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Authentic Alignment

This piece originally appeared in the August 2022 edition of MReport magazine, online now.

As the pandemic changed the dynamic of businesses worldwide, it forced many to transition themselves and their employees to remote work, leaving many organizations scrambling to adapt. Hiring and retention became an issue for some before, during, and after the pandemic. Paul Gigliotti, COO of Pinnacle Home Loans and CEO and Co-Founder of Axis Lending Academy took his time to discuss his experiences throughout and after the pandemic, amid an unpredictable market and mortgage industry.

Regarding the mortgage industry, what were the main obstacles you found surrounding hiring and retention post-pandemic?
Can I comment on that backwards? What I think is—the hiring process is going to project and go forward. Twenty-five to thirty-five percent of our nation’s workforce are the millennial generation right now, and by 2025, that number is projected to be up to 75%; that’s only three years away. As organizations, we must be ready to meet the needs of this generation, which has very different needs, desires, and goals than we are used to. This generation wants alignment with their companies’ core values. They are looking for an employer that has a strong concentration on mental well-being, supports the employee with a concentration on personal goals, and has a strong concentration on continuing education and development.

With that being said, I think the journey or process created and implemented for employee recruitment, culture growth, and employee retention has to be as robust as the organization’s consumer journey. Magic really happens when those two journeys or experiences are the same, this is what creates the authentically aligned experience. In order to create this authentic experience, I think we need to start figuring out who we are as organizations.

We need to start having that conversation outwardly, not just for the consumer, but also to keep growing and maintaining the team that we’ve created.

This authentic journey would create a cohesive culture and an amazing experience for the consumer. As organizations, let’s concentrate on workflow, company culture, employee growth, wellness programs, and employee education just as much as we concentrate on the consumer experience and service, to the delivery of product. Going forward, organizations will need to make that apparent as they’re looking to grow and scale. This culture growth will not only provide for a cohesive culture and improve the bottom line, but it will also support a more inclusive culture.

Part of the reason why this is so crucial for organizations, is because the pandemic created the ability for remote working.

How have factors such as the increase in migration trends, remote work, and the Great Resignation impacted your ability to find and keep the talent you need?
My head wants to explode like one of those little emojis on your phone when I think about the Great Resignation, because we’re seeing such an uptick of inflation. I get that people are burned out. I get that we’re thrown into this chaotic world of everything occurring at home with little kids and our jobs. So, to answer your question, I think that, because of the pandemic and new landscape of remote working, what individuals need to feel right now is a sense of community in the workplace; a sense of understanding what people’s needs are.

What I’ve found to be beneficial at the organization that I support and run, as a leader, is to create relationships with every single team member, to engage and grow with not just other leaders or middle management, but really talking to people about what is going on in their day-today, about how things are going outside of work, creating a bond. Focus on ensuring the success of every individual in your organization.

I think that we lost something when we, as a society, went through the pandemic and were all moved into remote work. We lost that sense of community.

In regard to retaining your team, it’s important for organizations to start creating that sense of community within. I often look at work-life balance as extremely important. Be 100% of who you are in and at work, because if you look at the concept of a whole-self approach, being integrated as an individual provides this continuous flow of energy and this continual momentum, as opposed to just being part of who you are only 50% of the time.

How have remote work and hybrid models impacted your training and onboarding process?
I don’t think it’s affected it much. It’s required remote workers to create that bond or that culture as individuals that we’re lacking from being all together, right? Specifically, when you’re talking about how you keep your employees engaged with you, what are some things that you can do, so that a team member feels like they’re a part of something, and so they know who they’re working with and for? All three of the organizations that I’m a leader of, own, or run, have fully remote or hybrid offices. There are some interesting things you can do to create, grow, and have fun together as a team.

I do a lot of meetings that I like to call “brain flow meetings.” They’re just brainstorming; you just whiteboard ideas about how to create lift within a department or division. What are we going to do with education and wellness?

What type of team building event would employees like to do? I

like that concept of creating a bond or a community within an organization. Individuals start to get excited that you want to hear their ideas, because they feel that their voice matters. Feeling heard as an employee is important.

