Veterans, Boomers & Leaders — What’s the Plan?

May 9, 2023

Originally published: November 18, 2020 on

NextGen leaders out there are asking what the plan is and wondering what the answer is. And my piece will not pull any punches or mince any words!

Here is what I am worried about: The depth of our bench is dwindling as experienced players retire or move on to other things, so the number of people available to handle the tough situations is getting smaller. While our veterans inspire great confidence, the same cannot be said of our younger, up-and-coming players.

Sure, we like our younger players’ energy levels, and maybe we even believe that they will stay long enough to learn the entire playbook, but that is a far cry from the trust that we currently place in our 30-year vets who get the call when things are on the line.

There is an important handoff coming. It is maybe five years out, but quite frankly, it is probably going to be much sooner than that given how fast technology is changing the game and how fast the years seem to go by. So, the thing is, we are going to need the next generation of talent to be ready to play, and they will need a new game plan if the industry is going to keep winning.

This should be an easy handoff, right? Not really. Probably not even a little bit.

Ironically – non NextGen talent have given countless talks over the last few years regarding the best ways to relate to and motivate NextGen talent. Wow, do these folks miss the mark! Heck, I am on the outside edge of the NextGen bubble myself, and even I get this whole “motivate the millennials (and the Generation X and the Generation Z and the others that will follow)” thing wrong sometimes, which makes me more committed to addressing these issues.

So why do I feel the need to write this article now? First, I am passionate about inspiring people to help make a difference. Second, I work in an industry in which so many people — “lifers,” if you will — are so fully entrenched in their way of playing the game that they are making it tough for our younger, next generation leaders to develop their own playbooks. Honestly, I see an industry full of veterans who repeatedly use the same old systems, procedures, and plays and fight the future at every turn without realizing or honestly dealing with it.

Consider, for instance, how COVID-19 recently caused a massive multi-industry adoption of e-signature companies. For years, younger players have been saying we needed to do this. Forward-thinking attorneys, like Robert Cohen of Moritt Hock & Hamroff LLP, also have been championing this cause for years. All it took was a worldwide pandemic that shut down worldwide commerce to make it so. When you consider how small this change actually was, coupled with industry veterans’ long-term resistance to its adoption, it becomes easier to see how frustrated the next generation of talent can become as they suggest new plays and new strategies to keep their teams evolving and winning.

Taking chances on new players and developing new playbooks is not easy. It is hard and slow, and it can cause headaches from time to time. So why should we encourage and demand it? Because this evolution is what the industry needs to stay competitive and relevant. The next generation of talent wants it, and no one in the next generation really cares how hard it is to make this a reality. This may sound like a stereotype, but it also has some truth to it.

A much more important reason is that the next generation of talent knows the world is changing and that we have three choices: adapt, be acquired or flame out. Young leaders want to do things differently, and they know that we must eventually start listening to them or start losing to them.

My firm, Dedicated Commercial Recovery, can be used as an example to demonstrate how this is playing out in the commercial collections industry.

Firms in my industry continue to brag about how over-the-top aggressive they are with borrowers. In fact, I frequently speak on panels or roundtables and the organizers lump me in with competitors who advertise how aggressive they are. These firms have practices that we would never use. They are big, they are bad, and they are working for their clients. Sounds great for their clients, right?

But what if it is really bad for the people who owe their clients’ money? What if borrowers in the millennial generation (and Generation X, Generation Z and others who will follow) will not put up with that nonsense? What if they turn around and sue the collection firms and clients that hired them? What if they go to their legislators to demand protective legislation? What if they use social media, the internet, the BBB, Yelp and a million other places to slaughter those commercial collection firms and their practices, and then drag the firms that hired those collection firms through an equal amount of pain and suffering?

I still find leasing companies that use the same old-school agencies running the same old-school plays with the same old-school poor practices, and I question if those choices will eventually lead to trouble for these leasing companies.

How can these firms avoid such pain and suffering? They must push the ball forward. They must examine how they can adapt and move in the direction that inspires the next generations that have already adapted and developed new plays and new playbooks. In short, they must realize the game is changing.

Another example to raise is the current and numerous attempts to use artificial intelligence in our industry to remove humans from the process of doing the work, minimize costs and standardize the collections process to avoid errors. At first blush, these seem like admirable goals.

But what do those who are a part of these artificial intelligence experiments really want? They want their work to provide them with purpose and flexibility, and they want to feel passionate about what they are doing for a living. Do we believe these are the drivers behind these artificial intelligence experiments?

When next generation talent joins a company, they hear that their employers value purpose, flexibility and passion. These employees usually see those words in their employers’ mission statements, but too often, these values are only empty words for all to see. They become a hollow echo of everything employees want and a daily reminder that employees are receiving none of what they truly value. The result is poor morale, high employee turnover, low employee engagement and poor overall performance.

How can companies avoid such results? They must provide a working environment that makes their employees important and provides what they truly want. Companies must provide a working environment that consistently puts people before profit and places an emphasis on creating significance in the world. It’s not sufficient to provide this only a couple of times each year. It must happen day in and day out, authentically, comprehensively, and from the top to the bottom of the organization chart. Companies cannot fake this. They cannot be satisfied with trying. It must happen and continue to evolve with innovation and creativity.

I will leave you with one last example, again speaking from my own company’s perspective. Dedicated is hyper-focused on creating and maintaining a positive culture, and we put a lot of energy into this. We protect our culture, we invest in it, we ask our team members to be brand ambassadors, and we hold everyone in our organization accountable when they miss the mark.

Are we perfect? Of course not, but we act authentically, and we know what we want to be.

And what has this produced? In contrast to the collections industry as a whole, which typically sees more than 100% annual employee turnover, we average 14%. The ROI from this one result, including savings from hiring, training and overall human resources convinces me that we are adapting to what the next generation cares about and that we are doing it with authenticity and vigor. In an industry that has experienced a long-term, double-digit contraction in the number of players, we have experienced double-digit expansion of our business and client base, which also convinces me that we are giving our clients the results they demand.

That is our plan. We treat people the way they want to be treated whether they are on our team or individuals who we contact on behalf of our clients. And we grow our business with purpose. We are building a bench that will be strong enough to weather the challenges that lie ahead and leaders who will find fulfillment in developing their own plays and playbooks to be implemented by a committed and energized team.

We are chasing significance, not just success. We are putting people first. We are focused on what is most effective, not just the way it has always been.

That is our plan. So…what is yours?

Shawn Smith is the CEO and founder of Dedicated Commercial Recovery Inc. He is passionate about establishing and following industry best practices, focusing on people first in order to generate profit, and using business to provide a sustainable way forward to those who are in need.