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The Art of MLO Happiness: Appreciation, Trust, Sincerity & Honesty 

Jornaya Head of Consumer Finance Mike Eshelman shares tips in National Mortgage Professional Magazine: The Art of MLO Happiness: Appreciation, Trust, Sincerity & Honesty

Read the magazine online here

 

When rates go up, production goes down. When production goes down, mortgage loan officers (MLOs) make less money. When MLOs make less money, they become frustrated, unhappy and start looking for a new job. It’s especially noticeable in areas such as Orange County, Dallas, Kansas City, and Charlotte, where there are plenty of mortgage companies. There you’ll see loan officers jumping from one company to the next searching for the right fit where they can enjoy where they work and make a good living. Losing loan officers and having to train new ones is expensive, time-consuming, and causes negative ripple effects across the production floor because it requires managers to spend time with the new agents instead of time helping existing loan officers find new business and fund their current pipeline.

In this tight market, how can you retain your loan officers? The “best” mortgage companies offer more than just a paycheck. At these companies, loan officers stay put even through rough patches. They have very little turnover and acquire new talent easily when a seat becomes available. The competition assumes their success in talent recruitment and management is due to the loan officer compensation package, which must be paying top dollar commissions. Well, typically, the best places to work aren’t the places paying top dollar because they don’t need to. We’ve learned that there are some simple, yet effective factors at play which are more meaningful to employees … after all, happiness is not all about money.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work  
 

The mortgage industry is incredibly competitive and full of ups and downs resulting in it’s fair share of stress. Mortgage loan officers, especially, have a tough job because they have to hunt for new business in addition to keeping a watchful eye on their pipeline. Since the majority of their compensation is directly tied to monthly loan production, which has a 45-day processing cycle, it’s very difficult to take any meaningful time off to rejuvenate because they’ll lose out on new business and risk loans falling out of their pipeline that they could have helped save. When considering the economic factors outside of their control, it makes sense to work hard when rates are low, “strike while the iron is hot,” then, when rates increase, work harder to keep producing decent numbers. Simply put, mortgage sales is an absolute grind and is not for the faint of heart. 

In this scenario, it just makes sense for mortgage companies to create an environment supportive of the high-stress position. A not-so-secret weapon is a simple “thank you.” Sounds simple, right? “Appreciation” is the thing employees value most when determining how they feel about their company. According to global studies, the majority of people quit their jobs due to a “lack of appreciation,” and if there’s one thing loan officers love, it’s when they feel others in the company (especially their direct manager, care about their loans funding as much as they do).

Thirteen years ago, I was promoted to a sales manager position overseeing a team of fifteen loan officers who were fairly new to the industry. I was passionate about helping them fund as many loans as possible and we worked tirelessly to push their loans in processing, satisfy conditions, and speak with their borrowers when they hit bumps in the road. I spent the weekends reviewing loans that were about to be denied or canceled to see if there was a way to save them. Within two months, we had a top team and received tremendous praise from the executives. We were truly a team and my number one goal was seeing my loan officers exceed their individual goals. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and everyone knew their role on the team.  

But I got greedy … two months later, nearly half of my team quit the day after I jumped all over them for a week of low production thinking it will push them to hit my production goal. I was dead wrong. I lost their trust because they felt unappreciated. The team’s success went to my head and I started to view them as my employees who are working to hit my goal rather than the goal being an aggregate of their individual goals. When I unloaded on them, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back because they knew I valued my goal over their individual goals. 

Build an Environment of Trust

We’ve all heard the saying, “Employees don’t quit their job; they quit their boss,” and I firmly believe that to be applicable to the hyper-competitive and fast-paced world of mortgage lending as well. The foundation of great companies is built on trust. As entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker Seth Godin says: “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.” It’s vital that your employees trust you have their best interest as a top priority. But it’s also important that your team feels you trust them to get the job done.

Tee Leang is the Founder of InspireHire and a long-time in-house Talent Acquisition Strategist for some of Orange County’s top mortgage companies, recently shared his advice for companies aspiring to recruit and retain talented MLOs. “Most companies I work with realize they aren’t losing loan officers because of compensation,” he said. “In fact, some of my clients have phenomenal compensation packages plus free lunches and still have issues keeping loan officers happy. Having a great compensation structure and catered lunches alone will not win in talent acquisition in 2019. It’s about the company culture.” Leang encourages trust, especially when hiring top-level loan officers. “They are great at their craft for a reason, let them conquer their domain. Build a great culture around trust.” 

Be Sincere and Accessible
There are some people that think leadership is about having a big office and coming up with the best ideas. It’s not. It’s about having a big, approachable presence and enabling a culture that fosters great ideas. Having an office and telling everyone you have an open-door policy doesn’t cut it. Many employees are intimidated to walk into a boss’s office, especially if they are not considered a top producer. Executives and managers should constantly walk the floor and engage with as many employees as possible on a regular basis. Ask how they are doing and if they are encountering any hurdles. If a loan officer’s production is low, ask how they are doing personally and if there is anything that can be done to help bring production back up. This provides team unity that employees embrace and appreciate. 

I was fortunate to work with an executive who really embodied sincerity. He would walk up and down the sales floor at least two times a day, which made a positive difference on our outlook. The more you engage with your employees, the more insight you gain. As Leang says, “The free lunches, pool tables and other ‘next level amenities’ is company lust. It fades.” 

Be Honest and Be Direct

Celebrate wins immediately—as they happen! Whether it’s a positive customer review or breaking a record, don’t wait until your next week’s all-hands meeting to recognize the individual. Something as simple as walking up to your superstar with genuine gratitude goes a long way. Do this often and make it loud enough for others to hear. When things didn’t go as planned, such as low production or a negative customer review, have a side chat and try to get to the root of what happened. Celebrate the lesson learned just as you celebrated the wins because that is a win in and of itself. Leaders are listeners, not talkers. It’s your job to work for your employees not the other way around. Allow your employees to help you help them. 

Bottom line, employees want to feel that they are contributing to the company, have a voice to make a difference, that they are appreciated, and that management cares about seeing them succeed and grow in their career. The economics of happiness are such that the more a company has in the above characteristics, the less of a factor compensation becomes creating a much more stable employee base. 
 

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