Train Them Right and They Will Produce

“It’s a fact that quality training takes time and money, two things some managers and companies are not willing to provide.”

“Jamie” started her career as a mortgage originator six months ago. With a strong work ethic and a background in retail sales, she made the decision to give mortgage lending a try. Immediately after joining her new company, Jamie was placed into an extensive weeklong training program. There she learned about the business, mortgage programs, procedures, guidelines, and how to sell and market herself. Jamie’s manager clearly discussed his expectations of her performance, and together they mapped out a six-month development plan that included weekly one-hour meetings to review sales call plans and learning initiatives. Jamie’s boss also escorted her to several industry and client events to introduce her to top producing loan officers and real estate professionals who encouraged her success. Jamie was assigned to a mentor—another good originator in her office who would “show her the ropes” of the day-to-day business and allow her to shadow him on sales visits, application appointments, and loan closings. For the last six months Jamie has been reading, studying, asking questions, meeting people, making sales calls, and writing loan applications. Today, with a solid foundation in a new career, she is enjoying her job, making good money, and emerging as a future superstar.

“Keith” began his career in the mortgage business about the same time as Jamie. Fresh out of college with a business degree, a resume of good jobs, and strong references, Keith was ready to make the kind of money his manager promised was available if he was willing to work hard and apply himself. Unlike Jamie, Keith received no formal training. His boss showed him to his office, piled up a stack of manuals and guideline binders, and said: “Read these. Come and see me if you have any questions.”

Keith did have questions, a lot of them. What’s a temporary buydown? Who is Fannie Mae? Where are all these forms they keep referring to? Unfortunately, Keith’s boss was a producer himself, busy with his own customers and pipeline, and could afford little time with his new recruit. Keith looked for answers, but with no one to guide him, he soon got lost and frustrated. The other originators told Keith he needed to get out of the office and make sales calls. “But to who?” Keith asked. “What do I say? Where should I be going?” Focused on their own production, the other loan officers tried to help Keith as much as they could but time just wasn’t available. Keith did go out to see some real estate agents and with dismal results. Unsure of himself and what he was selling, Keith retreated back into his office and tried to make sense of the mountains of information and skills he needed to learn all by himself. Weeks went by and Keith was getting nowhere. After six months, Keith packed up his personal things, told his manager he was quitting, and walked out. Keith’s boss sat back in his chair, frustrated and lamenting: “Oh, well. I guess he just wasn’t cut out for this.”

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character was haunted by the voice: “If you build it, they will come.” Today, managers and mortgage companies hear another voice: “If you train them, they will produce.” But many managers are still investing little in their new loan officers. “Nobody trained me and I did all right,” they say. What they forget is that originating on the streets in the year 2000 is quite different from passing out rate sheets to Realtors in 1985. Today, those loan originators who are well trained, well skilled, and personally motivated, are writing loans. The rest are left behind.

It’s a fact that quality training takes time and money, two things some managers and companies are not willing to provide. “What happens if we spend the time and money to train them, they become successful, and they leave to work for another mortgage company?” they ask. It is true that if you don’t take care of them this could happen. The bigger question to ask is: “What happens if we don’t train them, they are not successful, and they stay here with us?” Now that’s going to be expensive.

While some managers and companies are still in the dark ages about training, it is exciting to see more and more lenders today investing in the success of their sales force. The following are four good examples.

First Horizon Home Loans
First Horizon Home Loans of Dallas, Texas (formerly FT Mortgage Companies) began a new initiative last year when they launched First Horizon University and their two-week program: The College of Loan Origination. Week one of the college introduces new recruits to the company, its products, procedures, and key support people. Students learn from the ground up about how a mortgage company operates, how to work with and qualify homebuyers, and the critical role originators play in bringing quality loans in the door. Week two is a series of workshops on professional sales and marketing with role-play training on making contacts, conducting meaningful sales calls, and building a personal marketing plan. Delivered every other month, the college has graduated over 100 energetic new originators so far who are equipped with the tools to get off to a successful start in the business.

This year First Horizon added another school, The Masters Program, as a three-day crash course for experienced loan officers joining the company. The Masters Program focuses on advanced sales skills and company-specific mortgage programs. These more experienced originators are also given a forum for sharing successful ideas they have used to build their mortgage lending practice.

Market Street Mortgage
Clearwater, Florida-based Market Street Mortgage (MSM) has taken a slightly different route to its training needs. MSM’s Web University is a “distance learning” network accessible through the company’s Intranet system. The Web University offers the Market Street Mortgage sales team more than 80 self-study training programs and resources. Loan originators in the field use their laptop computers to “dial up” training modules on topics such as Introduction to Desktop Underwriting, Telephone Selling Skills, and Compliance and Credit. Originators study and learn at their own pace, allowing salespeople to select the titles most beneficial to them.

This year, Market Street began a new library of sales marketing ideas in a program called Street Smarts. This series of white papers focuses on topical business development strategies such as How to Build an Affinity Business Relationship and Selling to Realtors Successfully—showing loan officers how to implement each concept step-by-step. Market Street hopes to expand their web university to a menu of over 100 different self-paced training programs by year’s end.

HomeBanc Mortgage
HomeBanc Mortgage in Atlanta, Georgia heavily recruits college graduates and successful salespeople into its nine-week introductory training program. This five days a week, 11 hours a day curriculum intricately covers every aspect of mortgage lending. To complement the program, real estate agents serve as guest speakers to talk about working with agents and students to complete a list of over 100 names they plan to contact as potential clients during the span of the program.

After completing the 500 plus hour course with its intensive series of exams and assignments, new originators are assigned to a mentor who acts as a personal guide and helper for another three months. Their retention rate of new hires has been remarkable and so has their performance. These rookies produce an average of $12 million their first year in the business with some outstanding achievers exceeding $20 million. HomeBanc complements its initial hire training with advanced sales training seminars and roundtables throughout the originator’s career.

