Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has more than 25 years of mortgage experience.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has more than 25 years of mortgage experience.

Over the last few columns, I've been visiting with you about the people in the operations department. You know, the people that make all of your plans come to life. While keeping a business moving forward on a constantly-changing playing field seems hard enough, we also want our operations teams to continuously make things better.

Invariably, when I talk about change to the executives in the C-suite, it's immediately assumed that I'm talking about change management. But I'm not.

Managing change is not the same thing as effecting change. Empowering change, giving your operations team what they need to make change occur in your organization, requires different tools than those management needs to manage change.

Tools that support change don't focus the user's attention on what has already happened, but instead on what's supposed to happen next.

As recent columns discussed, the people in your operations department are busy thinking about the many things they have to do, and how they have to avoid making those costly mistakes. These people specialize in the day-to-day.

Checklists are their friends, but seeing beyond the next task that absolutely must be done in a compliant fashion can be challenging for them. They can't really afford to take their eyes off the ball.

This works both up and down. To make meaningful changes that make the organization work better, you can't just complete one item on a checklist. You have to look up to see how that task fits into the larger process.

Once the ops manager gets a set of tasks bundled into effective processes that work, it can be challenging to look back down to the individual tasks those processes are made up of in order to refine the overall process.

In effect, even the best operations people get locked into the status quo by the very success they have achieved with their current state. If it works, don't change it. Unfortunately, as we have discussed, when change is forced upon us, our systems routinely break and must be changed. So what's the best way to empower a successful operations team to make those changes?

We've thought about this a lot at Stratmor and many of our workshops focus on this very question. While every organization is different, there are certain common tools that every successful operations manager has at their disposal.

The first tool is to be able to articulate the reason to change. When people are asked to change but they don't understand the reasons behind the change, the friction created can be hard to overcome. Our industry doesn't suffer as much here because the answer is almost always the same: compliance.

The second tool is to be sure to articulate the target — people need to know exactly what they need to change to be effective. When a manager tells his team that they just need to make the numbers look better, there aren't enough specifics to empower real change.

On the other hand, when we say that beginning Oct. 3 we will begin delivering the Closing Disclosure to borrowers three days ahead of the closing date and the numbers will all be correct and tolerably close to the Loan Estimate we delivered just after application, well, that's a pretty specific target.

The third tool is buy-in from all stakeholders. This is why we always say that change is a top down process, because the support of management is absolutely essential. While it may take everyone in the company pushing forward to get the train moving, it only takes one executive to derail it.

This is also why I think it's so important to get the ops people out on the conference circuit where they can forge stronger relationships with other executives from their own companies who also attend. This opens up those communication channels and allows ops to build support for change.

We have some great operations people in this industry. The last few years (well, decade) have really put them to the test. It behooves management to empower these people. They are our only real hope of change. Failure to change is not an option.

Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.