Choice Recovery’s self-managed style sets up a strong culture


CEO Chad Silverstein founded Choice Recovery 20 years ago out of his apartment on The Ohio State University campus. There’s little in the business he hasn’t been responsible for at some point, but he never felt like an entrepreneur until he bought his partner out in 2013. For the first time, he had debt and all the risk on his shoulders. Four years later, he’s grown more comfortable with his role.

“Today, my team is completely self-managed and no longer has room for me in the day-to-day operations,” he says. “My leadership style is a work in progress. I’ve had to work hard to become a tougher leader as our problems got bigger.”

Choice Recovery, a collection agency, employs about 75 people. While Silverstein wants to add 25 or 50 more, he doesn’t want more than that. Otherwise, he risks the culture he’s built.

“If you walk into 99 percent of collection agencies around the country, you’ll see a call center with people in cubicles with headsets, with managers running around telling them what to do,” Silverstein says. “I have the opposite.”

People have their own offices, there are no managers and everyone holds each other accountable. The team trusts each other and calls each other out, he says.

Choice Recovery has found a direct link between collection performance and company culture.

Freedom with accountability

The goal is for every person who touches Choice Recovery to say, “I cannot believe that’s a collection agency.” Silverstein says self-managing could work for any industry.

After first trying teams with team leaders and failing to create what he wanted, Silverstein built peer-to-peer forums.

“There’s a big difference between managers and leaders,” he says. “A manager is meddling because they have to, they have to manage that process. A leader knows when to get out of a person’s way and let them excel, and also knows when to challenge and when to push.”

Silverstein doesn’t want to be a slave to his business. He expects people to lead themselves.

“I don’t want to tell them what their process is, I want them to develop it,” he says.

Not only does Silverstein get coached, that same coach facilitates voluntary team practices.

“We practice as a team, like a sports team. You don’t expect someone to win a Super Bowl if they’re not going to practice, but in business nobody does that,” he says.