HomeSide Lending
HomeSide Lending in Jacksonville, Florida generates sizable loan production via its consumer direct lending unit. A full time staff of eight training professionals is assigned to the 60-person telephone origination sales force and back shop production support group. New hires participate in a three-week classroom “boot camp” that covers mortgage products, paperwork, guidelines, sales techniques, and more. From there, a follow-up week of one-on-one mentoring with an experienced originator is completed before they take or make their first phone call.

HomeSide’s consumer direct training team is also closely involved in the production unit’s day-to-day operations. From product updates to procedure changes and compliance to credit and fair lending, HomeSide’s originators are schooled continuously in mini workshops, self-study manuals, and on-site seminars with the skills and knowledge it takes to do an effective job.

We’ve relied far too long on “seat-of-the-pants” and trial and error training to teach our loan originators what they should be doing. It’s no wonder that 30 to 50 percent of most company’s loan officers turn over every year. It is hard to expect people to do a good job when they’ve never been shown how.

Perhaps you feel you don’t have the resources like these companies to provide quality training. Keep in mind that training doesn’t have to be done on a grand scale. With a belief in the value of training, these same basic ideas can work for any size shop. Here are some recommendations:

Hire or appoint a training manager. Even if your sales team is small- to medium-sized, a good training manager who can design and deliver valuable skills programs will pay for his or her salary 10 times over in increased loan production over the course of the year.

Take advantage of vendor resources.United Guaranty, RMIC, GE Capital, and other MI companies have some outstanding training programs available to their clients. Partner with your MI rep to get this training in the hands of your originators on an ongoing basis.

Contract for speakers. The mortgage industry is blessed with several talented trainers and speakers who will work with you and your sales force to improve their marketing, sales activities, business knowledge, and personal motivation. Get them in your shop regularly throughout the year.

Leverage your wholesale alliances. If you broker to national wholesale venues, they can assist you in locating (and may even pay for) quality trainers to help your originators learn and your loan business grow. They want you to be successful for good and selfish reasons. Let them help.

Investigate local colleges. While mortgage specific topics may not be readily available, most local colleges and universities have continuing education courses on sales, marketing, finance, consumer lending, and banking. Fund your loan officer’s participation in these programs.

Tap the power of your industry associations. The MBA and NAMB offer many state and local presentations and workshops on a variety of mortgage topics every month. Be certain your people are actively attending these events to expand their knowledge and exposure to new resources.

They say that knowledge is power. But in this business, knowledge is money. The more your loan originators know, the better they can sell. The better they sell, the more profitable your business becomes. If you train them, they will produce.

Focused Managers Increase Staff Performance

“What may be the tried-and-true process of yesterday may not be the best way to do the business today.”

Anyone can be capable of managing people successfully, but not everyone does it well. Managing requires a steady focus on what is important. Whatever your specific supervisory or management role, you need to focus on objectives, to understand the big picture, to know the details, and to use your resources in order to be successful.

Focus on Objectives
One of the bigger mistakes managers make is focusing too much on the processes they manage. The manager’s real focus must be on getting the required results, which means understanding the business purpose for your specific area of responsibility.

At a basic level, the work your staff performs is just a means to an end. You have to develop a particular work flow and a set of tasks and responsibilities in order to meet a defined business objective. It could be producing loans, processing or underwriting, or some other function in the organization. But remember that the mortgage business is changing. What may be the tried-and-true process of yesterday may not be the best way to do business today. The only way to get better–producing more, doing it cheaper, or delivering your internal or external customer greater value–is to understand precisely what you are trying to accomplish and make sure you are organized enough to make it happen.

When you focus on objectives, don’t get hung up on policies and procedures. It is important to realize that policies and procedures are only guidelines for getting things done. Managers must interpret them and not be hamstrung by them. If they get in the way of accomplishing your responsibilities, change them. In making a case for change, you need to develop an even better understanding of what needs to happen, how it can work, and what it takes to perform more effectively.

Understand the Big Picture
Business direction changes as interest cycles change or as innovations occur. At the same time, no organization is perfect–no matter how intelligent the business plan or how diligently everyone works to succeed. New strategies, mistakes in judgement, and misalignment of strategy do occur. When it happens, managers must know how to relate to the changes or make sense of it and interpret it for employees.

No matter what your position or level in management, you must know your company’s overall strategy and how and where you fit into the plan. It will help you more intelligently interpret management changes, directions, and decisions. With a big picture insight, most decisions and changes will be easily understood, communicated, explained, and discussed with your staff.

Know the Details
While I do not believe a manager’s job is to focus on process, it is a manager’s job to understand the functions and important details of the work being performed. Sufficient detailed knowledge of individual tasks helps managers understand what can be accomplished, how long it should take, areas where shortcuts can be taken if necessary without too great a risk, and the problems likely to be encountered. It also helps in establishing realistic goals and monitoring progress. You do not need to be the best at every function, but you do need to understand what they are and how they fit together.

Recruit Resources and Retain Talent
Business success requires the best human resources. Recruiting and retaining qualified staff is critical. Do whatever you can to hire people even more capable than yourself. Attracting the best people requires paying close attention to compensation, setting clear expectations, rewarding and recognizing accomplishments, adding value for employees, and creating confidence through leadership.

Even if you work for a great company and consider yourself a terrific manager, salaries and benefits are important when recruiting and retaining competent staff. It is a manager’s responsibility to know what other companies in the area are paying for similar positions. If you are having difficulty in attracting the best talent to interview, reexamine your pay scales and benefits. They do not have to be the best, but they must be competitive.

Managers must set and communicate what is expected from employees, how each can be successful, and how each role fits into where the company is going. It is important to remember that talented, capable employees can work anywhere and that quality employees are in demand. These prospective employees choose one company over another because of confidence in management’s direction, quality of direct supervision, and perceived level of commitment to their individual success.

