Successful companies are good at not only hiring talent, but also developing strong employees into effective leaders. According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion on leadership-based programs annually.
But in little-known industries, such as mortgage field services and property preservation, few, if any, outside programs offer industry-specific courses to help build the technical skills and field knowledge that employees need as part of their leadership development. As a result, these industries must supplement leadership development with creative alternatives.Â
One alternative is a concept called rotational training. In a rotational training program, promising leadership candidates learn a business hands-on by working in virtually every department of the company. They cycle through a process that allows them to experience how business decisions affect different departments within the company, and they develop a better understanding of the industry as a whole.
Safeguard Properties' rotational training, called the Management Training (MT) program, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Since the program's inception, many leaders have emerged to serve as role models for new leaders at all levels, and to support the company's growth and expansion.
In 2003, Safeguard was a 13-year-old company that was consistently growing and hiring. Typically, new employees would receive a company overview and ongoing training related to their departments and positions. But company executives realized it would take these new employees a long time to learn all aspects of the business, and even then, their knowledge would be limited to only things that affected them in their day-to-day job functions.
Safeguard wanted to design a training program that would eliminate departmental silos – a program that helped identify employees' strengths, groomed them for leadership positions, and provided them with a deep understanding of the company and the field services industry. The company also wanted a program that would give employees a better understanding of the inter-relationships between departments.
For example, potential leaders who work in property preservation and deal with properties in pre-sale need to understand the potential impact their decisions will have on those same properties when they reach the post-foreclosure sale status, or the real-estate owned (REO) stage. Because the foreclosure process can take a long time – sometimes up to two years in certain states – property conditions can deteriorate no matter how well a property is being maintained. A decision not to repair a minor roof leak may become a costly mold issue in REO. An effective leader must understand these issues and guide the client to make the best decisions to uphold property value and condition.
The MT program begins with hiring college graduates and identifying strong candidates to fill positions of influence within Safeguard. The candidates spend a year learning about each department or service line and experiencing all job functions – giving them a better perspective of the company and the field services industry as a whole.
Each department rotation lasts six to 10 weeks, depending on the needs of that department or service line. MT candidates are exposed to extensive department-specific training and must successfully complete all job functions, in addition to participating in special projects and presenting ways to streamline business procedures. The MT candidates must learn how every position functions, how it fits into that department and, ultimately, what role it plays within the company.
Areas of training include property preservation in pre-sale, customer service, vendor management, REO, hazard claims, community initiatives, marketing, quality assurance, client resolution, estimates and repairs, inspections, accounting, and all other departments within Safeguard.
Once the MT candidates complete training, they must perform each job function. This can include updating, customer service or handling client accounts. Before candidates can move to the next job function, they must pass a quality control test performed by Safeguard's quality assurance team.
Additionally, MT candidates are assigned special projects or asked to analyze best practices and procedures and propose new solutions. They also contribute to Safeguard's vendor and industry conferences.
MT candidates are assigned a mentor from a committee that manages the program. That committee is made up of executives and members of senior leadership. The mentors offer candidates better perspective on the Safeguard culture and guide them throughout the rotational training process.
MT candidates also function as mentors themselves. Once they complete the program, they become role models to other staff in the departments they join. They provide support and offer guidance to other employees based on the extensive knowledge and experience they gained from participating in the MT program.
One of the most important aspects of the MT program stems from the core of the Safeguard culture by focusing on the company's motto, "Customer Service = Resolution." Each MT candidate is assigned a client to interact with to learn to anticipate their needs and address any challenges.
These interactions take place in one-to-one calls between Safeguard staff and their client counterparts and sometimes during site visits to clients' offices. The calls ensure that Safeguard personnel stay connected to clients. The calls encourage MT candidates to identify client issues and suggest solutions. They learn first-hand the value of good customer service and the role it plays in Safeguard's success.
The MT program has proven to be very successful for Safeguard for the past 10 years and continues to evolve to support the company's rapid growth. Today, 15 leaders who have graduated from the program serve in key management roles to direct projects, analyze business procedures, build relationships with clients and provide guidance for other employees. The program will remain one of the company's most valuable training resources.
Kathy Cogan is assistant vice president of account management for Safeguard Properties, the nation's largest mortgage field service company. She also is a member of Safeguard's inaugural Management Training (MT) class and serves on the MT committee.