Human Resouces

Me & Human Resources…oil & water.

Seems that I’ve always had an issue with our HR departments throughout my career, be it at Citibank, Lehman Brothers or Nationwide Financial. It doesn’t matter.

And I’m sure they’ve ALL had issues with me!

(Note: When it comes to compliments & insult, always consider the source! 😏)

It ALWAYS appeared to me that HR’s purpose in life was to make sure that everybody was following policy.

Not actually concerned about the people’s welfare or how the employees were being supported by the organization…”Is everyone following the rules?”

Now, of course, there were many, many exceptions to this as I’ve worked with some absolutely-marvelous HR people (like Albert Baladez in San Antonio &
Henry Guerra and so many others back in NY).

But overall, it just seemed that HR & I simply did not see eye to eye.

Once again, I sincerely believe that they had their eye on the wrong ball. They were more interested in “adherence to rules” than actually ensuring that everyone was doing their best for the organization and for the people. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Here’s a specific example that helps to better illustrate my point…

When I was down in San Antonio, the entire USCC, but especially the call center, was experiencing significant turnover, a trend that continued to grow each & every year. To me, it was incredibly embarrassing early on when I got there when I learned that the organization had a 15% annual attrition rate. Yes, they were rather young, but so was my Retirement Plan Services Operations group… and we only lost 1 person in our first 15 months of existence in SA. That’s <2% attrition…and the only reason Maria Smith left (one of my top employees) was because her husband entered medical school in Houston so they hadda relocate!

The USCC was infamous for continually upping the “standard/acceptable level” as their performance continued to deteriorate. Instead of saying, “Hey, ya know what, we got a real problem here & it’s getting worse! Let’s find out why & take some course corrections!”

But no!

“Let’s just up the ‘attrition standard’ to 20% so we don’t look bad!”

(“Looking good” & “doing good” are 2 vastly different things…and philosophies.

The former involves numbers manipulation & the like. You can put lipstick on a pig, but..

The latter, the DOING GOOD thingie, is much harder to accomplish, but isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be doing?)

Customers & branches aren’t & weren’t fooled by the bullshit.

If we’re doing so well, why are both customer & employee high satisfaction floundering in the low-to-mid 60s year after year? When I look at “62% high customer satisfaction”, I immediate picture “the 38% of customers that are NOT highly satisfied”!

Same with the employees.

Research has shown that people who are not “highly satisfied” are the most likely to attrite (leave)…even if they’re “satisfied”. Anything but “top box” isn’t good enough.

Bottom line.

With so many businesses, it really doesn’t matter what their “absolute performance” is, just as long as it meets, or surpasses, some  goal/standard. It ONLY matters how you perform vs. standard, vs. your goal, vs. your target, vs. your forecast, vs. your budget.

That’s absolute, freakin’ nonsense!

Most goals & standards really don’t reflect where we should be, must be. There’s not enough “stretch” in them

Instead, they reflect where we COULD be.

When it came to turnover (attrition), when we started to surpass the 15% upper limit, we just changed it to 20%!

Things continued to deteriorate.

When it approached 20%, yep, you guessed it…we increased the standard (ceiling) to 25%!

Still got worse so again, we upped it to 30%. When I left in late 2006, annual attrition sat at 29.8%. I would bet my bottom dollar (Is that still a saying?) that it was artificially increased to 35% so we, er, they could continue to “look good”! Let’s ignore the fact that we’re losing almost 1 in 3 employees EVERY YEAR!!!

This is NOT a cumulative or aggregate rate over time…it’s occurring every damned year!

And never was I aware of any tangible effort, across the organization, to take the proverbial bull by the horns.

Oh, wait, there was one thing we did.

We held an ice cream social (free treats for everyone) 2 DAYS BEFORE WE DISTRIBUTED THE ANNUAL “EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION SURVEY” TO THE STAFF!!!

How absolutely pathetic!

Pig. Lipstick. Still ugly as shit.

I fully understand that in traditional call centers, annual attrition is incredibly high…~35%-40% for the “average” organization.

I also understand that the service rep position is normally an entry-level job. There’s a whole lot of stress, a whole lot of pressure. It’s truly a “Big Brother” environment with the ACR/Automated Call Distributor tracking your every move.

I get it, but when did Citi ever shoot for “average” in anything???

(Oh, yeah, I forgot…the USCC’s philosophy was to pay only “middle of the market” salaries. And then they wonder why we lost, and continue to lose, so many of our good employees to USAA.


One of the major reasons for poor employee satisfaction was that so many supervisors simply managed by the numbers.

The “constructive feedback” they provided revolved around “…your numbers aren’t high enough…get your numbers high…your talk time is too high, get it down…your productivity isn’t high enough, get it up…your quality scores are lagging so get them up!”

That’s NOT how you manage people.