Every day, managers must add value. This requires recognizing when it is important to get out of the way, but it is also requires making sure employees have clear direction, know what is expected, have a defined game plan for success, and receive consistent review, feedback, and coaching. Helping each employee reach their potential is a big part of a manager’s job.

Being a manager requires communicating expectations. It is essential to give clear direction and to make sure everyone is moving in a common direction. Not only should you communicate often with your employees, you must also review your direction, problems, and opportunities with peers and make sure you are aligned with corporate goals.

Employees perform well when they are compensated fairly and given the opportunity to succeed. They also achieve higher goals when individual and team performance is recognized and rewarded. Set individual and team goals for daily, weekly, or monthly value-added performance and celebrate all goals attained.

The mortgage business is not easy. It has its cycles. It is important that even the smallest team in every company has confidence in the team’s direction. Employees need leaders that stand up, speak out, and give clear direction.

Employees will tell you what is working and what is not. Most of the time, they know exactly what changes should be made. Listen to them often and act accordingly. Always listen first and then decide what decision to make or direction to take. Involve staff in the decision-making process, but remember that in the end it is your decision to make.

You should also be able to recognize activities and pressures away from work that impact an employee’s performance. Managers should be sensitive to these outside influences, but at the same time, they must also help employees focus on their responsibilities. Managers should care about the professional lives of employees. Understanding what each employee wants to accomplish in their career and helping them achieve it is one of the most rewarding responsibilities of a manager. If employees cannot achieve all their aspirations within your organization, help them move to the next right opportunity.

Managing and supervising can be a heavy load. It can often take a physical toll on you. Consistently performing well requires tremendous energy. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you cannot afford to take time away from work for family and relaxation, or that you cannot afford to take time for physical conditioning. You cannot afford not to do it. To consistently be at the top of your game, you need to refresh and reenergize yourself regularly. I’m convinced that dedication to your career and success is enhanced when you are physically fit and have achieved what is for you a comfortable balance between your work and personal life.

by Jerry Baker

How to Hire and Retain Good Loan Officers

How much is a good loan officer worth? How much does a bad loan officer cost you? When you think of “how much” with each question, don’t just think in financial terms. Money is a big concern, but it’s important that you consider time, energy, stress and “fit” as well. How much time are you spending with high-maintenance loan officers? How much energy are they costing you? How much stress? Do they “fit” within the culture of your company? Are they aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish? If you don’t put some thought and work into these questions, you’ll find the path to mortgage success very bumpy indeed.

Recruiting, hiring and retaining talented people is a difficult job. The first step toward success is to understand the nuances between recruiting and hiring. Recruiting to seek out talented players who will support your business’s outcomes, getting them onboard, and aligning their personal outcomes with those of the company is the trick. You may have someone in your company who is excellent at recruiting yet falls short in the hiring process. In the restaurant business they have a saying, “Get ’em in…get ’em out… get ’em back!” We certainly don’t want to take that approach in the mortgage business. We could say, “Get ’em in… get ’em going… keep ’em!”

If you invest and commit to a recruiting effort, you must also invest and commit to the implementation of the hiring effort as well. I have seen many mortgage companies make great decisions, while falling short on the implementation process. This has a tendency to remove most of the value of a great decision. While managing, mentoring and keeping talented mortgage originators are important to success, the purpose of this article is to “Get ’em and get ’em going.”

Have you ever wondered why some managers always seem to attract talent? Some managers seem to attract top achievers like a magnet. When you look at the manager and the leadership, isn’t it sometimes difficult to see at first glance what makes the difference? If you look at the internal makings of a great leader, you will find that they are effective communicators, have an incredible work ethic and are masters of managing themselves. In addition to that, they are skilled at connecting the dots of any plan; the dots of getting from point A to point B. These traits must exist in order for any manager or company to recruit and retain top people.

I recently had a mortgage-banking president ask me how to recruit because his company was having a problem landing good people. After I asked a few questions, I immediately saw the problem. I told him that the first step toward expanding his organization was to commit to and invest resources into its growth. A decision and a commitment both in time and money must be invested to get the kind of players who can do the job. You can’t expect to attract top producers to your organizations if you’re not deliberately and diligently seeking them out and tracking your results. Define what you’re looking for and go after it, then track and measure the results you’re getting. The following steps will guide you through an effective and proven recruiting strategy.

1. Profile your ideal candidate. Write a job description. What are you looking for? What type of loan originator? What volume level do you want person to achieve? The more details you have about what you are looking for, the more accurate your end result will be.

2. Develop a hiring plan. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can develop a plan to achieve your desired outcome. This plan must include a timetable for your outcome, the personnel involved in this recruiting process, an all other aspects regarding territory, type of originator, and so on. My recommendation is to have three different recruiting plans. Plan one is for recruiting new loan originators. These would include, but not be limited to, college graduates, UPS drivers, sales route drivers, real estate agents, title company reps, medicals sales reps, insurance sales reps, or anyone else you would approve to train. Second, is a plan to recruit mid-range originators. These include all mortgage originators with some experience and background in mortgage lending, i.e., hard money background, minimal mortgage background, minimum productions background, and other such areas. Plan three would include medium to top mortgage originators who are currently active in the marketplace. These are the players who have existing production and can hit the ground running when they transfer to you company. It’s important that you have completely developed systems for all three plans to ensure the successful integrations of the new hire with your company.

3. Develop a source list. Sourcing is a process of identifying as many probable targets from which you can draw candidates. To make good decisions on hiring the right people, it’s critical to have several sources to contact for leads. To get the type of candidates that you’re looking for, you need as many leads as you can get.

