Take Control of Your Destiny & Environment

As a good leader (and I’d rather be a good leader than a great manager), you have to maintain the attitude than you’re responsible for your own success.

As well as your team.

And EACH of your people!

(I’m NOT saying that you’re SOLELY responsible for all this stuff, but that’s the attitude that you must have.)

And you need to instill that very same attitude in your people as well.

If it’s within your grasp, YOU own it.

If it impacts your organization, YOO  own it.

It it affects your customers, then it’s YOUR responsibility.

Doesn’t matter what the organizational chart says. Doesn’t matter where the function or the responsibility theoretically resides. Doesn’t matter if you’re “just” a user, like thousands of others.

Everything is YOUR responsibility.

Back in the old dinosaur days (mid-80s), before copy machines became intelligent, the machine would remain on the same “number of copies requested” as the previous job.

It didn’t automatically reset itself back to 1 after X seconds.

As a result, if you went over to make a simply copy (but weren’t paying close attention), the machine could be making 35 copies (or whatever the previous user requested) before you actually woke up & stopped the production.

I’d witness this happen to people every now & then.

In addition to reminding users to reset the machine after getting their copies as well as check it before requesting copies, I put a hand-written sign right next to the “START” button. Then I’d tell my people…

“The copier is located within our area for our exclusive use. (One needed a special card key to enter the area.)

As a result, it is our responsibility…YOURS & MINE!

Pls ensure the machine is always set to “1” when not in use.

Yes, even if you’re simply walking by it on your way to lunch, it’s YOUR responsibility to ensure it’s set to “1”…just like it’s MY responsibility.

We’re in all of this together. We own anything & everything we touch & we’re responsible for anyone & everyone.

Yes, I’m dead serious!”

And while I was dead serious, I reall wasn’t expecting to be taken literally…but that’s the exact mindset I wanted for ALL of us to have!

Just like if you happened to overhear another rep saying something that was obviously incorrect to a customer, a branch or another rep.

Do something about it! Right now. Immediately. Don’t allow someone on the phone to receive bad service from

Correct them.

Let their Team Leader (or the departmental trainer) know so that topic can be covered at greater length with the rep.

Back in those days, the branches did not have the same account information & maintenance tool that we utilized in CitiPhone…the Citismart system.

The Citismart application truly was smart. And comprehensive. And powerful. And an enormously-helpful tool for effectively & efficiently servicing our customers.

The bank had previously spent a few years & millions of dollars trying to customize the “Bob White System” to meet our servicing needs.

Never happened.

I remember seeing all the books & big ol’ white binders in my office bookcase when I first came to CitiPhone in 1983.

An abject failure.

They had already started developing a home-grown servicing application, this Citismart thingie. My boss, John Gang (an incredibly-knowledgeable & great leader) worked closely with Howie Schechtman from Systems (a absolutely-brilliant technology dude!), his staff & other users to development Citismart…in about 6 months’ time!

Absolutely unheard of in the annals of Citibank! It normally took longer to just try & get a proposal approved

I also got actively involved with it as time went out. It was a true example of “night & day” when compared to the tools we had before.

Yes, we added dozens & dozens of improvements, enhancements & additional functionality to it over the years. We (led by David Renz) later worked closely with our Systems partners to lcreate CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation in the early 90s to “sit on top of Citismart” as an improved GUI/Graphical User Interface.

But Citismart truly was a remarkable & invaluable tool for us in CitiPhone!

Initially, it was developed exclusively for CitiPhone & was not rolled out to the branches.

Branches were often forced to refer customers to CitiPhone for some very  basic inquiries & service requests or they called us themselves on behalf of the customers.

Seemed pretty silly to have 2 Citibankers servicing a single customer’s need…and it was expensive as well!

As a result, the Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region started the “Branch Problem Station” (later renamed “Branch Service Station”) & had it reside in the Investigations Unit in Brooklyn. 10 investigators were eligible to handle these calls from branch personnel & they probably averaged well over 300-400 calls a day. In addition to handling account inquiries, they accepted investigation requests from the branches as well.

(In between calls, they’d work on their investigation items.)

With less than a week’s notice, I was informed that we (CitiPhone) would begin assuming responsibility for these calls on Monday…without any people actually transferring to my site in Long Island nor any incremental funding or staffing.

“Handle it, Mike! I know you guys can do it!”

Yeah, thanks a lot.

A few months later, it was decided to roll out Citismart to the branches.

But no actual training classes were widely conducted so each branch would only have 1 “classroom-trained” individual (fully-capable was an entirely-different matter)…and this still was years before any type of CBT/Computer-Based Training was available.

Training packages were distributed to the branches. It was assumed that they soon would be proficient users, kinda like planting some seeds in the ground & simply watering them.

Er, not so.

As wonderful a servicing tool as Citismart was, it did require significant hands-on training (just like we did for all our CitiPhone reps who used the system for every phone call) before a user would be even semi-proficient in its use.