If you really wanna help, then show them HOW to change behavior! The numbers merely reflect the results from people’s behavior…what are they doing or not doing to make that handle time so high? What are they doing or not doing to have their quality suffer or to have too many errors or to not have their efficiency as high as the organization would like?”

You don’t manage, don’t lead, don’t help people with their numbers.

Numbers are merely for MEASURING their performance!

You manage their behaviors and then guess what? Magically, their numbers change!

In all my years, I never, ever led by the numbers. When I ran my areas (NY or USCC), I knew the numbers inside & out, upside down, any which way you wanted to look at them. But the numbers never controlled me!

I knew where we wanted, and needed, to be, but I also understood what behaviors needed to change so our results produced numbers that were not only acceptable but exceptional!

Better than anyone else’s.

Better than what was expected.

It just seems that so many individuals, many in important positions, positions of power, just don’t understand what makes a company tick. Or a person.

(Man, seems I do nothing but bitch, heh?

The quickest & most effective way to improve overall performance…an organization’s, a team’s, an individual employee’s, your own…is to focus on your weaknesses.

Concentrate on where you’re weak.

Fix what’s bringing down your performance.

You get a much bigger payback vs. attempting to improve what you already do well!

It’s the law of diminishing returns…I think.

It’s so much easier to go from “65% effective” to “80% effective” than it is to go from 90% to 95%…with the exact same amount of effort!)

Back to my HR buddies…

USCC HR sends out a memo, announcing a mandatory refresher training session for all Team Leaders on the steps necessary to make sure you release (fire) an employee properly. To make sure you have the proper documentation filled out, checked all the appropriate boxes, when you want to fire somebody. That’s the course they’re holding because with turnover was so high, many supervisors were not keeping their eye on the ball, then firing somebody after, like, the person’s 15th absence.

I’m like, where the hell were you after the FIRST absence, the FIFTH absence, EVERY absence? HR wants to get the official documentation policy and procedures down with all the managers.

And I fully understand the possible legal liability we faced if policies were not implemented fairly & universally.

I get it.


Never once was it ever mentioned in any meeting or gathering, “Look, people, every single time an employee leaves Citibank…we fire them…they resign…they quit without notice…they leave for another company…any reason other than retiring or having to relocate with their spouse, their leaving represents a black eye for the company!

“We have failed if we fire them…it’s OUR fault for not helping them enough to get their performance up to snuff!”

Instead of JUST telling people “This is the proper way to document problems with your employees!”, how ’bout “And here are the steps you need to take BEFORE they start to have real issues! Your job is to improve the employee’s performance  to help them do better! To help them avoid getting into trouble.”

Once again, it’s a black eye for you as a manager, for me as a leader and for the company in general whenever somebody leaves us! Take it personally…do something about it!”

And if you reach the conclusion that “Ya know, no matter how hard we try, this new hire to simply never gonna get it!”, then you need to closely examine your organization’s recruiting & hiring policies & practices.

Or, maybe, there’s a different position somewhere (in the company) for which he’s better suited.

But, no matter what, you hafta get out in front of the train! Don’t think for a minute that the questions that a person asks truly reflect of all that person’s weaknesses. I guarantee you that for every question they ask, there are 20 other topics for which they’re not familiar or are unable to master. You must anticipate needs!

We’ve been doing this CitiPhone or whatever thingie for years now…we don’t know what problems they’re going to have?


I mentioned, in a previous story, the need to put together lists of “Here are 25 things that you’re gonna find difficult to handle once you get out there”…no matter where that “out there” is!

Get out in front of potential issues/difficulties (“anticipate”) vs. letting the kids struggle for weeks upon weeks and then when he’s with the place for a year, the light turns on & he finally understands.

Accelerate the learning process. Shorten the curve.



But imagine all the frustration he faced in the interim, during those 12 months. That’s the major reason why new employees leave…they’re not enjoying their job because they’re not doing well.

And vice versa.

Take action before issues arrive.

The same problems that new employees had 5 years ago are the same ones new employees experience today & the same ones new employees will face 5 years from now.

And when you experience a “minor” issue with an employee, do something about it. And it need NOT be punitive in nature!

A “simple mistake” you catch on a phone call or a transaction or an investigation…when not immediately addressed…will be repeated countless times going forward.

Same thing when there’s an absence. Address it the very same morning upon return to work.

And it doesn’t need to seem like they’re being persecuted!

“I see that this was your first occurrence in the past X months! Thank you so much! You’re really doing a great job!”

Even “I see this is now your 3rd absence in the past X months. Let’s review what’s expected & see if there’s anything I can assist you with to get this situation under control.” need not be confrontational.

Anticipate as much as you possibly can (so you can arm them with the necessary knowledge & tools to face traditionally-difficult situations) and when an issue or minor problem does occur, nip it in the bud.

Good luck.


As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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