4. Work your leads. Maybe a better way to say it would be “networking your leads.” By networking both your sources and candidate leads, you give yourself a solid foundation of planting the kind of seeds that will reap a great harvest. You’ve got to be out in the marketplace talking to Realtors, builders, and other in order to originate mortgage loans.

5. Interviewing the candidate. Up to this point, all of our efforts have been toward recruiting. The “hiring” aspect comes into play at this stage. While we are still recruiting and selling our value, we are now focusing on making sure that this candidate will benefit our particular team. In addition to that, keep in mind that the candidate is interviewing you as well. It’s important here to establish a rapport by making the candidate feel comfortable. Ask a lot of questions and then listen, listen, listen. You will also want to have the candidate interviewed by other company staff. It’s wise to put a candidate through this because it will give you a more detailed and accurate profile of the candidate.

6. Checking and confirming references. Here is where we want to conduct an investigation to find out the good, the bad and the ugly. Even if you’ve taken the candidate through four different interviews with four different people, it’s important to check references and confirm information.

7. Extending an offer. This is where some negotiating talent never hurts. The toughest types of questions usually revolve around money. Before you make a firm job offer, you should know clearly and specifically what expectations the candidate has about the compensation plan. It’s important to discuss the candidate’s past and current compensation plans and how they want to improve them.

8. Setting the stage for your new hire’s success. Now that you have successfully recruited your top choice candidate, you need to conclude the process by completing the administrative details. You owe it to your newly hired superstar to have all of the paperwork to get him/her started correctly and promptly. Let me emphasize the importance of taking care of people every step of the way. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful in recruiting is by simply practicing “the golden rule.” Respect everyone and treat them the way you want to be treated and it works. I also hold another cardinal rule: If I receive a phone call or receive a resume in the mail, at that point I am doing business with that person and I treat them accordingly. Remember, people always appreciate communication. They will remember and appreciate you for being honest and considerate with this process. This will create a tremendous long-term benefit for you and your company. This takes the old saying, “never burn bridges” to a new level. This new level might read, “Always build bridges.”

Now that you have closed out the process of recruiting and getting the candidate on board, it’s time to really show them that we both made the right decision. You can do this by celebrating their arrival. Make sure that they have a proper place to work with a phone, pager, business cards and office equipment. It’s critical that you set some time aside on their first day to introduce them to the office personnel, show them around, show them how to work the office equipment, and make sure that they get settled as soon as possible. The quicker they get settled and aligned with you and your company, the quicker the loan productions starts rolling in.

By following these eight steps consistently, you will be able to expand your mortgage business in a deliberate and controlled manner. The key word here is consistency. Consistency rules; never stop recruiting. The successful managers at the top are always looking for talent. Make recruiting an ongoing part of your business. Once you master the art of recruiting, you’ll be rewarded accordingly.

Recruiting and hiring talent, managing and motivating talent and getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things are all critical to a manager’s success. If you want great sales people, be a great manager.

The Merits of Multitasking

You know what business is like—the best plans don’t always work out. Unexpected issues arise, requiring midcourse corrections. New opportunities pop up but there’s no time to pursue them. Does this sound familiar? We all see and experience it. We also see people who make things happen despite all the chaos, time commitments, and obstacles. Some folks even make it look easy. How do they do it? There are hundreds of theories and books about how to better use time, how to overcome obstacles, and how to better exploit opportunities. Many of them can work. But whatever theory followed or techniques used, there is an element often missed. It’s the ability to accomplish multiple things at once. It’s being able to multitask or, as one ad campaign put it, it’s the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

However we develop and execute our business strategy, none of us can afford to have an unclear vision about where that strategy is taking us. A lack of clarity wastes time and squanders resources. We must know what we want our business to look like today and tomorrow. The possibilities are endless, which is exactly why we need a vision to guide us and our team members so everyone knows exactly where we are going.

Let’s assume we know where we want to go. Our vision is the starting point; it’s the ante if we want to play in the game. But, we must be prepared to execute each element of the plan sequentially and each element of the plan simultaneously. Sounds easy enough, but several interrelated activities must work together effectively, including an abundance of preparation, focus, organization, and accountability. Let’s consider each of these elements.

Preparation: It makes sense that the bigger the investment, the more preparation required. But whether we spend a few hundred or a few million dollars, the effective accomplishment of any task or initiative requires preparation. If the initiative or action is important to your business, write-up a brief one-page description of what you want to happen. Too often we see failure because we were not clear on what we wanted to do and what was required to make it happen. If you cannot get down on one page what you want done, then you don’t really know what you want. Bigger goals may need more detail, but too often what you really need is to be very clear about the objective or opportunity, the obstacles or significant points to consider, the basic steps to get it done, who will do it, and when.

Recently, I read a terrific book written by retired Army General Tommy Franks that had an unexpected benefit. A Soldier’s Story is about the General’s life, starting as a Private, and what he learned as he faced his growing military responsibilities. The unexpected benefit was a tool he discovered following a devastating helicopter crash, killing key members of his team for which he felt personally accountable. He decided from that day forward to write down on a 3” x 5” card the five most important issues and the five most important opportunities he faced that day. He wanted to be prepared for the most significant events he thought he could encounter. He used this daily technique for the rest of his career and over 5,000 cards later, he remains convinced that it was crucial to his success.

Preparation is the key to executing each element of our strategy. Make sure everyone knows what is expected, why, and when.

Focus: The benefits of adequate and thorough preparation are huge, especially when it comes to focus. The one-page document suggested will help the team zero in on what needs to be done. The devil is always in the details, and without a clear understanding of the direction and what is expected, it is difficult to focus on the necessary human and financial resources to get initiatives accomplished.

