What leadership skills are necessary to motivate your team in the current business/economic environment?
Motivating Teams In Today’s Mortgage Market
Fostering motivation and morale in a hybrid work environment of office and telework is a tricky proposition. We’ve all heard the expression, “You don’t quit a company, you quit a boss.” That is both more and less true in today’s complex combination of working in-office and remotely.
During the past couple of years, more fully remote positions were created due to COVID. Our market, in large part, was truly open to hiring workers with little to no expectation of travel. Companies, leaders, and people have shifted around significantly, and even more so during the “Great Resignation.”
Employees were truly quitting companies and not their bosses. New-hire turnaround seemed to increase as well, with the availability of new positions around every corner. If someone found the first few weeks or months at a company wasn’t a great fit, or if they found a slightly more competitive wage somewhere else, they jumped ship.
Being able to not only withstand change, but embrace it, is a quality that can be fostered within a team when you walk the walk.
In the last couple of months, however, the situation has changed. With an increase in interest rates leading to a tightening of belts across the mortgage industry, and even the closure of a handful of prominent lenders, more people are staying put. For myself, I am incredibly fortunate not only to hold onto my existing team during this time of transition, but also to grow it by exercising flexibility and support for them.
In today’s hybrid work environment, effective communication is paramount for leaders. Whether it is one-on-one by phone, email or online meetings, it helps me understand an individual team member’s productivity and emotional well-being. Still, it remains a balancing act to make myself available as a sounding board and allow my team to tackle tasks in the order and manner they prefer, while also trusting that the tasks are completed in a timely manner and with a quality that meets my expectations.
Regular management and team meetings help me to understand the challenges and hurdles my team faces and the support they require from me, whether it is pushing for enhancements or clearing obstacles as they escalate. That support leads to high morale, a positive attitude and the trust and motivation that continues to help my team perform at peak levels.
I also believe in leading by example. Outreach and introductions are a wonderful way to both welcome new people into the company and build positive lasting working relationships. I build my own network within our organization through a willingness to expand my knowledge and skill sets.
In doing so, I’m giving my team the confidence to do the same, so that they, too, have the resources and resolve to ask questions to those who may be in a better position to answer them. I find that being able to not only withstand change, but embrace it, is a quality that can be fostered within a team when you walk the walk.
That said, I reached out to my peers across the industry to find out how they’re handling the current challenges asking:
Maria Lamas VP, Assistant General Counsel, Mr. Cooper
The ability to create a true partnership is one of the best ways to motivate teams you support and work with on a daily basis. The key is not to solely advise on legal matters or to provide an array of options without clear direction, but to work with your team to identify which options make sense for the business unit, the company and your customers, and to find creative ways to achieve solutions together.
Leaders must also make sure all team members have a voice and that they are prompted to provide input. There may be times when team members will not share ideas or collaborate because they don’t feel comfortable doing so. As a leader, you have to ensure everyone is given a voice and feels relaxed in a team environment, so that they not only feel confident in themselves and their ideas, but also become active participants in meetings and discussions. Diversity in a team is a potent asset when you take advantage of the backgrounds, points of view, and experiences of all team members, not just a few.
One last but important factor is to be honest about company limitations and goals, including market projections and regulatory challenges, and to be transparent about the ways you and the team are working to succeed in this environment.
By making clear goals and engaging all members of the team within an open environment, your team will feel they are a true partner in what is happening in the company and within your own department. Most importantly, they will play a more active role in their everyday work life, which ultimately benefits the organization.
Marissa M. Yaker, Esq.
Deputy General Counsel — Regulatory Affairs, Padgett Law Group
Because the work environment changed drastically during the pandemic, most of the leadership skills that we were utilizing in 2020 and prior have gone out the door. The industry has transitioned to a telework environment or a hybrid office/remote schedule, thereby changing the skills and techniques leaders use to motivate staff.
For example, most of us had to become familiar with video calls and working from home, and dealing with the stresses that this brought. Most importantly, we had to adjust to not seeing our work families in-person daily. However, we still needed to show employees that we believe in what we are doing and that we care about them as professionals and as people, just like we did before the pandemic.
