Debbie Bianucci: Employee Engagement Starts with a Values-Driven Culture


PERSON OF THE WEEK: The mortgage lending business has many unique characteristics that drive how executives set strategy, plan and lead. These factors impact all aspects of the business, particularly talent planning.

To learn more about how mortgage lending executives are approaching the challenging issue of employee and talent retention, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Debbie Bianucci, president and CEO of BAI, a nonprofit independent organization that delivers actionable insights to the financial services industry through research, training, thought leadership and more.

Q: How are the most effective mortgage executives approaching talent?

Bianucci: One of the most impactful strategic decisions a mortgage lender can make is building a culture that truly differentiates the organization in meaningful ways. Perhaps the most important element of a strong culture is a set of clearly defined values that really matter to all stakeholders, especially employees and customers.

Building a values-driven culture isn’t easy but it could be the single most important driver of success in attracting and retaining top talent.

A culture that is built on values provides a strong foundation for the way the company operates and how people work. When employees understand a company’s cultural values, it is easier for them to become aligned with the behaviors that support those values. Successful execution of objectives almost always follows.  

Q: How can mortgage leaders tackle the challenge of building a values-driven culture that is focused on talent management?

Bianucci: Contrary to conventional wisdom, employee engagement is driven by much more than money. An attractive competitive compensation plan is important, but even with employees who are driven primarily by financial achievement, there are many other drivers of engagement and satisfaction.

Ultimately, a lender’s culture makes the biggest difference in how engaged employees can do their best work and achieve the success they desire. There are so many other ways to effectively build engagement of both new and tenured employees.  

For example, mortgage lenders that focus on professional development and career pathing provide an important level of support that goes beyond pay and benefits. Progressive financial services companies are now putting professional development directly in the hands of employees through career pathing.

This doesn’t mean that managers should take a back seat, but instead it’s about providing tools for employees to chart a professional growth course for themselves. A career pathing tool can have a major impact on an employee’s experience and engagement because it facilitates the establishment of clear career goals and identifies for the employee what knowledge, skills and experience are required in the short run and over the long haul.  

Career pathing can serve as a resource for employees, helping them understand what is required to move up or into a new role both in the short and long-term. It reinforces with employees that your organization is taking an active interest in their career growth, driving increased engagement and loyalty.

Furthermore, by taking an active role in employee development, leaders are more likely to find the talent they need for new and open roles within their employee-base, reducing costs typically associated with unfilled positions or a small talent pipeline. 

Q: How does the cyclical nature of the mortgage business impact talent planning?

Bianucci: It isn’t easy to successfully build a values-driven culture in any environment, and the cyclical nature of the mortgage business makes it even more challenging. However, defining the values that drive your culture could arguably be more important in a business that has widely different staffing needs based on the business cycle. The most successful organizations make culture a priority and integrate the defined values into everything they do, starting with recruiting. 

A strong culture builds alignment throughout an organization, making it easier for new hires to become acclimated and productive in a new role. Positive early employee experiences also build engagement which makes a difference in how customers are served, leading to stronger business results over the long run.  

Companies might establish their values as being a high performing culture, building a goal-oriented workplace or focusing on delivering a superb customer experience. What’s most important though is that mortgage leaders find a cultural balance that encourages people to do their best work, see opportunity for growth and feel like an integral part of the company.  

Q: Companies often claim there is a wide gap between top performers and the rest of the employees, which is something the industry has struggled to address. How can mortgage leaders use a values-driven culture to shrink this gap?

Bianucci: When developing a culture with values that differentiate your organization from another, consider looking at training and professional development as a key driver. BAI uncovered in industry research last year that less than 1/3 of financial services employees felt they had the training they needed to be successful in their job.  If this is the case in your organization, there is a big opportunity to have an impact.  

Investing in the development of people will not only make them better in how they serve customers but will also fulfill the need that most employees have – feeling confident that their employer is invested in their professional development and career growth.

When that need is met, it creates an environment in which people feel supported and are more determined to do their best work and grow with the organization. Mortgage lending executives should avoid falling into the trap of focusing only on top or high-potential performers, and instead focus on developing the whole workforce.

By developing a values-driven culture and supporting the growth and development of their workforce, lenders can ensure that they retain and enhance top talent, which, in turn, leads to a strong competitive advantage.

Culture and values really matter.  

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