It is important to focus clearly on four areas to drive results: people, processes, systems, and money. Just like the one-pager, being focused doesn’t need to be too complicated. If the task is important, you need to ask yourself if you have the people to get it done; what operational processes are impacted (and do they need to be changed?); if systems or technology are involved will they do what is required and if not how can we change the system; and what will we need for investment and where will we get the money? If you cannot answer these basic questions satisfactorily, don’t move forward until they can be answered.

If you are able to focus on the people, processes, systems, and money needed to achieve the expected results, you are well on your way to successful execution of important strategies.

Organization: Potentially terrific ideas often fail because there is simply not adequate organizational support to get them done. Once you are focused enough to know what it takes to make a key initiative or opportunity happen, you must make sure there is proper organization to achieve the expected or anticipated results.

Sometimes, because we talk about what needs to get done, we think it will happen—it doesn’t. It takes specific actions properly scheduled that bring together the required people, processes, systems, and money. These required actions need organization and organizational commitment. It sounds simple enough, but it takes creating an action plan. It requires at least a simple set of steps to be followed. Write it down, and make sure everyone knows what needs to be done and when.

We need to create specific action plans that clearly spell out what needs to be done and when. If it is important, write it down.

Accountability: The best-laid plans require accountability. Even if well-planned, those plans must hold people accountable to deliver. You may think that a new assignment can’t be all that hard, so you just add it to your or someone else’s other jobs. It might work in some cases, but often it doesn’t. You can assign individual team members specific assignments, but you must hold someone accountable for the results. It doesn’t have to be their only job, but if it is really important, perhaps it should be.

Accountability for results requires both monetary reward and recognition. The reward must be meaningful and important compared to other compensation.

We can accomplish more when we set stretch objectives. Don’t be afraid to undertake concurrent projects. We can do more things simultaneously if we are smart about it. It requires first a vision and direction, and setting priorities for what’s important. Then, with preparation, focus, organization, and accountability, meaningful results can happen.

Success May be Just an HOV Lane Away

Roger Staubach was the featured speaker at a university sports luncheon I attended recently.  He is more than just a Heisman Trophy/all pro ex-jock.  Staubach  heads a highly successful national commercial real estate business.  In his remarks he described two football teams he played on that had both been at pivotal points in their respective seasons.  One team was at the Naval Academy and the other was when he was with the Dallas Cowboys.  Both turned out to be championship teams, but neither season started out that way.  Apparently, too many players were approaching the season as though it was all about them personally, and the team was secondary.  The teams had a lot of talent but it was not a “one for all” environment.

How many times do we see this in business?  In striving for excellence, individuals focus on their own success and do little or nothing to improve the team or teamwork.  The view can often be that a branch’s monthly production volume may be “interesting” but how everyone else is doing, from producers to support staff, is not my concern.  I celebrate my own success.

Staubach went on to say that after the poor initial start to the season, some of the leaders got the team together to have a real heart-to-heart.  We can imagine the frank locker room conversations that probably took place.  I doubt it was a Knute Rockne “let’s win one for the Gipper” speech.  They demanded renewed thinking about the team, teamwork and team-focused effort.

Staubach’s message was that football, like business, is a team activity and everyone must be with and on the team.  He said it was just like entering the HOV lane on the expressway: every car needs passengers.  When someone is going it alone or is in it for just himself or herself, even a team with abundant individual talent can’t win.  We have to get everyone on board and take them along for the ride, just like in the HOV lane, so everyone gets to the destination.  He also meant that if people are not prepared to execute as required and ready to maximize each individual’s performance, then we need to grab them and bring them along.

Getting people involved and taking them along for the journey helps create the spirit of teamwork necessary to turn what could be mediocre performances into unforgettable ones. As we think about this simple HOV analogy, there are at least five possible actions that come to mind.  It starts with managers and concludes with the idea of raising the bar.

Start with Managers: It should be logical that managers or leaders need to first recognize the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone is on board with a clear understanding of the game plan.  Every once in a while the leadership must take an assessment of how well things are working.  From time to time we need to ask the questions about what is working and what is not, and take an objective look around.  At times we all forget the interdependency that exists within a mortgage branch or sales team and the connection to other parts of the company that support them.

This interdependency must be clearly recognized and understood.  Clear expectations must be set for behavior and results.  The leadership must continually work on resolving issues or removing barriers that get in the way of allowing everyone to be prepared and be able to do the best they can.

Stars are Included: It should also be reasonable that everyone must understand the vision, plan, and direction, and be an active and proactive part of it.  This means everyone, including the star performers.  Most superstars are good because they understand the importance of working with others.  They may want to “over-control” because they want nothing to go wrong.  In time we hope they learn that they can do even better when they help train the team and set clear expectations for others to focus on their own key roles and become freed-up to be even more successful.

But, there may be some superstars that can’t or won’t get this important message.  If they are disruptive to the team and limit the ability of the whole team to be successful, then management and leadership needs to make a decision.  Sometimes it is better to take a step backward in order to leap forward.

Identify Weak Spots: Everyone on the team is important.  Everyone’s role is there for a reason.  If that is not the case the position is not necessary.  You cannot afford to have anyone on the team streaming down their own personal HOV lane oblivious to what is going on around them and what is required.  Managers, leaders, and superstars need to identify every area requiring improvement and focus on fixing it.

This does not have to be a negative or disruptively critical exercise.  But, it must be focused and must be done.  This is not a “hey you, stop screwing up” message, but when you see someone struggling or someone not using a “best practice,” you need to help them get better or change the process.

The focus is to not allow poor performance or poor practices to persist, simply because it is “not directly my job” or you are “too busy with my own stuff.”  Take the time to explain thoroughly how to make things better or right, and have learning sessions where the A-players are coaching others how to do the job better.  We also need to set the right expectations so that everyone has a clear understanding of the performance level required.

