When you’re building a company, or even a single branch of a company, you’re really building a community. We can pretend that compensation plans and human resource recruiters populate our operations, but in reality, people join a company for the opportunity they think it represents, but only stay if they quickly feel like part of the community that company has created. If they don’t feel it, they cycle through just as quickly as they came. Being part of a community means that you share the same core values. It’s the way we build societies, and it’s the glue that holds people together when things get rough. Our industry has certainly seen its darker days over the past few years. The things that have held our company together and kept it growing are our values. One of the most important of these we call “relationship.” Like many other firms competing in our space, our business is built on a number of core values, and one should never really be considered greater than another as they must all work in tandem. But for us at Benchmark, the relationship is the primary core value. Every decision we make is based on the relationship we have with those with whom we work, even the decision to get into a relationship in the first place. When we choose new employees, business sources and new branch partners, we carefully evaluate the potential for the future relationship. We find out what the new person stands for, what they want to be known for, and then determine if it fits with our own goals for those things. It’s quite simple, but so important. We don’t waste time trying to determine whether the relationship will always be trouble-free. We all struggle in our relationships from time to time. Conflicts occur; nothing is perfect. In a good relationship, these problems get worked out. But if the core values aren’t shared between the people in a particular relationship, it will never work out. That’s why we don’t hire people casually and then keep them when they do their job but don’t really share our values. Our standard is set higher than that and we cannot compromise it. The first benefit that comes from making the relationship itself a core value is that you blur the line that people put between their business and personal lives. People who live most of their lives in one of these two worlds are missing out on the many advantages of living right between them. By living in the middle, people get the very best of both lives. We work with people we know and care about. We know each other’s families. We do things together for fun that enhance our working relationship. Over time, every employee of our companies has the realization that they’re having fun while working. The line between their two worlds has dissolved and they become fully engaged in the work of building the company, for themselves and for the other people they care about. We often fly our underwriters out to our branches because we want these professionals to build deeper relationships with the people they work with, the people who depend upon them to get deals done. They are excited about going out and being with the team that they are supporting every day. Over time, these groups build a relationship based on common values. Because the relationship is a key value, it builds faster. People begin to play with their hearts. They become fully invested in the company and are unwilling to leave because they know they are already something so deep. They have a home that gives them what they need. They trust the people they work with, because they know them and they know what they stand for. By adopting this core value, a company or branch will attract the best people and keep them. It creates stronger teams that are more effective, and it creates a work experience where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do. Jim McMahan is president and Stewart Hunter is core values officer for Dallas-based Benchmark Mortgage. You can find them both online at www.iambenchmark.info.