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Winning Work Cultures

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the November issue of MReport, out now.

As the business environment becomes more competitive, organizations are looking at ways to change their workplace culture not only to remain relevant to a new generation of employees but also to employ a strategy that improves the productivity and profitability from their human capital. A recent article on understanding and developing an organization’s culture by the Society of Human Resource Management stressed having a culture based on a strongly held and widely shared set of beliefs that were supported by strategy and structure. It emphasized three aspects of a strong culture: 1) employees are aware of how top management would like them to respond to any situation; 2) they believe that the expected response is the right one; and, most importantly, 3) employees know they will be rewarded for demonstrating the organization’s values.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for companies who want to be a great place to work to begin the process by hiring people who are the right fit for their culture.

Welcome to Our World

The book How Google Works discusses an important idea— the only way for businesses to consistently succeed is to attract the best ‘smart creatives’ (people who combine technology, business expertise, and creativity) and create an environment where they can thrive.

But the question is, what can a company do to attract the kind of talent that adds to creating a great company culture?

At Finicity, the hiring managers follow a two-step process. The first is using customized assessments and coding challenges, depending on the position, to determine certain skill sets prior to scheduling an interview, depending on the position and skill sets required for it. Once the company has a match of skill sets, the recruitment team sets up the interview.

“At this point, we are able to explore the cultural fit rather than job fit,” explained Jeff Hutchins, Chief People Officer, Finicity. “We love new ideas that address market opportunities and challenges. And once we have one, we move fast to develop it. But we’re also very family oriented and always look to have fun. We try to fully expose our culture to candidates so they can make their own assessment. We truly believe it’s a two-way interview, and it must be a fit for both of us.”

Being open about what the company is and what it isn’t is also helping organizations pick the right person suitable for the job. This includes communicating transparently throughout the hiring process, setting clear expectations from the candidates, and really listening to what they expect from the company, whether it is a big or a small organization.

“We’re open about what MiMutual Mortgage is and what it is not. This allows both the candidate and the company to effectively evaluate the long-term fit with each other. After all, forcing a square peg into a round hole never works out well in the long term,”
said Daniel Jacobs, EVP, National Retail Lending at MiMutual Mortgage, while explaining that communication that always ensured all parties involved knew what to expect next, when to expect it, and what was required of them was the “secret sauce” of the company’s hiring team.

A two-way process doesn’t just include getting the right hires, but also looks beyond the conventional to get the right ones. One such program developed and promoted by Black Knight to get the right fit is a summer internship program in which students from colleges and universities across the country learn firsthand about the variety of roles and responsibilities at the software, data, and analytics provider over the summer holidays. “As valued team members, our interns work side-by-side with full-time employees performing meaningful project tasks that directly impact our day-to-day business,” said Melissa Circelli, Chief Human Resources Executive, Black Knight. “From the start, interns are challenged to demonstrate their strengths and apply their knowledge to help Black Knight achieve its business strategy. Once they graduate from college, many of Black Knight’s interns are hired for full-time positions at the company.”

These Perks Work

If the path to retaining great talent begins with the right hiring process, a robust employee engagement program serves to strengthen it. It ranges from such must-have benefits as competitive compensation, a 401(k) program, and medical insurance to perks like discounted event tickets and employee loan programs. At Carrington Mortgage Services, the former is a popular program that allows employees a shot at owning their dream home. The program includes waivers for processing and/or underwriting fees and a quarter-point discount on their mortgage rate once an employee qualifies for a Carrington home-loan program.

“Spouses and domestic partners are also eligible for this benefit,” said Rick Sharga, EVP, Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “Other offers include $1,000 off closing costs for qualified family members of Associates. And eligible Carrington Associates receive a $500 referral bonus for each referred family member or friend whose loan funds.”

Sharga said that Carrington also offers employees a diverse range of benefits, including access to legal services, comprehensive health and wellness services, discounts on entertainment and gym memberships, as well as savings on appliances and wireless services.

Having existing employees chip in to make the new ones feel comfortable not only engages the new hires but also allows existing employees to lead by setting a good example. RCN Capital employs this method as an important aspect of its onboarding process. Apart from that, the management frequently seeks inputs from employees to ensure decisions are made that keep their best interests in mind. “Employees are involved in numerous parts of the decision-making process within the company,” said Jeffrey Tesch, Managing Director, RCN Capital. “Annual goals are established to create a team environment where all employees come together to work together to a common goal.”

