Lehman Brothers (very prestigious Wall Street investment firm) at the Aurora Loan Services mortgage-servicing subsidiary in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
(Where? I got other stories about that.)
Scottsbluff is a small town (14,731 residents at that time…I clearly remember the green sign at the edge of town), located next door to Gering with another 7600 or so people. Not exactly the largest metropolitan area west of the Mississippi.
And while we did have the Regional West Medical Center (a medical & surgical center, a Level II trauma center & a teaching hospital) in town, I personally did not have the utmost confidence in them as well as with the entire medical community in our area in general.
It was an “averagely-rated” provider, but here’s my thought process…
If you went to medical school (and possibly, a prestigious one)…got really-good grades…and specialized in a defined area of treatment, would you really set up your practice in a rather small town???
And I happened to have “more than a few” employees who had “serious medical conditions” (themselves or their family) that had already received “not really good treatment” from the doctors & “specialists” in town.
Misdiagnoses. Can’t find the real cause of the condition. Questionable (in my opinion) protocols.
As a result, I started telling these employees that there’s a whole wide world outside of this area of the state. We were a good 7-hour drive from Omaha, but probably less than 3 hours from Denver, CO.
The best doctors & specialists work at the best hospitals in the big cities. It’s not meant to be demeaning, but that’s the truth.
And they would still be covered by our health insurance if/when they saw a doctor in Colorado & received treatment there.
So I devised a little plan (that proved to be extraordinarily successful in getting to the bottom of several lingering health issues & putting my people back on the road to recovery)…
We’d find a specialist for their particular ailme…
“HALT!!! This is the HIPAA Police & we are at your front door, guns drawn! Come out quietly, with your hands above your head & no one’ll get hurt! NOW!!!”
HIPPA – Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act
Amongst its various provisions, it prevents you from publicly discussing or making information available regarding an employee’s medical condition. It guards the security & privacy of one’s health information.
Needless to say, I got my wrists slapped once when I sent out a group e-mail to dozens & dozens of senior leaders in our company (located at our headquarters, right outside Denver), asking for their assistance in locating a specialist that could help one of my managers back in Customer Service. Who knew whom. Who was on what board.
Anyway, our plan was to find the appropriate specialist in Denver & make the necessary arrangements for an office visit.
I would then send the employee (often accompanied by one of their managers) down to Denver for an afternoon appointment. I would reserve a room at a nearby motel (a nice one) for the night & arrange for them to have lunch the following day at my cousin Fran’s Italian restaurant, Chesco’s (named after our grandfather, Poppa Frank…Francesco).
Naturally, I covered the room, the meal & cash for gas & incidentals myself.
At least I knew that my people were receiving top-notch medical care & I could sleep well at night. It just wouldn’t be fair to them to have to settle for less than the best when it came to really serious stuff.
> > Lehman Brothers had a pretty-shitty tuition reimbursement plan for its employees.
ONLY “1-rated” (Exceptional…top 10%) & “2-rated” (Outstanding …next 20%) employees were eligible for the reimbursement program!
You will not believe how many e-mails I wrote & the number of phone calls I made to get them to expand the tuition policy to ALL employees (or, at the very least, consider exceptions for some “3-rated” Full Standard employees).
I’m not exactly sure, but I believe the policy only covered fully-accredited 4-year colleges & universities. Naturally, our small town had no such learning establishment, just a 2-year community college (WNCC…Western Nebraska Community College).
Constant pleas of “But our 3-rated employees…more than half our workforce…would actually benefit more from an extended formal education, even an associate’s degree, than would our top performers!!!” constantly fell upon deaf ears.
I fully understand Lehman Brothers was a Wall Street firm & probably had the pick of top-notch people from the prospective candidate pool, but I couldn’t even get the Aurora Loan Servicing leaders to seek an exception to policy, especially considering our location & scarcity of higher learning institutions.
⚽️ 🏈 ⚾️ 🏐 < < < None had them!
So when I desperately needed some enhanced spreadsheet expertise in my organization (we just installed a brand-new ACD, IVR & website and getting immediate help from our Control Desk was like pulling teeth…I HATE being told that I need to wait in line, especially since THAT group’s purpose in life was to support MY group), I sent 2 of my young ladies…one a manager, the other an Escalation Services senior rep, both extremely intelligent & insightful…to take an Access Database course at WNCC.
Of course, because of the asinine corporate policies, I paid for the course out of my own pocket!
Oh, I’ll tell you exactly what happened when HR found out what I had done (I mean, what a freakin’ horrible monster I was, trying to enhance a couple of employees’ expertise that would then greatly benefit the business!) and WHAT THEY ACCUSED ME OF!!!
Did I mention that they were 25 & 23 years old & knockout gorgeous? (Trust me, that had NOTHING to do with it! Dead serious. Performing statistical analyses for me was a big part of their job responsibilities & good ol’ Excel couldn’t handle it…Access is a multi-level database application that could easily provide the answers I sought.)
After I had these false accusations hurled my way…and I exploded & demanded we go & get a lie detector test performed on me, then threatened to sue their sorry asses, I hear, “But, Mike, we never had anyone do that for their people before!”
But, Mike, your ass!!! 🤬
How ’bout ASKING me first instead of dropping those thinly-veiled accusations my way?!? My God, if I ever did 1/1,000,000th of the stuff I’ve been accused of in my life, I’d be the happiest (?), if not, the most tired person in the history of the universe.
🤔 Wow, that’s a lot of accusations, Mike!
On that note, I’d like to say, “Thank you so much for listening to my rant…and the other stuff, too!”