Empowering employees and embracing new ideas

While working as a collector for Choice Recovery, China Morgan saw the value of having a compliance department to help her and others better understand laws and policies governing collections proceedings across the country.

She discussed the issue with her peers and supervisors, offering information and help where she could. The more she delved into the topic, the more she became convinced that the Columbus-based collection agency needed a director of compliance—and she should get the job. She wrote a proposal and shared it with Choice Recovery owner Chad Silverstein. He was convinced and promoted her.

That culture of being open to new ideas and showing associates their voices matter helped Choice Recovery earn the No. 1 ranking in Columbus CEO's Top Workplace survey for small companies. Specializing in healthcare, education, government and commercial collections, the company has recovered payment in full from more than 1.5 million consumers.

Today Morgan not only runs the department, she supervises two other employees. “It's amazing,” she says. “There is nothing stopping anyone here. If the company needs it, [Chad] will never stop you. He'll create a position. He'll create a salary for it.”

The company has supported Morgan by directing the technology department to create software that sends alerts to associates reminding them of unusual restrictions or special circumstances related to the calls they are making, sending her to educational workshops and allowing her to hold training sessions for staff.

The unusual job trajectory is not surprising, says John Olmstead, chief operating officer. Morgan is not the only person to move up the ranks of the company from an entry-level job, Olmstead says, nor is she the only to create her own job title and duties.

It's a reflection of how the company operates, he says. If you have a good idea, research it and share it, the company is likely to act on it. “If there's something you have a passion for, Chad will listen,” he says. “If it's a good idea, you'll be able to run with it.”

Even unpopular ideas are addressed and acted on, says Morgan, who because of her role often has to inform colleagues about mistakes. “Everyone is able to be heard, no matter what,” she says. “Even if my idea is controversial, it will be heard and worked out.”

All associates are welcome to speak out and give an honest assessment of what's happening in the company, she says. “Everyone has a voice,” she and no one voice is that much more important than any other.”

In fact, people will routinely give one another negative feedback—as long as its intent is constructive. “There's a dedication to telling the truth all the time,” says Morgan, who still recalls how unhappy she was when she was still working as a collector and Silverstein told her that she gave up too easily on an account that another employee was successful in collecting. The criticism made her work harder and smarter, she says.

The company strives to be “rewarding and challenging,” Olmstead says. Employees are given a lot of autonomy to complete their work. They are encouraged to get involved in charitable pursuits, which the company will support. Choice Recovery runs contests and offers incentives to make the workplace fun and allow associates to increase their incomes.

Its [re]start program, which was launched in 2014, is a prime example of the company's dedication to innovation and desire to make people feel good about their workplace, Olmstead says. The program helps find jobs for people in collections who are unemployed but are interested in finding employment and gaining control over their finances. The free program assists people with writing resumes, searching for jobs, completing employment applications and interviewing techniques.

“There are literally hundreds, probably thousands, of collection agencies saying they're different,” Olmstead says. “[re]start is a tangible expression that we are different.We care so much about our client's delinquent patients, consumers or students that we will help them with what they need most, a new job. Our team takes pride that we are doing everything we can to change the perception of collections by transforming people's lives every day.”

It's a work environment that most thrive in, Olmstead says. “Many of our employees have found something at Choice Recovery that they haven't experienced in other workplaces. They've found a place where they are valued, respected and encouraged. That's the vibe here, and they love it.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.

Q&A:

The Culture Crusader: Kathleen Petitt, director of client relations

What makes you Choice Recovery's culture crusader?

I'm just really interested in finding out what everybody loves about working here. When I hear about something that is working to build camaraderie for one team, I make sure to share the details with others in the company. Everybody is looking for that higher purpose in life. For the people who work here, findinga purpose beyond making calls—having the opportunity to help people find jobs or better their situation—that makes them more engaged.

Why does culture matter so much to you and the company?

Choice Recovery's vibe is not one person who owns the business and tells everyone how to act but rather is a compilation of each teammate's personality. By attracting and hiring in great people, we help our company to grow into a wonderful culture with each new person contributing.

How do you and your employer encourage people to embrace the core values?

We regularly have contests where employees compete to receive the most compliments or refer the most people to our jobs services. These contests, which may offer cash, gift cards or other rewards, make coming to work more fun. The great thing is they promote the culture we're building rather than the work we do.

What are the key components of the Choice Recovery workplace that make it a Top Workplace?

Choice has some great perks like an Open 40 Hour workweek, casual atmosphere, snacks, celebration lunches and a lot of freedom within the job itself, but the absolute best thing about Choice is the people. There is so much love in the office and people are constantly celebrating each other. We not only care about the great things teammates do to make the company better related to the day to day work, but also love to celebrate the high points in each other's lives and support one another if there are lows. The friendly and caring vibe is contagious to anyone who walks in the door.