Changes May be Necessary: Sometimes people have to leave for the good of the whole. There are predominantly two reasons for change.  The easiest to understand is when the employee either can’t or won’t do the job properly.  It may be skills, motivation, or personal issues, but if after training, support, and expectations have been clearly communicated the performance doesn’t measure up, then a change is necessary.

The other reason for change, which can be difficult, is when the person performs well but their approach or style is divisive and disruptive.   Some people are too negative and so self-interested that they adversely impact the team and teamwork.  It takes too much management time to the detriment of others.  When this occurs, sometimes the only solution is to make a change.  It may seem like a step back because of the individual’s performance, but results after the change is made are often surprising.  Others on the team usually blossom and the overall team results improve substantially.

When the team really starts functioning as it should, it is time to raise the bar and set expectations higher.  Chances are pretty good that until we really start getting into the HOV lane we do not know how good we can be.  Once we have identified weaknesses, both with processes and people, and energized everyone to make changes and have the patience to wrap their arms around the people who need support, the effect on the team and overall results can be 25 to 50 percent, maybe even 100 percent.  The power of a team committed to teamwork and excellence is a substantial force.

Lean Forward

Life and business are often defined by unpredictability; in the mortgage business we can add a strong dose of volatility and uncertainty.  Yet, if there had ever been a perfect time to be in the mortgage business and execute a new idea, strategy, or plan, it would have been during the last several years when the mortgage business seemed golden.

Few would deny that over the last half-dozen years or so, the phenomenon of several glorious refinance waves has made the mortgage business pretty darn good.  This was true for the originator or relationship manager, although less true for servicing portfolios and secondary marketing.  Nevertheless, good profits were generally made all around.  If something new was tried there was enough business activity to find the resources to make it work.  There was also enough profitability to disguise or cover up poor execution if things didn’t work exactly as planned.

It may now be in the recesses of our memory, but it wasn’t that long ago that a $600 billion annual mortgage market was terrific.  Today, even with rising rates, there have been no projections that reduce the overall mortgage market to a level lower than nearly three times these historical “good” volumes.  So, while the last several years have been great, there is nothing to indicate that the next several years won’t also be filled with opportunity.

There is certainly more than one way to look at our current conditions.  One view is that there was a perfect “window of opportunity” to grow our businesses, but that was before the market changed.  Interest rates are rising; now must not be the time to take chances.  That’s one view of the current environment, but I don’t buy it.

There is another view.  I remember what a former boss told me in the distant past during the end of one of those periods of high refinance volumes.  That year the company had the biggest origination volume in history, $50 billion, and I recall hearing the words, “any idiot could have done that.”  While inspirational, I didn’t buy that point of view either.

Whether we are in the upside or downside of a business cycle, it takes definitive action to create momentous results.  We must ask ourselves what it will take to move forward now.  No matter which way the economic and interest rate winds blow, doing nothing doesn’t work.  Whether the wind is to our back or in our face, we must learn to lean into it.  Have a forward-leaning plan and execute it, especially when the going gets tough.  In the mortgage business the winds can change quickly and blow in different directions.  If we have wind at our back it can be a great advantage; it can accelerate results.  If there is an economic headwind then we must lean into it harder.

There is enough evidence to suggest that in the current environment, which seems like a headwind, there are companies that will loose momentum.  We can already see it.  Success can be fleeting—miscalculations create opportunities for others.  We must be prepared to take advantage of these circumstances, and we can if we are ready and poised to go after them.

What separates and differentiates companies in these down cycles is clarity of focus and action.  These are the times when we must be sharper in every aspect of our business.  Little things count more when the going gets tough.  If we don’t recognize this subtly, then we squander resources and lessen our ability to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Focus on expenses and processes that are wasting resources unnecessarily.  It is inevitable that during up cycles we throw money at things to get them done.  Why not? Time is of the essence and business is good.  There is plenty of revenue coming in so spending a few extra bucks won’t hurt, right?  Wrong.  We get lulled by prior success and inevitably, as the market tightens, we are slow to change our habits.

Look at every expense and justify that it is the right thing to be doing.  For example, look at such things as cell phone usage.  I am amazed at the variation in cell plans and how much is wasted.  The same applies to travel, entertainment, office supplies, courier, advertising, marketing expenses, and on and on.  We waste a lot more than we realize.   If there is extra space, sublet it.  If leases are coming up for renewal, make an effort to work with your property manager to have your rent reduced.

Take a good look at processes too.  Are there steps or procedures that are no longer necessary?  Can functions be combined in a new way to provide better service to customers and originators?  What are the metrics in the business?  What are the trends in loans handled per processor and closer?  How much revenue is there per employee?  Is it time to reevaluate fees?  We tend to add staff to get the job done during higher volume times, but don’t make the hard decisions to adjust staff size with the best people as volumes and circumstances change.  When the shop is in order and expenses under control, we always feel a lot more comfortable about continuing to lean forward.

All of this is, of course, easier said than done.  Most business people have trouble doing two somewhat opposite and different actions at the same time.  They watch and control expenses but fail to focus sufficiently on growing the business and investing in key areas wisely.  Doing both at the same time is critical.  It can be hard, but we must keep focused on finding ways to expand what we are doing and also find new opportunities.  They are always there, even more so when the market tightens.

When we think we have found those opportunities we must be clear in our expectations.  So many times managers jump at opportunities without thinking through what it will take to make it work. Understanding what it takes and setting clear expectations up-front is the beginning.  Monitoring progress and holding managers and the team accountable each month for what is expected is part of good results management.

When things don’t work, with the best of plans and people, don’t be afraid to either revamp the plan or start over.  Even if it was the best idea you thought you ever had, let the numbers speak for themselves.  It never pays to throw good money after bad.  Redeploy your resources and human talents and energies toward another opportunity.

Don’t stop leaning forward.

