Managing Opportunity

“The key to realizing any opportunity, is having the right people put a workable plan together that can turn it into a viable reality.”

Last month I wrote about managing teams through adverse situations. Overcoming unexpected obstacles is critical to achieving necessary results in mortgage lending. Dealing with adversity is only one important part of the business, however. Seizing opportunity is another. Taking advantage of opportunities as they come to light can be difficult, but it does not need to be elusive. There are plenty of opportunities to grab if they can be recognized, corralled, and executed effectively.

Managing your team and resources to take on opportunities can present a challenge. It can be hard to get managers and employees to move out of comfort zones and accept new opportunities. You may have heard comments such as, “We cannot do that, we don’t have the time,” or “We are already doing too much, how can we do that too?” Opportunities to build stronger, better organizations are everywhere, and are there for the taking. In my view, the number of available opportunities almost always exceeds our vision. There are simply more than we realize. If we could only organize ourselves to exploit them, we could see improvements in all aspects of our business. To successfully take advantage of opportunity, you must first recognize it. Next, get your arms around it, ensure that everyone knows what you are trying to do, and define and execute thorough operational plans. This requires committed, effective leaders.

Recognizing Opportunity
Everyone on the team must keep their eyes and minds tuned for opportunity. Opportunities abound and seizing them can result in reduced costs, improved processes, the development of new markets, or the acquisition of a new company, branch, or strategic partner. Everyone in a mortgage company, department, or branch, has a lot to do. But no matter how busy they are, everyone has the responsibility to look for opportunities. Emphasize to your employees that everyone’s job description includes finding and implementing new opportunities. Operational managers and staff must always be looking for ways to improve processes and reduce costs. Production managers and staff have the same responsibility. Management time needs to be spent asking for and reviewing new opportunities and recognizing contributors. Unexpected new business avenues abound. Everyone should be on the lookout for the serendipitous, but in recognizing possible opportunities, it helps to have a clear understanding of where your business plan is taking the company, and the immediate and short-term needs. It pays for everyone to know the company’s game plan, especially for growth, so they can better determine whether or not a new opportunity fits into the overall direction.

Put Your Arms Around It
Too often we jump at a perceived opportunity without thinking it through. How big is the potential, really? It may be an expense disaster waiting to happen. These opportunities can take the form of a new potential branch acquisition, a few new producers, or a new product, or software application that can do wonderful things. Or so it seems.

Put a financial pencil to every potential investment. Estimate, as best you can, probable revenues and cost. It pays to create a definitive financial plan or proforma for every new venture, in order to determine if there is real value before committing resources. There is a very good chance that you will discover that it will be a long time, if ever, before any bottom-line profit is ever realized.

When you decide to seize a new opportunity, set very clear expectations for results and when you expect to realize them. Then, hold the responsible team accountable. Long-term investments can be great, but know how long it will take to be profitable, and how great the upside potential is before getting started.

Also, evaluate how well each new opportunity fits into the overall strategic direction. Everything should mesh well together. If it doesn’t seem to fit, the opportunity may not be a good move.

It is important to prioritize the opportunities you wish to pursue. There are good ideas and there are great ones. Resources, including staff, are not unlimited. Opportunities need to be prioritized to execute the ones with the greatest potential first.

Developing Operational Tactics
The key to realizing any opportunity, is having the right people put a workable plan together that can turn it into a viable reality. Every area of a company is typically involved in executing a new opportunity. For everything to work smoothly, key members of the team must meet and review how the direct and supporting process will work. This always reminds me of an old boss of mine, who is a true mortgage-banking icon. He didn’t care what it took to get something into the field. His message was always, “Take no excuses, just get it done now.” His point was a good one and it was well taken. Too often there are human and physical barriers that are thrown in the way of initiating anything new. I suppose you can take the view that an inch given can be a yard taken. Speed of execution in our competitive mortgage-lending environment requires new opportunities to be quickly rolled out. While speed is important, quality of execution is critical. A knowledgeable, cross-functional team will insure that no processes and critical functions are forgotten. The time to get something executed may vary by the size of the organization. But, always set a specific timeframe, review and execute. Be thorough, but avoid unnecessary bureaucracy at all costs.

Creating Clear Communications
In order to take advantage of a new opportunity, its execution must be exquisite. Opportunities often require fast action. Sometimes speed is what creates the opportunity in the first place. I’ve seen many good ideas and good intentions fail because the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

It is critical that everyone knows about changing priorities, new directions, and new opportunities. You cannot afford for new efforts to be derailed, because key people on the team don’t know the plan and/or what’s at stake. Once the decision is made communicate to everyone on the team.

Leaders Make It Happen
It takes a team of people working together to turn opportunity into reality. It also takes leaders. There are many points of truth in every organization, where employees look to other employees for direction, commitment, and leadership. Leadership is not just a top-down thing, or something limited to only a few.

There are leaders throughout an organization, whose active involvement in anything new is critically important. Understand and cultivate these leaders. They are key to successfully implementing new ideas and new opportunities. In my book, managing opportunity is far more important than managing adversity well. Your organization can get stronger handling adversity, and doing it well will maximize what you have. However, it is really only improving the status quo. Managing opportunity is bigger and ultimately more valuable. It addresses growth and building a better and bigger company. Both results are critical in today’s competitive mortgage lending marketplace.

by Jerry Baker