REQUIRED READING: Many people fondly recall their kindergarten years, when teachers had a seemingly supernatural power to transform children into students while also starting to teach them basic life skills. Interestingly, many of these kindergarten lessons are just as important for today's mortgage bankers.
Forget about what you may have learned in higher education settings. The basics of the kindergarten curriculum are the keystones for success in this industry.
Being able to listen
A difficult task for the kindergarten teacher is training the children when to talk and when to listen. Everyone wants to be heard – and it appears each student has something important to share – but there must be order and discipline. The teacher instructs the students on classroom order, and this begins with listening skills.Â
Some executives, however, have an opinion about every single topic and feel it absolutely must be shared. As a result, meetings sometimes become more of an impromptu speech than a dialogue. Remember: You have two ears, but only one mouth.
Multi-tasking and constant distractions draw our attention away – and this is especially problematic when a borrower is trying to get your attention during a conversation. A common complaint among many borrowers who railed against the mortgage banking industry was the inability of originators and servicers to listen to them.
Some financial services officers, however, are not taking this seriously. One bank executive recently posted on his Facebook page, ‘I'm sitting in a corporate training seminar and falling asleep. Any ideas on how to pass the time?’ While not every meeting and conversation is packed with erudite conversation, it is crucial to pay attention to what is being said. The more you listen, the more you learn – and the more you learn, the more valuable you are to the organization.
Sharing with others
‘Mine’ is a frequent word used by toddlers. Mini-folks seem to believe that possession is 99% of the law, and whoever has the most toys wins. Unfortunately, some adults still have this impression.Â
Many executives – both in this industry and elsewhere – create their own domains or fiefdoms where they control access to information, products or technology. This control gives them power, and power gives them security. However, it is generally more beneficial for the company and the employees to share.
There is another sharing skill often all too familiar – sharing the blame. Too many times, employees want to point a finger, misrepresent information or pull other employees needlessly into a problem. Since appropriate accountability is important, develop effective processes and controls to create clear lines of communication and responsibility.
A recent study by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) showed that 49% of U.S. employees had witnessed misconduct on the job. Former Rep. Michael Oxley, co-sponsor of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and chairman of the ERC board of directors, said, ‘Business ethics is one of the pillars of a strong economy, and in today's environment, it is more important than ever that our nation's business leaders set and meet the highest standards of ethical conduct.’
But playing fair is much more than just being ethical. When we play fair, decisions are made on fact and not emotion. Communication is solid, consistent and transparent. Teamwork is valued and rewarded – and remember that the acronym ‘TEAM’ can also stand for ‘together everyone achieves more.’Â
One turnaround story is from a financial analyst who was a super smart guy, but saw each situation from a strictly pessimistic point of view. He almost seemed to take pleasure in squashing any new initiative or product suggested by others.
This analyst had the opportunity to work on a particular project where a mentor helped him carefully evaluate all the various components. The result was a modification that directly impacted overall line of credit product utilization and profitability. With some education and computations, this analyst presented the tremendous potential of a conservative approach that helped customers and generated an enormous revenue windfall for the firm.
By playing fair and taking the time to review all the information, this financial analyst learned a new approach, gained additional respect from executive management and helped drive significant incremental revenue for the bank.
Almost every kindergarten student is an aspiring artist, architect or superhero. Painting, coloring, drawing, building, and using one's imagination are all fun. But somewhere between childhood and our adult lives, we are made to believe we can no longer have fun. That is simply not true. Even in the highly regulated financial services industry, creativity can be valued and embraced.
Employees need encouragement and freedom to do their jobs. Overly demanding or micromanaging bosses will quickly stifle creativity. In almost any position, some level of creativity can be extremely important. Companies benefit from employees who can creatively solve problems, find solutions to complex issues and develop better processes.Â
Of course, that is not an invitation to ignore the numerous regulations and guidelines that govern mortgage banking. However, companies that focus on rewarding employees for initiatives that decrease expense, increase capacity or increase revenue will prove beneficial to the company's bottom line. As Walt Disney once stated, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’Â
Using kind words
In my early financial services career, a manager noticed that every email I sent had the word ‘thanks.’ It was a simple gesture of gratitude that took just a few extra seconds and shifted my emails from demands to requests, from commentary to constructive feedback.Â
When you take the time to say thanks, people are more willing to help you. With today's sophisticated email systems, nearly everyone has the option for automated signatures – which makes saying ‘thank you’ every time even easier.
It is also important to use kind words during phone communications, video conferences and in-person meetings. If you have gotten out of the habit, consider this an opportunity to recommit yourself to saying kind words.
For many people, the word ‘respect’ will either prompt the sound of Aretha Franklin belting out her signature tune or the laughs created when Rodney Dangerfield comically bemoaned the world's harshness. But what should mortgage bankers think of when they hear ‘respect’?
In the business world, respect means a deep consideration for others. Within an office, this can be put in action by starting and ending meetings on time, promptly responding to emails and voicemails, meeting deadlines and communicating in advance when target dates are at risk.Â
In dealing with the public, it is crucial to show respect to potential and current borrowers. Again, the mortgage banking industry has been pelted with too many complaints from people who feel that they were not being treated with any respect. We need to learn from that mistake!
Everybody helps clean up in the kindergarten classroom. Crayons are put away, papers are stacked neatly, chairs are arranged and everyone participates in the cleanup.Â
Collaboration for cleanup is equally important in the business place. Many corporations use collaboration websites and networks to share information. Ask yourself this: Who is managing and organizing the content on these sites?Â Is there an end-to-end communication plan? Is someone representing the voice of the customer?Â
Please remember that nobody likes to clean up someone else's mess – and, of course, many people blame mortgage bankers for the ongoing economic mess.
Time for recess
When recess is called in kindergarten, children look forward to putting their work aside for energetic activities. This does not happen in the working world.
Many financial services executives have told me about the significant drain their positions put on them, as well as about the physical and mental-health impacts that are created. Recently, a bank executive told me that she never takes a lunch.
Key Organization Systems recently provided an interesting compilation of statistics regarding time management:
- 62% of at-work email users check work email over the weekend, and 19%check it five or more times in a weekend. More than 50% said they check it on vacation;
- 38% of U.S. employees are taking all of their earned vacation days; and
- Senior executives polled said the average length of a lunch break was 35 minutes. They worked through lunch an average of three times per week.
Can you say, ‘burn out’? Maybe the kindergarten kids know something we don't. After all, how many kids are not able to go to the playground because they had to complete a Six Sigma review of their latest crayon drawing? Or which kindergarten student stopped swinging or sliding down the slide to check their Blackberry for the latest financial numbers? There is a time to work and a time to turn off work.
Brian King is president of Wisemar Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C. He can be reached at (704) 503-6008.