Mortgage Contracting Services (MCS), offers its employees flextime that allows them to choose a work schedule that best fits their life. Full-time employees can arrive at the office anytime between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., allowing departure times between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. “We continue to get rave reviews on flex-scheduling, as it allows our employees to more personally define their work hours – enabling them to maximize their personal time,” said Marti Diaz, SVP, Human Resources at MCS. “We’ve also had many employees share that this flex-time schedule allows them significant savings on childcare because it provides them with more options around pick-up/ drop-off times for their children.”

Creating 'Giver' Cultures

In an article for McKinsey, Adam Grant the author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, makes a case for why some of the greatest companies have what he calls a “giver culture.”

According to Grant, in giver cultures, “employees operate as the high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return. Meanwhile, in taker cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return. Employees help only when they expect the personal benefits to exceed the costs, as opposed to when the organizational benefits outweigh the personal costs.”

Giver cultures also mean those where an individual’s professional development is given high priority, and that’s where some of the best companies in business differentiate themselves.

Apart from its in-house Carrington University, which offers a wealth of classes to help employees learn essential skills and develop their personal and professional goals, Carrington also offers tuition reimbursement from accredited colleges or universities. Through this program, eligible regular full-time employees can be reimbursed up to $5,250 per year, and eligible regular part-time associates may be reimbursed up to $3,000 per year.

Another example that Carrington’s Sharga gives is a program called LeaderSHIFT, a self-mastery program for high potential employees to develop leadership competencies and management skills. “The 2017-2018 LeaderSHIFT graduating class included 85 Associates from across Carrington,” Sharga said.

In addition to paid parental leave, free onsite biometric screenings, flu shots, and diabetes- and maternity-support programs, Black Knight offers its employees to learn and grow through its eLearning portal Skillport that features “hundreds of digital courses and certification programs at any time via desktop and mobile app,” according to Circelli. “These learning opportunities range from company-specific courses to modules on intrapersonal business skills and preparatory materials for technical certifications.”

For employees seeking a more in-depth educational experience, the Black Knight University offers in-person and live-streamed courses covering topics in business and technology. The company has also launched a knowledge-sharing collaboration site called the Black Knight Guru Program, where subject-matter experts act as internal resources for their colleagues. “Our Gurus can help solve problems, explain complex market trends, and demo new and evolving technologies.”

The dress code at MCS might be casual, but the company takes career opportunities for its employees seriously and offers training to get new hires up to speed quickly and a very defined career path for those who are interested in moving up in the company.

Rewards and Recognition

Companies are fast waking up to the power of recognition in retaining employees. Whether it is a policy of promoting from within or having customers and vendors taking part in recognizing an employee’s efforts, organizations across the mortgage industry have some form of rewards and recognition program to celebrate their employees’ achievements. Carrington’s Best Catch program, for example, gives its broker, retail mortgage, and servicing customers the opportunity to recognize employees who provide exceptional service through online feedback to the Associates’ managers.

Finicity’s Hutchins said that team member engagement worked best when individuals felt valued, their work was deemed important, and they felt connected to a company mission that has a meaningful impact on society. The company offers employees unlimited paid time
off, in an industry where, according to Hutchins, late hours and intense commitment to projects is the norm. “Additionally, every year, Finicity recognizes its ‘Most Valuable Finitizens’ from within the company, and treats them to a group trip, with spouses and significant others,” he said.

RCN Capital has embraced the concept of promotion from within. “Numerous employees at RCN have been promoted from within,” Tesch said, giving examples of Erica LaCentra, the company’s Director of Marketing, who started with RCN as an entry-level marketing associate, and Matt Ferrigno, Senior Loan Officer who began his career as an intern with the company. “RCN’s team goals are punctuated with monthly goal check-ins, recognizing company achievements, and milestones, as well as the hard work the employees are putting in along the way,” Tesch said.

“Black Knight’s Champion Award Program allows our senior leaders to recognize employees each month for going above and beyond their job duties to help us continue to provide consummate customer service and technology to the mortgage industry,” Circelli said. “The winner’s entire campus is invited to hear an executive detail the winner’s accomplishments and see the Champion presented with both financial rewards and peer recognition.”

At MiMutual Mortgage, a Team Member Recognition Program allows employees to recognize each other for living the company’s core values. According to Jacobs, “Our President’s Club recognizes top sales production, but we also have a Circle of Excellence recognition program that recognizes key quality achievements of sales and operations, without regard to the amount of production the individual contributed. This allows everyone a path to recognition for their respective achievements.”

Giving to the Community

For many employees, volunteering for social initiatives or giving back to the community is also a rewarding experience, and organizations within the industry have been quick to include them in these initiatives. From helping veterans integrate with the mainstream and giving grants to various foundations to helping in neighborhood and community development, organizations are involving their workers so they can take pride in giving back to the community.