Have you seen any changes in productivity or engagement with team members working remotely versus in office?
I have not at all, and I might be very fortunate. I don’t know if it’s because of the type of leader that I am, or that I focus on ways to level up my organization that concentrate on empowering team members, but I have not noticed a drop in productivity. If anything, in all three organizations, I’ve seen an uptick in productivity. I’ve seen individuals that can sit back and, as long as there’s a culture where you’re creating that sense of community where they feel like they can pick up a phone or jump in a Zoom meeting … as long as you’ve created a collaborative environment where that water cooler talk can still happen from a positive perspective, that productivity will increase.

I’ve seen a lot more clarity on innovation and a lot more direction with enhancing processes and procedures being more effective, with less paperwork and more online work, which results in fewer errors, usually.

You touched on this a bit, but how are the needs and requests of your job candidates changing?
Industry leaders and hiring managers are seeing more and more potential employers ask about DE&I and ESG initiatives as well as professional development and growth initiatives. Your new team members are looking at organizations and asking, how are you ensuring my growth while I’m ensuring yours? What type of programs have you implemented to further my development and educate me? What exactly is my career path? Where do you see me in a couple of years? If I’m applying for XYZ job, what can my expectation be? And my response is, it’s the individual relationships with those employees that are created between peers and management that are changing as well.

I love employees that come say, “In two years, I want to be here, but I need to learn how.” For me, that’s amazing, because it’s part of their growth trajectory. It goes back to the concept that we were talking about—a whole-self approach. I am the very same person to my husband and children as I am to my teammates, including my leadership team. I hold the same level of expectations and provide the same morals, values, and energy to both. My team feels

this, they know this, and they appreciate and respect this way of leadership. As a leader, we have to be forward-thinking with what the next working generation is looking for.

How are you providing advancement opportunities within your organization?
Educate, educate, educate. It’s all about educating your team members and providing knowledge on said program or product. You empower them to be better. I love employees that start crafting and building their long-term goals in their job.

You’re not supposed to design their career path, but what you’re supposed to do is provide a tool to help guide their career paths. It’s important for organizations to concentrate on education, not just training.

You’re providing the tools to educate themselves on what it means to be self-aware or to be self-empowered. What does it mean to create relationships with a comprehensive understanding of not having a triangular relationship? As leaders, we need to provide growth for our team. That’s how we advance.

What are you looking for in an ideal candidate?
The whole-self approach that I’m talking about with Axis Lending Academy. Our purpose is to provide our placement partners who hire our graduates with individuals educated in our industry that understand everything from A to Z. We also have our learners participate in our wellness program. The reason why the wellness program was founded was based on my own personal experiences and what I went through as a diverse individual.

When I created Axis, the mission and purpose was to bridge the D&I education gap. In order for our learners to be 100% successful, part of my responsibility was to provide the tools to tear down the walls in that box and put them on an even playing field with everybody else. The concept of our wellness program and wholesale approach is to educate our learners on what to do and truly empower these individuals to understand their full potential and live by that every single day. Education in the mortgage, servicing, and lending industry is almost second, if not neck-and-neck, with the importance of our wellness program.

In terms of diversity in hiring and retention, what would you like to see from the industry going forward?
What I’d like to see is that diversity isn’t a thing anymore. That it’s just there; it’s normal. Just come out and be who you are; that’s my hope.

I’m a board member with the California MBA, and when I’m sitting on that board, I’m not the only diverse person. “We’re only at 30% diversity, so we’re doing good.” I’d like the numbers to stop. We should all be open to a different way of thinking by creating a culture that’s inclusive, and it will happen if you build it.

About Author: Demetria Lester

Demetria C. Lester is a reporter for DS News and MReport, with more than six years of writing experience. She has served as Editor-in-Chief at Northlake College and staff writer at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington. She has covered events such as the Byron Nelson, Pac-12 Conferences, the Women in Dallas Film Festival, to freelance work with the Dallas Wings and D Magazine. Currently located in Dallas, Texas, she is an avid jazz lover and reader. She can be reached at [email protected]
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