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In a world full of market jargon and business ideology, the characteristics of a great leader can seem rather nebulous. Luckily, growing research has been zeroing in on these qualities and how they can positively affect everything from employee morale to productivity and company profitability. Mortgage managers take note: Your role in the company is way more important than you think.
That’s the good news. The bad news is a bit harder to swallow.
A study on the State of the American Manager, released this April from the Gallup Organization, states that the majority of managers in the U.S. today are wrong for the job. The research organization says while current managers may have possessed talent in their previous roles—say, as a marketer, an underwriter or a loan officer—it’s not the same as having the talent to manage employees.
In fact, Gallup found that approximately all organizations “Fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the manager job a whopping 82 percent of the time.” Of those professionals placed in managerial roles, just 35 percent are engaged in their workplace—a troubling and startling realization for companies who are trying to improve operations.
If that number seems concerning, then consider how most companies conduct hiring. Gallup says far too many organizations base their hiring decisions on outdated modes of reward and succession, such as past experience or tenure. The result is wasted time spent on managerial training, and “trying to fit square pegs into round holes,” rather than time spent successfully leading employees. According to research estimates, these so-called “bad” managers cost the U.S. economy $319 to $398 billion, annually—clearly not chump change.
There’s good reason to consider talent when evaluating managerial candidates. According to the study, companies that hire managers based on talent see a 48 percent increase in profitability, a 22 percent rise in productivity, a 20 percent increase in employee engagement scores, a 17 percent increase in customer engagement scores, and a 19 percent decrease in employee turnover. They are also more likely to be “brand ambassadors,” and understand and fulfill a company’s mission.
“Organizations that choose managers based on talent [have] a greater chance of choosing high performers,” the study states. “Naturally talented managers know how to develop and engage their employees. They create enthusiastic and energized teams that focus on moving their company forward and doing right by their customers.”
Great employees start with great leaders
When it comes to establishing a successful mortgage business, many companies tend to look to their workforce to lay the foundation. While attracting and retaining talented employees is certainly a critical component for any operation, instituting great leadership is the true key to success.
Gallup says great managers possess the following five talents: They motivate their employees; assert themselves to overcome obstacles; create a culture of accountability; build trusting relationships; and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company. They aren’t obstructed by a sense of entitlement or office politics, and truly believe in their company’s promise.
I often relate this idea to a popular meme: On one side of the animation a boss sits behind his desk dictating his demands to a line of employees pulling the bureau with a rope; on the other side of the image, the boss stands at the front of the line leading the way. It’s easy to see which strategy is more effective.
Obviously, not everyone is going to be born with managerial talent. And hard work and dedication—the way most people climb rank—still has its place in the industry. But with less than one-third of employees engaged in their job, and nearly one in two quitting to escape bad management, we must do more to improve and ensure effectual leadership.
On a macro-level, it’s important for managers to remember that our business truly affects people’s lives. Purchasing a home is one of the biggest decisions a person can make—and we should feel honored that customers choose us to help them find the best mortgage to make it a successful one. We’re not selling a product, we’re selling a livelihood.
Engaged employees help spur innovation within the company, generate ideas and better work processes, and create new customers. In the mortgage business, word of mouth is still so important, and employees are often the ones coming face to face with our customers. It’s absolutely crucial to have engaged employees on the frontline.
Developing managerial skills
With the constant changes in the housing and mortgage marketplace, it can be easy for employees to get lost in shuffle. Since managers have a direct impact on employees, something Gallup calls the “cascade effect,” it’s important to get on the ground level and understand what employees need from their managers to be successful. That’s where developing talented leadership can make all the difference.
In an earlier, separate Gallup workplace study, employees were surveyed to discover the managerial behaviors deemed most effective in creating and retaining employee engagement. They included reliable and meaningful communication; performance management and focusing on employees’ strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Let’s break down what that means:
►Reliable and meaningful communication: A combination of face-to-face, phone or electronic communication email spurred the most engagement among employees. Those who reported consistent communication with their managers felt more safe and comfortable to share their ideas and information with their teams. They also shared more about their personal lives, which lead to managers building genuine relationships with their employees, in return. This so-called “soft” leadership style was responsible for increases in employee retention and work productivity. Leaving a minute or two at the end of a meeting for employees to discuss non-work activities, or stopping an employee at the water cooler to say hello, are simple ways to ignite meaningful communication.
►Performance management: One of the biggest complaints among employees in the study had to do with frustrations over unclear company or departmental goals. Helping team members set their priorities and performance goals can alleviate that tension, so employees can focus on the work at hand. “They need to completely comprehend what they should be doing and how their work fits in with everyone else’s work—especially when circumstances change,” says Gallup. In the mortgage business, change happens often, so taking the time to reevaluate strategies and figuring out how employees can put them into action should be a top priority.
►Focusing on strengths over weaknesses: Only about 25 percent of employees feel their managers are “on their side.” Gallup suggests creating a “strengths-based culture,” where managers focus on employees’ strengths rather than weaknesses to increase employee engagement. When “bad” managers continually harp on a person’s weakness, they end up discouraging employees and creating low morale. Employees’ shortfalls can usually be improved upon with training, and focusing on one’s strengths allows employees to realize their roles faster. This leads to employees who more strongly embrace their roles within an organization, which in turn leads to higher productivity. Once again, it’s important to, maintain open lines of communication and get to know employees on a deeper level, so these strengths can be brought to the surface.
All of these suggestions can sound a bit prescribed, but that’s exactly why it’s important to hire managers who naturally possess these talent and skills. And when that’s not possible, it’s important for those of who hold senior management roles to foster a culture that allows for managerial and employee growth.
Remember: Leadership isn’t a position—it’s an active and continuous pursuit.
Chad Jampedro is the president of GSF Mortgage Corporation, a Milwaukee Top Workplace. With nearly 20 years in business, GSF Mortgage has embraced the next generation of homeowners with its GOGSF brand, continuing its dedication to flexible and transparent lending. With more than 140 team members in 26 locations across the Midwest and East Coast, GSF Mortgage keeps “Lending in Your Favor.” Chad may be reached by phone at (262) 373-0790 or e-mail [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.