So, I may have mentioned, in passing, that my daughter went off to college. Actually, I've written a few columns on the college selection process, so I feel I should have at least one column about her actual departure.
She worries when I write about her. She imagines that I might say something embarrassing. Silly girl!
This column isn't going to be about her at all. It's about how her mother and I are dealing with her departure. And maybe it's a bit about how we need to handle major change in the mortgage industry, too.
You see, we dropped off my daughter at the University of Michigan in late August. This drop-off was not nearly as paparazzi-friendly as Madonna dropping off her little one, Lourdes, at the same school at the same time.
In fact, no one even recognized me, despite the fact that my picture is in National Mortgage News every week.
My daughter did inadvertently quote Madonna as I went into my "Dad routine" telling me "Poppa, don't preach" as she kissed me good-bye and pushed me gently toward her dorm room door.
In any case, we left her to face the pleasures and perils of Ann Arbor and, like all parents who find themselves in this situation, we left hoping for the best and excited about this next stage in her life. And that's where this story takes an unusual turn
My wife and I didn't actually get around to leaving. You see, I've been traveling on business and don't plan to return home to Florida until I have to travel to the MBA's annual convention later this month.
And my wife is along for the ride, learning far more about mortgage banking than she cares to. We just keep coming up with excuses for not returning to our empty home.
I have branded this time in our life as our #emptynestavoidancetour (yes, I even created a hashtag for it so you can follow the adventure on social media or find me on Facebook — by the way, my daughter taught me about those things).
Now, don't think for a second that this means we are on vacation. You see, I travel a ton for work anyhow, so I just coordinated a series of client visits that span a two-month period, including stops in D.C., Dallas, Chicago and Ann Arbor (maybe we might have visited a couple of times already, but it's not true they are installing a helipad for this helicopter parent).
If anything, I am working harder, and maybe even as hard as my daughter (without the keg parties on Thursday night as compensation).
So, what does this have to do with mortgage banking? Well, here are several examples of where your own version of a grand tour can become a highly effective way to manage through a tough period of change.
The home finance business, like many others, is cyclical. We go through periods of high volume, which later falls away, only to return further on in the cycle.
For us, things are always changing. Most successful lenders have learned how to deal with that over the years.
Today, we have to add regulatory changes, which is throwing our normal business cycle off and forcing institutions to deal with change on an entirely new level. Change is always hard, but in our business it can be downright painful, especially when business falls off and revenue drops at the same time compliance costs keep rising.
Every successful lender is familiar with those periods when an operations staff that had previously been working feverishly on a big pipeline of loans is suddenly faced with much less work. You can feel the change when the cycle shifts just by listening to the sounds in the office.
The "business buzz" background noise of an operation that is cranking out the deals winds down. It's a sound that signifies change and requires a response from management.
Now, I am a big believer in using data to drive decisions, but in some cases you need to get away from the spreadsheets and into the trenches and listen in order figure out how the staff feels. That's why I recommend that you do your own 'avoidance tour' by walking around your shop.
Be sure to engage with those in the staff that are experiencing the challenges first hand. This allows you to avoid the gridlock that can come with poorly managed change by analyzing how challenging the market actually is.
Don't limit your tour to internal venues. Get out into the field. Visit with your clients and spend time rallying your outside sales troops.
Go on sales calls with them; ask customers questions. Front-line salespeople need to know that you have a plan for dealing with the changes they're seeing (or are at least working on one) and that you are open to their ideas about how to help weather the storm.
And don't just book the easy tour dates. Do some tough ones too, like actively managing up your organization. When the bank's parent company shows up, you can be sure they'll be asking questions about performance, so be proactive in shaping expectations.
Make sure you have good lines of communication with the bank parent before the quarterly reports start showing the drop in earnings that comes with a change in the cycle.
Of course, your tour is only part of the change management process. Having good data to base your decisions upon is the other part of that equation. When you visit the bank parent, you can bet they're going to want hard facts and not just stories.
Fortunately, good data that uses operational metrics to compare your company and your loan officers to your peers is now available. Think of it as the pyrotechnics for your show and don't leave it out when you go on tour.
Finally, be sure to engage with other professionals and consider the important strategic steps you need to take.
That is a big reason why the MBA Annual is a must-attend event, because you can learn what others are doing to tackle these challenges, and also to get perspective on how you are doing compared to others. Of course, you can also attend a fantastic session about measuring customer satisfaction which is going to be moderated by this empty nester on Wednesday morning. I hope that the Vegas nightlife does not thin the herd of attendees so much that I end up speaking to an empty room.
See, I didn't mention my daughter once in this piece. If she keeps getting good grades, I probably won't mention her next time either. Meanwhile, my wife and I will continue our travels, so I will see you in Vegas or at a tour stop at a city near you.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.