In the beginning of the pandemic, people needed to be reassured that they had job stability and that everything was going to be OK. Professionally and personally, leaders had to adjust and be more creative, flexible, and most importantly focus on their employees during an unprecedented time.
For many reasons, motivation remains one of the harder leadership skills. The key is that leaders must be motivated themselves, and truly believe in and be passionate about what they are doing. If you are not motivated as a leader, how are you able to motivate others? If, on the other hand, you are motivated, the second part — motivating others — should come naturally.
Because we have the ability to empower but also disempower our teams, how we show up as leaders is essential.
When you are personally driven and enthusiastic about your company, you’re better able to speak to the success of the organization and explain why everything we do has a purpose. Most importantly, you’re better able to provide the “big picture” that we all contribute to the success and failures of the company. If an employee feels that they are making a difference, and that their voice is heard, they are much more likely to be motivated. Maximizing motivation promotes employee job satisfaction and business success!
Leading by example and servant leadership are the best ways to lead a high performing team. Amazing leaders love what they do and love those they serve—both customers and the people they work with. Valuing individuals and their unique superpowers can motivate the entire team and bring everyone to the next level.
While communication skills have always been crucial, many of us are still working remotely or in hybrid environments, so communication and connecting with our teams is more important now than ever. Great leaders know how to leverage all the tools that are available to them, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other video conferencing systems, to build stronger connections with their teams.
The best leaders that I have seen also have a strategic view and a plan in place, and understand how to deploy the tactical aspects of that plan in what they are asking their team to do. That includes listening to ideas from the team for continuous improvements. The best leaders are also adept at mentoring their team to achieve their goals and prioritize promoting people from within the organization. They realize that rewards and recognition are important to all team members and lead to better employee retention.
In the end, happy professionals provide better customer service, which eventually leads to happier customers — which is the foundation for success.
Executive Vice President — Head of Fulfillment, Truist
There is an array of leadership skills necessary to motivate teams in hybrid work environments created since the pandemic. My primary focus includes self-awareness, transparent communication, and accountability and productivity.
Self-awareness requires an honest assessment of work styles and how they translate to hybrid work environments. Because we have the ability to empower but also disempower our teams, how we show up as leaders is essential. Leaders who recognize problems but focus on solutions typically use emotional intelligence (EI) to self-regulate and better understand team members, which promotes effective team dynamics. As an example, a leader with strong EI skills will put in place opportunities for human connection, such as face to face or video conference meetings, which may lead to cues from their teammates that they’re not happy. Only by finding problems within the team can leaders achieve a mutually beneficial solution and show an appreciation for the team in its entirety.
The second skill is open, trusted communication with demonstrated transparency. Prior to the pandemic, I enjoyed visiting different fulfillment centers each quarter to listen and understand issues first-hand, which prompted action and built trust. In our new hybrid working environment, I host virtual meetings with front line teammates without their leaders to ensure clear lines of open communication without subconscious barriers. I also attend intentional meetings scheduled and structured by the team. Said differently, I meet the team where they are and encourage their feedback to produce an engaged and motivated staff instead of expecting them to fall back into traditional patterns.
Thirdly, leaders must drive accountability and performance in new and creative ways. In most companies, leaders walk the floor and visit teammates in their cubicles. The pandemic forced leaders to trust their teammate’s commitment to performance. This means they must clearly articulate their expectations and how team performance will be measured, and let everyone track the team’s performance. These actions not only create greater trust, accountability and transparency, but also a sense of purpose and achievement for the team, which in turn creates more meaningful working relationships.
With any workplace model, driving a culture of purpose, passion, and care for teammates produces highly engaged teammates. However, in a hybrid model these same pillars are even more critical. To achieve the goals we set forth, I also like to emphasize greater collaboration around teammate development and empowerment. Listening to each other and creating solutions together for the challenges ahead will not only get us through the change curve, but will forever create more successful interactions with our teams.
This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine September 2022 issue.