Marketing Portfolio

CountryWide-box1When Jon Byler wanted to feed his Realtor business, he knew that the way to a Realtor’s heart is often through their stomachs. Byler, branch manager of Countrywide Home Loans in Santa Cruz, Calif., provides goodie-filled Realtor Survival Kits to his real estate contacts. While he uses them primarily during open houses, he has also used them at office meetings and other events.   “Morning tour boxes consist of a bagel, cream cheese, jelly, juice, utensils, aspirin, hand wipes, and promotional Countrywide information. The afternoon lunch box is slightly different. I hand make sandwiches, add cookies, chips, and bottled water, plus all of the utility items listed above,” he explains. “Walking into an open house bearing gifts, you have something that is very different than the rest of the marketing crowd,” he says.  Byler cleverly fills the boxes with more food than the Realtors could eat at one time, so the boxes end up going back to their offices. He also includes a card at the bottom of the box inviting them to call for a “free refill.” Byler adds, “When they call to take me up on the offer, that’s when the real marketing begins.” The boxes are printed by Bullseye Boxes at a cost of $200.00 per 100, and Byler spends $10 to $15 to fill them.

recipiecardLooking for the recipe for success? Try just a recipe itself—for Mexican teacakes, sweet and savory chicken, or any other dish that is sure to spice up your clients’ lives.  Andrew Cardina, an originator with First Horizon Home Loans, Lancaster, Pa., sends these monthly recipe cards to all B2B contacts, closed loan customers, and new prospects who have been pre-approved.  The cards offer a comprehensive, creative recipe each month, and credit the individual who sent in the recipe at the bottom.  “These are tangible pieces that can be given to friends or acquaintances if they are looking for a mortgage,” says Cardina.  Cardina subscribes to the cards through his company and is responsible for the $.44 each payment.  Included on the back is Cardina’s picture, accompanied by a friendly reminder of his home financing services, and complete contact information.  Besides being a cost-effective means of keeping his name in front of customers and referring partners, “the piece itself is functional,” says Cardina.  “Since it is a recipe card, customers get other use from it than just the mortgage contact information.”

cellmate2Hold the phone! Shawn Portmann’s unique “Cellmate” will really give the competition a hang-up. The Cellmate is a thin grip pad that “magically” holds a cell phone in place on a car dashboard. “My clients love it,” Portmann says. “They always want more.” Portmann’s name, company, and phone number are conspicuously, yet unobtrusively printed along the bottom. “It keeps my name in front of them at all times. Repetition and consistency is the name of the game.” The idea of placing your name on an everyday item isn’t new, but unlike pens or key chains, this marketing piece grabs the client’s attention because it’s something out of the ordinary—something they probably don’t already own. In the past, Portmann, a loan officer with CityBank Mortgage, Puyallup, Wash., has also sent out such novel marketing items as water bottles, lunch boxes, and Frisbees. He distributes about 1,000 Cellmates per year to customers and 200 to Realtors as part of a larger thank-you package after closing a deal. The Cellmates cost approximately $3.00 a piece, with an initial set-up fee of $45.00.

Renting-FlyerWhile many originators strive to capture the renter’s market, few may create a way to stand out from the crowd.  Michael Gambatese, an originator with Pillar Financial LLC, Palatine, Ill. (a suburb of Chicago), used a catchy, distinct slogan to print on his renter fliers:  “Renting is Hazardous to Your Wealth!”  The text makes a bold statement below a photo of the Chicago skyline, since most of these fliers target high-rise condo renters in the downtown area.  Gambatese prints these fliers in a co-marketing effort (shared costs) with one of his Realtors, and they are mailed to renters paying at least $1,000/month.  The lower half of the flier displays the options to buy for people paying anywhere from $1,000 to 1,750/month. The dollar figures are annotated with details of the loan program used to calculate the numbers.  Gambatese sends out about 200 fliers on a bi-annual basis and says that he just came up with the idea “when thinking of creative ways to target renters.”  The flier is also incorporated with a first-time homebuyer seminar given with the Realtor.  Fliers are generated in-house using PowerPoint, and then printed at Kinko’s on nice stock paper.  The cost is approximately $500, including postage.  “It has been successful because it’s different,” says Gambatese.  “And because this market is saturated with renters paying ridiculous amounts per month in rent.”

Keeping Your Team of Champions Together

Practice “internal recruiting” to retain your best people

Think the recruiting process ends when you hire a new employee? Think again. It continues long after day one on the job. In fact, my personal view of recruiting is that of a relationship—it begins when you first meet a potential hire, but continues when he or she becomes your loan originator (LO) or employee. Just because a person works for your company does not mean the recruiting process has ended. A planned, deliberate retention strategy will help keep your staff happy throughout their tenure. Especially in our business of mortgage originating, it can be a challenge to find and keep good employees. Yet quality people are what drive the business, make or break the transaction, and most importantly, keep your customers coming back for more. 

At my company, we see very little turnover. In fact, less than five percent of our staff has left to work for another mortgage company. I attribute this loyalty to our “high-touch” environment—being responsive to needs, and providing recognition, rewards, and a great workplace. It’s a methodology we use not only with our partners (utilizing strong and effective database management), but also internally with our employees. High-touch equals loyal people; they know that we care about them, and it shows in our retention rate.


So how can you excel at retaining your most valuable assets – a good team of loan originators? It starts with the hiring process. Whether you have a staff of recruiters or utilize an outside firm for your searches, it’s important to look for seasoned loan originators with a solid book of business. Typically, these candidates come from banks, retail mortgage banking firms, or brokerages. Then, start a relationship. It’s really no different than building a friendship – opening a dialogue to find out if there’s a mutual fit. In my experience, the success here lies in a values match.  That is, does this person have similar values and goals that match our company philosophy? Can he or she ultimately add value to the business, and in turn, will our company add value to his or her life? 

