How Can the Mortgage Industry Regain Credibility?

While the economy and the stock markets have crawled back to life, the sectors that drove the economy into the worst recession in decades --  mortgage and banking -- are still grappling with a tough issue in the aftermath: How to restore the public credibility and trust that the revelations of financial crisis utterly destroyed.

That's a big problem to chew on in a single blog post, but as someone who works at Allonhill, a mortgage risk management and loan due diligence firm, I've got a close-up view of the problem. And since my job is to help people in the mortgage business to learn to succeed at their jobs, I think a big part of the answer revolves around rethinking how banks and lending institutions train -- and re-train -- their employees and how they enforce that learning.

Creating great training programs is vital. But one-off training sessions aren't enough. We need to take another step, and help companies create a culture of continuous learning that stretches beyond the classroom and into people’s daily work lives — that's when we'll be able to actually help reshape the way work is done, and perhaps, in this case, help restore credibility to the mortgage industry. Here's what we have to do:

1. Create a Cultural of Continuous Learning

The problem with many training programs is that they are events, with a decided end. Once the training event is over, learners move on with their lives. People may have learned something, and they may have even applied what they learned, at least for a while. But inevitably, people forget. Sorry, but it's true. So instead of trying to improve training programs, organizations need to create a culture of continuous learning. Not an easy task to be sure. However, Linda Honold describes excellent strategies for developing employees who love to learn. Companies need to embrace other, additional forms of informal learning, and most importantly, develop employees who take responsibility for their own development.

Other ways to develop a continuous learning culture include starting book clubs, establishing continuous feedback loops, scheduling lunch-and-learn sessions, encouraging teams to conduct their own training programs, and getting executives to share what they are reading and learning with employees. One of our executives at Allonhill often sends around links to articles she has read with her direct reports, and then discusses them during staff meetings.

2. Reinforce Learning

L&D organizations can no longer afford to create training programs without a reinforcement strategy. One way to reinforce learning is make like mystery shoppers. For example, at Allonhill, we have a policy about not allowing anyone into the office without a badge, even if you know the person. We teach this in our new hire training program. In that session, we go so far as to say to the class, "If Sue, our CEO, comes up to you outside the door to the office and says, ‘Ugh, I forgot my badge, could I just follow you in?’ Respond to her with a polite, ‘I'm sorry. You really need your badge. You can ring the receptionist to let you in.’" Predictably, new hires can feel a little uncomfortable with telling the CEO she can't come in. So how do we reinforce the policy? We ask people to test it, including our CEO, who will leave her badge in the office, go outside and try to get in. Like a mystery shopper, we try to get people to let us in, to test the people and the system. The point is to reinforce the lessons they've learned with real-life scenarios.

3. Embrace Social Learning

Another important way to create a culture of continuous learning is to extend learning and reinforcement beyond the classroom by setting up a social learning environment using an enterprise social network like Yammer. Establishing an enterprise social network inside an organization scares most leaders. There are fears that social networks will be used only for wasting time. Other fears surround security. However it's ironic that we do not have these fears about email. How secure is your email system? If any employee can click "Forward" and send any message they want to a competitor, regulator, or the Wall Street Journal? The problem is not the tool, but internal controls and culture.

Learning professionals can use these kinds of tools to facilitate learning before and after formal training classes to transform training from a static event into a continuous process. There is a great video with Giam Swiegers, the CEO of Deloitte Australia talking about how they use an enterprise social network to increase learning and transparency, improve communication, and work more effectively. Imagine a culture of management consultants and accountants using social networking to get more and better work done. Imagine if mortgage underwriters spoke as freely with each other on enterprise social networks.

4. Create Continuous Feedback Loops

If it's true that people learn from each other, then why not set up a process in which people are free to seek feedback from each other whenever they want it, with the expressed goal of improving performance? For example, let’s say a new manager has just left his first team meeting. Imagine if the manager could send a quick survey to everyone at the meeting to ask how effective it was and how it could have been better. Perhaps the survey could be anonymous so the manager’s team could be more candid. Can you think of a better way to improve how you run meetings that to gather feedback in the moment? With a performance feedback tool like Rypple, all employees in your organization can be responsible for collecting their own feedback and be empowered to ask anyone, anytime for feedback.

5. Develop Leaders Across All Levels

In our security-awareness training we ask whether it's management’s responsibility to monitor and ensure our security policies are enforced. It's a bit of a trick question, because the answer is that it’s everyone’s responsibility. This is what we call leadership — having people across all levels of the company responsible for taking action. So it's no surprise that one way we believe we can restore credibility is by developing leaders at all levels of the organization. We have starting facilitating leadership programs for emerging leaders, front-line leaders, and senior-level leaders. Each group has its own needs, but the point is that if we can develop leaders we can ensure that we have responsible and talented people all over the company.

Restore Credibility

Training is not the end-all solution to restoring credibility to an entire industry. However, it can make an enormous impact on how people work, and how they lead. What I propose are ways of thinking about learning differently than what most of us have been brought up in the training industry to believe. Learning is continuous, and it must be cultivated over time. Yet we design training as an event with an end. If learning does not end, why do our training programs? Great training programs are vital, but the learning function needs to foster that culture of continuous learning, and continuous improvement.

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Note: Bill Cushard will be the special guest of a Twitter chat today at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST) in which he'll discuss this article, plus other answer other training questions. To participate, just include #trainchat in your question, and follow the action. The session will run for roughly 30 minutes. See you there!

Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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