Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at email@example.com
I recently become the credit manager at a mid-size, family owned lumber yard. The people are great but I am struggling with establishing myself as the credit manager. The customers constantly go over my head or tell me they know the owner. He gets involved and contradicts what I tell them, then criticizes me for the way the aging looks. Why did he hire me if he is going to keep doing the job? I am ready to quit. Help!
Signed, (At the Point of) Resigning in Rochester
You’re from New York and you have this issue? My guess is you are a transplant, because a native would have handled this already.
That being said, you mentioned the people being great, so I am assuming you would like the job if you actually got to do it.
My advice is to go native on him. Set up a meeting with Mr. Helpful and tell him exactly what you told me. Stay factual, calm and be completely clear. Bring specific examples of the issues you are talking about.
Don't dance around the problem. Be direct and straightforward: "You hired me to do this job. You are handicapping me right out of the gate by getting involved without all the information." Let him know that although you can appreciate he knows all the customers and they may call him, you need him to defer them to you now. If the customers know they can go around or ignore you, you are completely ineffective.
To keep Mr. Helpful from randomly dive-bombing your aging and making knee jerk opinions on his perceived lack of attention to aging detail on your part, outline a plan for you both:
- Set up weekly meetings with him to review the aging.
- Engage him with the issues and how you are handling.
- Ask him for his insight and advice on certain customers.
- Actively engage him in solutions where needed—i.e., asking him to reach out once in a while to a customer to reinforce what you have said or done.
By keeping him in the loop you are accomplishing several things: You have shown respect for his knowledge of the customer base and business. You are keeping him informed of what is happening (for instance, placing a lien on a property). So if, and when, he gets a call from a customer about an action you have taken, he is aware and can support it because the two of you have discussed it and are aligned.
Most important, the two of you develop a rapport on what you want your credit philosophy to be and how to execute it. It is good to have another person to bounce ideas and solutions off of. Especially when it is someone with a different way of looking at things.
Once the two of you have established a relationship and a system, Mr. Helpful will back off. He sounds like he is having a hard time letting go of this work and needs you to show him you are capable. You will most likely (correction, you will absolutely) need to remind him to stand down.
Continue to be patient and firm throughout this process. It will be hard for him to let go and harder still to hear he is the problem. The position was open for a reason. Did the last credit person get fed up and leave because of his behavior? He needs to hear from you that straight up this behavior will continue to cause him to get the same results from every credit manager regardless of how many he hires. If he doesn't back off and set some boundaries, then the results will never change and he will be perpetually disappointed.
Not completely comfortable or confident Mr. Helpful will listen and really hear what you are saying and work towards change? Then enlist the assistance of someone in the company of equal authority level. If there is a partner, general manager, or spouse approach them with the situation—factually and calmly—spelling out the issues and what your solutions would be. Then approach him together.
P.S. Here’s a personal story that closely resembles your own:
I had a customer call me and ask if I would come up and assess their back office systems- credit and cash app functions. I agreed.
I met with both owners, the one who called me (Jim) and the other partner (Bob). I had known them both for years and they have a great business. When I asked Bob what he thought the issues were, he word vomited a litany of them: He didn't think the credit department was making calls, he didn't like the way the aging looked, he had to do everything himself. He went on for a good 45 minutes.
After he finished I spent time with the credit manager. She was a little guarded at first, but once the conversation got going, she too threw up all her frustrations: He jumps in, doesn't read notes, makes assumptions. She finally just gave up calling, which ticked him off more. She vented for two hours. She also shared that she was doing the purchasing for the shop (which she really liked doing and didn't want to give up) and applying her own cash. When did she have time to do all this effectively?
Jim, Bob and I went out to dinner that night and Bob asked me what I thought and what changes I would make. I reminded him how much I liked him and that he was my ride to the airport in the morning. The I told him he was the main problem and that he needed to back off, let her do her job, and use update meetings to keep track of business.
I told Bob he should either back off or else fire the credit manager and just do the job himself. I pointed out to both partners that she is also spread too thin and they needed to decide what job she would actually be doing.
Bob didn't speak to me the rest of the meal. I was pretty sure my luggage and I would be dumped on the roadside leading to the airport.
Bob picked me up in the morning, I asked him if he was going to speak to me anytime soon. He said "Thea, I don't like what you said,” then added: “It was a tough pill to swallow, but my wife and my partner both agree with you, so I am going to try to back off" They worked it out, and I am happy to say that was six years ago and they are doing great.
My point is, you have to step up and address the problem. The credit manager absolutely could have done it without my help, enlisting Jim to assist if needed. Enlist all the help you can, outline your plan, put your war paint on, native up and take your job back and be resigned no more.