The lack of actual training, coupled with the fact that branch personnel weren’t constantly using the system, lead to a very low utilization of Citismart. And on the back end, we experienced very little, if any, decrease in BSS/Branch Service Station call volume.

I viewed this situation as being within my realm of responsibility, especially since no one else really cared if BSS call volume ever decreased.

But if I could get the branches to handle the customers who were already there for servicing, it would not only lower BSS volume, but provide true One Stop Service to our branch customers. Having one employee call another employee for information was silly, expensive & unprofessional, especially since they had a terminal right there with the answers.

So we took it upon ourselves to train as many of the 96 branches in Brooklyn, Long Island & Staten Island as possible.

I arranged for every one of my Team Leaders, as well as several of my trusted senior reps, to spend 2 days in a branch.

1 person to a branch, no more than 2 branches at a time. Within ~4 months, we were able to cover most of our Regional branches.

For those branches that we were unable to train in person, we’d conduct conference calls with them after the branch closed for business & walked them through the basic screens to handle most customer inquiries.

The 2-day program was designed with 2 major objectives in mind: 1) have my people become familiar with how a branch operates, appreciate the different challenges it faces, experience what’s involved with servicing customers face-to-face, observe some account-opening sessions, etc. and 2) teach the branch staff how to use Citismart after the branch closed, review their training packages with them, man the Service Counter to allow branch staff to observe the use of Citismart to satisfy customers’ informational & functional needs, handle any questions the staff had about CitiPhone & see what issues they may be experiencing with us, e.g., unnecessary /improperly-executed call transfers to the branches, incorrect info provided to customers, etc..

The “one-way exchange program” was a resounding success!

My people who participated thoroughly enjoyed it & found it to be very valuable…the feedback from the branches was excellent (I followed up every visit by surveying the branch)…and the program actually worked well as we saw a gradual decrease in branch service inquiries as more & more branches were trained.

No one told us to do this.

No one asked us to do this.

No one expected us to do this.

But we wanted to take better control over things that eventually impacted our organization & our mutual customers…so we did!

And it was a win/win/win/win for all concerned…the customers, the branches, CitiPhone & Citibank!

Look at your own organization & see what opportunities exist for you to impact things that affect your unit’s performance.

Are you getting the proper information, forms, requests, calls, etc. from other areas in your company?

Is there an obvious need for additional/enhanced customer education regarding certain products, services or promotions?

Are customer statement & notices perfectly clear & easily understandable or are they “causing” unnecessary customer contacts? Is Marketing “misleading” existing/potential customers with some of its material?

(BTW, your company’s statements & payment coupons MUST include your website & phone information to enable customers to self-serve…as well as encourage direct debits!)

Are the field, Sales, branches, other units sending work to you that’s incomplete, incorrect or not timely? Is it causing rework or error correction before you’re able to process it?

TALK with your people…they’ll be sure to give you a earful! I would always hear from my people, “Why does the branch continually call us when they could easily handle these customers themselves?”.

Look around, take control, help yourself.


As always, thank you so much for listening!

P.S.  I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to Gene Weaver & her CitiGold organization during the 2004-2006 timeframe.

This was the period when we were neighbors in USCC Bldg 3, 2nd floor.

Actually, I’m not too sure about that “sincerely” thingie as I really didn’t do anything wrong. Just being my pushy self.

I would often work these insanely-long hours, especially after Laurie passed the day before 9-11.

I hated coming home to a dark, unoccupied house every night. Heather had already gotten her own place so I tried desperately to minimize the time I spent home alone.

Plus, I’d always spend 10-20 hrs/week doing work at home so I thought to myself, “Why not just stay at the office so when I finish late at night (betw 9 & 11, usually), I can just get dinner, then go to bed?”

The 2nd floor of Bldg 3 would pretty much empty…except for the CitiGold phone unit…and me after 5, 5:30.

The only sounds I would hear (“overhear” was more like it) were a few CitiGold reps talking with their customers.

Normally, I’d say probably once or twice a week, I would hear an “opportunity to further improve” the service currently being provided to a customer.

A better way to handle the inquiry or request.

An explanation of what actually happened behind the scenes.

A minor feature re: system functionality that would help the rep &/or customer going forward.

Some trick of the trade.

Every now & then, I would ask the rep to please put the caller on hold if/when the right info (the BEST info) wasn’t being provided.

Some of them would look at me strangely, like “Who are you?” & “Where did you come from?”.

I’d always drop Gene’s name (CitiGold Director) to ease things. I also got to carrying my business cards with me.

“You can always find me right over there 👉🏼 👉🏼 👉🏼 if you ever have any questions whatsoever about policies & procedures, system functionality or anything at all regarding servicing your customer!

It’ll be my absolute pleasure to help!”


If I ever startled anyone (I’ve heard all about you off-hours people! 🤪), then you have my sincerest apology!

Mea culpa.

And if any believes that I may have over-stepped my bounds, I’d advise you not to hold your breath waiting for one.

Have a wonderful day!


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