“MCS is committed to supporting veterans’ organizations, as well as organizations for police, firefighters, and first responders. Our employees look forward to the events that we schedule throughout the year where they can volunteer, show their support, or help raise funds for one of these deserving groups,” Diaz said. “We have family events such as our MCS Walk for Heroes, on-site festivals/picnics, fundraisers for local military groups, and special speaking events where our employees have an opportunity to hear from the organizations that we’re helping.”

Safeguard formed the Safeguard Cares Committee in 2011 to centralize and coordinate its fundraising efforts. Made up of employees from Safeguard’s two offices in Ohio and Texas, members are responsible for picking a charity and planning and promoting the fundraising efforts. “Safeguard places a big emphasis on promoting volunteerism in the company’s contractor network as well, supporting monthly volunteer efforts that help to maintain strong and vital neighborhoods, improve quality of life, and provide a safe environment for families to raise children,” said Jennifer Anspach, AVP of Human Capital, Safeguard Properties.

Both Black Knight and Carrington have robust programs to help veterans integrate with the mainstream. While Black Knight has a special hiring process for veterans, Carrington has supported housing for veterans through its Carrington Charitable Foundation (CCF). “CCF’s Veteran-focused Signature Programs focus on providing mobility, stability, purpose, and prosperity for veterans returning from post-9/11 conflict battlefields,” Sharga said.

Carrington House is one such program which provides housing near key military hospital centers for families of injured servicemen and women during the difficult post-injury recovery process. Through this program, donated homes from Bank of America are remodeled and readied for veterans and their families by the Carrington Companies, while other homes are new builds. “The Carrington Companies repair, renovate, and build custom, adaptive homes in communities across the United States to meet the unique needs of wounded Veterans so they can live independently and comfortably,” Sharga said. “Since 2011, proceeds from the annual CCF Golf Classic have raised more than $16 million to support veterans. So far, Carrington House has built 19 homes for deserving veterans.”

Black Knight’s veterans-only career fair and its support for Operation New Uniform helps veterans make the transition to private-sector work.

It All Begins At The Top

The transformation to become a great place to work, like any other change in a company, must begin at the top. The latest Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) CEO survey revealed how important it was for CEOs across the globe to hire and retain top talent to compete in an increasingly digital world.

“But they’re not just improving compensation packages, it’s crucial to create the right employee experience too,” the survey indicated, with 86 percent of the CEOs saying they were modernizing their working environment and 77 percent saying they were implementing flexible ways of working to recognize how today’s top talent wants to work. The same survey found that 67 percent of CEOs agreed they had a corporate responsibility to retain employees, especially those whose jobs were automated.

Whether it is best hiring practices or fostering a culture of giving back, employee engagement begins with the top management. From something as simple as sharing the company’s vision via live video feed to all employees nationwide on a regular basis, to actively interacting with employees every month, leadership is driving employee retention from the top.

“We use a variety of communication tools to ensure our team members are never in the dark,” MiMutual Mortgage’s Jacobs said. “Semi-Annual Corporate Rallies help via live video feed to all employees nationwide. This is our opportunity to share our CEO’s vision, our current corporate goals, our outlook on the industry and the company, make important announcements, and to celebrate our successes together through various forms of recognition.”

Steve Smith, Finicity’s CEO, takes an active role in making sure all employee voices are heard. “One example of this is that every month he holds a ‘birthday’ lunch, where team members whose birthdays are in that month meet with him,” Hutchins said. “He answers their questions and solicits their input for the company culture, as well as discussing business initiatives.”

At Black Knight, its mentor program matches mentors and mentees based on common interests and potential for knowledge transfer. “These relationships are cultivated through regular meetings, formal networking, and community service events,” Circelli said.

Listening to employees is also an integral part of leadership engagement. According to Anspach, the company’s Connecting With Respect initiative was born from Safeguard’s employee-satisfaction surveys which showed that, although Safeguard has a solid corporate culture foundation, more could be done to support Safeguard’s corporate value of “Respecting our employees and contractors.” Today, the Respect Initiative class is mandatory for all employees.

“The Connecting With Respect initiative spurred several spin-off initiatives, including the leadership team’s Code of Cooperation and Safeguard’s Culture Code. The Code of Cooperation guides leadership’s interactions with one another and with all staff,” Anspach said. “The five points of the Culture Code were voted on by employees and promote behaviors, attitudes, and approaches important to defining the company’s corporate culture and creating a great workplace.”

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha is an independent writer and editor. A former Online Editor and currently a reporter for MReport, she is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her master’s degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Houston, Texas.

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