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What a lender learned from swimming upstream in the corporate world

team building
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We learn how to view the world by how we were treated by our family. For some reason, this same generosity doesn’t normally extend to the corporate culture. This is something we’ve been thinking about for nearly three decades since we opened the doors at Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc. Here’s what we discovered: We’ve made it our goal to treat our team members exceptionally well (never to be referred to as “employees” again) because we want to build a work-family.

Building a work-family supports our company purpose to make a difference in the lives of others.

It may sound crazy — but it works

There’s a lot of bad press surrounding the average workplace. We know that, according to The American Institute of Stress, stress at work has gone from the exception to the rule. Most people are experiencing increased levels of job stress in a corporate environment when high demands are coupled with little control over individual job responsibilities. You may have worked somewhere in the past where this stressful tug-of-war sounds familiar.

There’s such a strong link between job stress and poor health that, The Institute explains, a police officer in a major city like L.A. or New York who has a heart attack on or off the clock will receive “work-related injury” compensation. Other workers believe particularly bad office environments can turn abusive and may result in PTSD.

While severe, this particular example reminds us that where we spend five days a week can wholly impact our health:

Sadly, a 2017 study out of SUNY Downstate Medical Center indicates that these characteristics of a high-stress job, with major demands and little control, have been rising since 2002. This doesn’t change the fact that — according to University of Warwick research from 2014 — happy team members work better.

When economists in the Warwick study completed four different experiments on 700 participants, the results were clear. Participants treated well, those given free food and drinks and allowed to watch funny movies, saw productivity increase by 12 percent. Compare this to the other study participants with lower productivity who were asked about recent family tragedies. As seen in successful companies like Google, giving back to team members and increasing their satisfaction can also increase productivity. Similar to the results seen in this study, Google has experienced productivity gains of 37 percent.

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There’s no doubt the mortgage industry is high-stress. Our loan officers can help people make the biggest financial decision of their lives. This is why we’ve had to perfect the art of a thriving corporate culture. This includes team member happiness made possible by work-life balance. We still strive to be the best at what we do for the sake of the customer. And we’re strengthened by the support of our work-family.

3 (really) important things we learned when we put team members first

team building

This research on team member happiness is certainly motivating. But we see it as much more than numbers. We’re focusing on our people and how working within a family atmosphere makes them feel. It’s the little things at Cornerstone that make the bigger things so special. We’ve been in the Top Workplace awards for five years running, reflected in numbers like our tenure. Cornerstone’s team member tenure now averages at 12.3 years. (Even with the recent growth and additions we’ve seen.)

By doing everything in our power to show our team members how much they mean to us, there are several big lessons we’ve learned:

1. Speak their love language.

You may have seen this play out with someone special in your life who has a different love language than your own. Your mother prefers compliments, for example. Your spouse feels special when you give them a gift. As trite as it may seem, we firmly believe that our people want and need to be recognized in unique ways.

With such a diverse group of talent in our offices, we get to show love in so many different expressions:

  • Promote from within and give credit where credit’s due.
  • Sponsor in-office team member recognition with initiatives like “Caught in the Act.” Team members are encouraged to identify one another’s excellence.
  • Regularly tell our 1700 team members how invaluable their contributions are. We could not do this without them.
  • Offer cash drawings that increase by team member tenure.
  • Provide frequent expressions of gratitude, including gift card drawings, office celebrations, Mocha Mondays, Thank You Thursdays, health and fitness programs, catered lunches, sport ticket raffles, hardship funds, and team member group activities.
  • Reward company performance with cash incentives.
  • Celebrate as often as we can with birthday gifts, holidays, and extra days off.

We hear team members report back on Glassdoor. And we feel blessed to know we’re doing something right: “They understand the importance of building morale and offer Team Member Appreciation Month and so many other incentives to be ‘your best self.’ It is a joy to come to work every day for an amazing company!”

2. Give time and resources to support growth.

In every family, we have the opportunity to grow and learn. And make mistakes. We keep up this trend of learning by doing, with the potential for error, by giving all team members the resources they need. We invested in our team when we designed our free LoanFly app and loan portal. Our borrowers benefit by downloading the free app to get prequalified for a home loan, request a mortgage rate, search houses, calculate payments, and stay in touch with a loan officer. LoanFly provides as many advantages for the loan officer and processor too. The app has built-in features like a document request favorites list, an at-a-glance condition count, and a soon-to-be-launched full credit report capability. We wanted to give our loan officers yet another tool to support their efficiency and mobility at work — with the payoff of more time for fun and family.

As we hoped, and as research suggested, giving our team members the resources they need allows them to exercise their creative-thinking and problem-solving while promoting better customer satisfaction. In a recent Glassdoor review, another team member added, “There is a help desk for everything. An intranet full of useful and constantly updated information. And a team spirit that I have not found anywhere else. The management cares that you are successful in getting your job done.”

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3. Live by example.

Every family has its leaders, and the leaders among us know we have to lead by example if we want to nurture growth. Michael Schrage of the Harvard Business Review explains, “Some want to ‘lead from the front’ while others prefer ‘leading from behind.’” We prefer leading from the heart. As our company mission states, every loan is written by a member of our work-family with a servant’s heart.

We’re committed to integrity, honesty, and heart instead of profits as a means to grow our business. We’ve modeled to our team members how to treat one another like family so that they can go and treat our borrowers the same way. When we earnestly focus on our people, the numbers are no longer a concern. Success comes, like change, as a byproduct, and it comes from the top. We consider our financial success part of a balance sheet — it supports our company growth and innovation and can also help team members reach their highest earning potential. It’s a cycle that has yet to fail us: We focus on what’s important, and everything else falls into place.

As another team member wrote in their Glassdoor review, “From [CEO] Marc Laird, all the way down the ladder, everyone shares a common goal, and that is to help people. Management understands the company’s philosophy and shares that with all [team members] so everyone feels vested in the company. You don’t find that at many other places.” If you’re ready to become part of the family, contact us to find about joining our team.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.