In regards to predicting if a candidate will be successful in his/her role at UPM there are several types of testing that can be administered.
1. DISC testing is a way of testing a candidate’s outward behavior style.  This type of test can help us predict outward behavioral style.

2. Another type of testing is practical testing.  If we are considering a candidate for a processing role at UPM we will ask them to review a loan file.  Our processing manager will remove some required documentation from that loan file and ask the candidate to evaluate the income of the borrowers and create a list of documentation that will be required for this file to be approved.

3. A third type of testing is internal.  We ask our hiring manager to create a “must have” list.  This list is the qualities or requirements the candidate must possess or meet in order to be hired at UPM.  If the candidate does not meet one or more of the criteria, they will no longer be considered for the position.

Internal Recruiting

Once a values match is affirmed and trust is established, the relationship begins. At this point, we transition to what I call “internal recruiting.”   This is where the high-touch element really comes into play. If an organization is not making a concerted effort on some level to retain its loan originators and employees, it probably has a high turnover rate to match.  We believe not only in fostering a positive work environment, but also in promoting established programs to reward our top producers. Examples of the former include:

  • Full-service branches—processing, underwriting, docs and funding in one place
  • On-staff IT (Information Technology) group
  • Commissions paid every Friday
  • Scenario desk—hugely popular with our originators, this “internal service” allows originators to write scenario e-mails and receive a response (within 24 hours) outlining all of the loan options (prime and subprime).  The LO can e-mail all of the “facts” of the loan (income, assets, credit score, LTV, loan amount, value, doc type, and so on) to the scenario desk; the scenario desk can then use our technology to scan our entire product menu and matrix for programs that will accommodate the required scenario.
  • Subprime subsidiary to help the originators close every type of loan with the best efficiency
  • Personal, individualized coaching and development.

We recommend that our LO’s use a three step process in regards to coaching and training.

1. Todd Duncan.  We believe that Todd Duncan is the best teacher of high trust selling and add value/client for life tools in the mortgage business.  His teachings, events, and book will assist any loan originator in achieving their goals and dreams.

2. Building Champions.  We believe Building Champions is the best one-on-one mortgage coaching company in the industry.  Building Champions uses the tools taught by Todd Duncan and breaks them down one-by-one to ensure the LO masters each tool.

3. Productive Learning & Leisure.  PL&L is a company that specializes in self-awareness.  Becoming more self-aware is key to effective communication and high-trust selling.

  • Regularly scheduled department meetings where issues can be discussed and resolved
  • No micro-management.  We hire experienced, knowledgeable LOs with a client-for-life business plan. These types of LOs do not need to be micro-managed.  For the most part they prefer we allow them to do what they do best within our framework.  We have a V.P. of Sales and owners with an open door policy.  We are available and willing to help in any way we can.
  • New and well-maintained office equipment
  • Healthy and respectful working environment
  • Owners who employ an open-door policy, and who are hands-on in actively leading the company every day

In addition to good pay and traditional benefits, these factors do make a difference in loan originator and other employee retention. A staff that is empowered to do their job in a positive environment with the proper resources and tools will produce better results. In our business, it is all about performance.

Reward programs and personal touches from the top-down are additional ways to keep your employees happy and loyal. Examples of these well-received benefits include:

  • Top producers “club”—includes annual dinner, summer vacation with guests and awards.
  • Quarterly Top LO lunches/top LO Saturday-night dinners.  It is important for us to spend time with our top LOs outside of the office setting.  We prefer to hire people we like and therefore we want to spend social time together.  Our top people have become friends and extended family members.  In addition to enjoying the social time together, we often solicit their opinions on company policies and direction.
  • Retreats/trips
  • In-office massage.  We invite a masseuse to the office and he/she provides our LOs and staff with shoulder and neck massages.  Depending on the number of people in the branch, their visit could last a couple of hours or all day.
  • In-N-Out Burger truck on-site, ice cream socials
· Annual happy hour and dinner, family barbeque and picnics
· Handwritten birthday and anniversary cards from company president
  • Managers “random acts of kindness” to staff (gift certificates, thank-you notes, lunches)
  • Various employee assistance—additional training (within and outside of departments), and salary or commission advances

While some of these examples are more common than others, it’s the “outside of the box” incentives that often are most popular. These and similar gestures of appreciation will go a long way toward keeping your employees satisfied. A contented staff not only tends to stay put, they also improve your reputation on the inside and outside.

Another critical factor in the workplace is balanced life planning.  Happiness breeds success, and without balance, it’s difficult to be happy. One way we take control of time at work is to practice time blocking. For example, one might use mornings to make calls and afternoon to return them, or designate Mondays for current and potential borrowers, and Tuesdays for referral-partner outreach. This is just one way to support being proactive rather than reactive with time in the office.


Every employee wants and needs to know how they are doing.  Providing feedback should be a regular function of every manager’s day.  At UPM we have two formal reviews each year.  One is a performance review and one is a compensation review.  They are performed on or about the anniversary date of the employee’s employment.  The two reviews are performed separately.  The main purpose of the performance reviews is to praise and redirect.  Every employee must be praised on what they are doing well and redirected in areas where they can improve.

In addition to the annual reviews it is important to reward employees who go the extra mile to achieve excellence.  We reward this type of behavior with weekend trips, concert tickets, tickets to theatre and sporting events, gift certificates for movies, department stores and restaurants and with handwritten notes expressing our gratitude for the job they do.

Employees are an investment. And it’s much less expensive to retain current loan originators and employees than to train and indoctrinate new people. When you’ve assembled a team of champions, it just makes good sense to do what it takes to keep them together. In addition, if an LO or employee with desire and commitment is struggling with production, I believe in channeling him or her to coaching in order to help that person improve. With a focus on internal recruiting, you can improve employee loyalty and longevity, boast a low turnover rate, and reap the rewards of high producers who enjoy working for your company.