January Fever – Emerging from hibernation

January has ended, and it certainly felt like a long month. I’m not sure why, but after the holidays, time seems to slow down, even though everything is super busy.

The saying goes, “Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself,” which, I suppose, doesn’t reflect well on the start of this year!

The news this week was mixed too, credit card and consumer loans, both of which had been increasing fairly steadily in volume throughout all of last year, showed a decline in December. Moreover, more consumers were seeking debt advice at the start of January. And, all of this came on the back of increased mortgage arrears during the latter part of 2023.

It really does feel like economic activity is cooling, which is setting us up for a difficult first quarter. Time to get the collections and customer support process ready and in tip-top shape for sure.

Of course, none of this is new news.

We have been dealing with a rising tide of energy costs, increasing interest rates, and inflation for a while now. However, what really caught my eye last week was the slew of announced job cuts across multiple sectors. Maybe it’s just my January blues, but the list did not look great:

  • Citigroup: 20,000 jobs
  • UPS: 12,000 jobs
  • John Lewis: 11,000 jobs
  • Journalism industry: 8,000 jobs
  • Deutsche Bank: 3,500 jobs
  • Tata Steel: 2,800 jobs
  • PayPal: 2,500 jobs
  • Lloyds: 1,600 jobs
  • Google: 1,000 jobs
  • Sky: 1,000 jobs
  • Birmingham City Council: 600 jobs
  • Channel 4: 200 jobs

Granted some of the larger figures are worldwide, but even so, it does feel like a shock is coming later in the year.

Rather than the rising trend we have generally seen to date, job losses would translate to unemployment and a spike in arrears. It is something to watch closely and maybe a reason to consider a new tracker on RO-AR too. (again time to get double check processes are ready).

In a desperate attempt to distract myself from January fever, I have, of course, found myself turning to social media. No not X (or Twitter as it used to be), which, to be honest, would only make things worse, but TikTok.

Although, I am not sure it has really helped… yes there is that thrill… with the next swipe, I may learn a new life hack or piece of information that is going transform my day… only to be met with yet another video about how to lay flooring tiles, stack the dishwasher or worse fix the drains… but not to worry now there is a hedgehog on a deckchair so it is all okay… and the next time, it will be different!

The platform is just too addictive… to the point that at one point I was told to stop scrolling and go an read a book. It was very good advice, and had the added bonus of making me feel 16 again!

So with screen time on… this is the mission for February. Get out, get involved, and do something new.

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Litter-ally Different

There were 2 and now there is 1.  One of my cats sadly passed away last year.

Now I am fully aware that anything cat or dog related seems to break the internet, who would have thought, but sad as it was this is not going to be the eulogy (…she was old with several ailments unfortunately).

But this story has more to do with both cats and the fact they were sisters… not sisters against their human overlords, but real sisters and ones that did not really get along.

Although they were both from the same litter they could not have been more different.  One was outgoing, talkative, and affectionate, the other quiet, aloof, and seemingly wanting to spend more time roaming the garden than in the house.  Whenever approached she would run away nervously.

It was just how it was.  One was extrovert and gregarious, the other a quiet bundle of nerves, who preferred to sit in the corner.  We thought this is the way it is, what they are like and you can imagine which we spent more time with.

Yet, now we only have one, the quiet one. She has now inherited the entire indoor estate and territory.   With the freedom to roam, full access to the servants and house staff (that is us by the way)… the behavioural change has been dramatic.

No more cowering in the corner, or shooting upstairs to avoid conflict.  Now she is taking pride of place on the sofa, looking mildly annoyed when a human takes her spot, or coming to see us and actively letting us know when she wants food… it is like she has had a personality transplant.

We thought she was just quiet, not engaged or friendly… it turns out she was none of things.  It was just the environment was wrong.  She was intimidated by her sister.

With this now changed she is living her best life.

Now as I have said before, you can learn a lot from your pets and there is a lesson for us too… back in the office.

Many times, I have sat in meetings and the conversation turns to performance.  We all have opinions of other people, sometimes they are good and sometimes there are areas you want to see improve, this is our role as people leaders.

Yet, sometimes you also hear comments where people have written someone off… they are not good, not engaged, doesn’t work hard, it can become a view on someone’s innate qualities.

Now this may be what people see or feel from their perspective.  However, this may not be the person and who they actually are… it could just be the environment that makes them like this… the culture or even a colleague may change the way they interact…  identify and remove these environmental obstacles and you will see them flourish. 

In our roles as people leaders, we need to get the best out of our teams. 

I am not suggesting laser pointers, new tech toys or treats won’t help… but taking a look at the culture and team dynamics may do even more… it can have a dramatic effect and is worth a look.

Have a good week everyone.

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Clutching drains

Just what makes us so judgemental and is it getting worse?

Over the holidays, we had the wonderful delight of blocked drains (on Christmas Eve…timing eh) … fortunately it was only the kitchen sink, so not all was lost and we managed to avoid doing the washing up in the bath!

Nevertheless, it was a bother and something you want to get sorted as quickly as possible.

So the first step was to head to that fount of all knowledge…YouTube…
and I have now seen more videos of blocked drains than I would ever care to see again, but what struck me were the comments… so many were judgemental, nay even accusatory.
‘Don’t pour fat down the drain’…’you’ll get a fatberg’… ‘it never happens to me I pour it into a milk carton’!

Now admittedly I do like the odd stir fry but I am certainly not pouring fat down the drain, and don’t even own a chip fat frier… but there I was feeling guilty like I was living back in the 1970’s on a diet of fish and chips…

And then thinking about it, these types of judgemental comments don’t end there…

If your clutch goes or brakes fade on your car… again something that needs to be fixed… yet not only do you have to face the price, but also the comments… ‘it is the way you are driving’, ‘didn’t you notice 6 months ago?’… so now my driving is not up to scratch either… a bad, fish and chip, eating driver…!

It is of course different if you have asked for an opinion, a view of what to do, but sometimes it is hard to turn the switch off and you offer the opinion anyway (and I am sure I do this too)… it is even worse online.

Yet, the bigger question here is not really my wounded pride (I’ll get over it!), but why are we so judgemental… offer these ‘friendly’ suggestions, and stating the obvious doesn’t really help anyone.

In real life we all make mistakes and mainly know how we could have done something differently, that is how we learn…. next time. The real priority in the moment is getting it fixed.

This applies back in the world of business, finance, and overdue accounts too.

Yes, we all know it is often better to not borrow the money, but if you already have, something happens and you cannot pay it back… what is important?

‘Helpful advice’ on what you should have done differently… or adequate support to get it addressed?

Fortunately, the Financial Services industry has moved on massively in the last 10 years, and even more so today in the UK with a focus on good customer outcomes… but there is still a way to go, and indeed more generally regarding how we treat customers, employees and friends.

So as we start the year a reflection on being pragmatic, trying to help people on a go-forward basis, not so much time looking back and certainly trying to not be quite so judgemental.

Something to add to my to-do list for the year… now off to get my sausages out from the oven.

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