Julie Wright, VP of Engagement at Royal United Mortgage shares 4 intentional components to employee engagement, how processes play a role in their success and why they never take their award status for granted.
Julie Wright is the VP of Engagement at Royal United Mortgage, located in Indianapolis, IN. Royal United Mortgage has earned the distinction of being named a Top Workplace in Indianapolis for 14 consecutive years!
That distinction is earned with intention. Julie has served a significant role in guiding the employee engagement strategy at Royal United Mortgage with its nearly 400 employees spread over 3 locations for the past 8 years.
We discussed many processes that you can learn from including START/STOP/CONTINUE on to how they include their employee focus groups in analyzing employee engagement survey data.
Many industries have been through rough challenges with recruitment in the past few years, especially the mortgage industry. What can you share about your recruitment strategy and how you align your company values to that strategy so that you are intentional about getting the right people in your door.
Recruiting for Royal United Mortgage starts before they get people in their door. Their strategy includes identifying who will thrive well in their environment.
With recruitment needs for mortgage talent at an all-time high, they believe in showing their company culture to candidates well before the interview. With their job postings, marketing materials and employer branding, they show candidates not only are they highly competitive, but they have a driven focus around their company values of people, customers and community.
They also have an intentional focus on both professional and personal growth.
“We want to ensure that people are improving and reaching their goals, both in terms of what they want for their professional career, but also what they want to accomplish outside of work.”
Their employees are given the opportunity every single day to make an impact in the lives of the everyday Americans who want a better financial future. And how better for Royal United Mortgage to align this organizational goal to the goals employees have of making their own impact by being hired for roles that set them up for success and to thrive.
Just how do they determine who will be successful? Their recruitment and interview processes are not focused heavily on resumes or a specific degree. Their hiring questions focus on topics such as situational obstacles, adversity, and what winning means to the candidate.
Julie and the hiring team at Royal United Mortgage strive to ensure they are providing an environment that supports both the candidates personal and professional goals…
“They are a part of something bigger than themselves when they join Royal United.”
After you get the right talent in the door, you are then focused on keeping them. Let’s talk about what you do for employee engagement.
They have a process for culture. Seems simple right? At Royal United, it does not happen by accident, as it is very intentional.
Julie shared that there are 4 main components:
1. They understand the difference between satisfaction and engagement. Satisfaction is measured by a level of contentment. Engagement is measured by how individuals connect with that company’s purpose, and they know where they fit in.
“There’s a huge difference between being satisfied and being engaged.”
2. Engaged employees have an understanding of the purpose of the organization and how they (the employees) impact the organization to move forward.
“When you have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of who the organization is and what they strive for, it’s easier to create a strategy around employee engagement.”
3. Model the processes that fit who you are.
“It’s one thing to know who you are, but it’s another thing to have a process that reinforces that message”
4. Communicate, and communicate again. Make sure your employees understand your why, how the employees fit in, and that you have communicated the purpose.
“We highlight the work that they (employees) do and that when they succeed, the organization and the business move forward.”
How did you keep your engagement levels up during the pandemic?
They kept a ‘business as usual’ approach, thanks to the processes they already had in place. Despite that they may not have all been in the same location together, Julie said they relied heavily on their processes around culture, their intentionality about communicating, and measuring results. Sure, they made tweaks as needed, but they stayed true to their processes.
An example of this was creating “Minute to Win It” virtual competitions. Not only did this give them ways to keep employees engaged, but it also allowed for the alignment of their competitive culture.
Another example was revising their ‘Leadership Walks’ to virtual check-ins. This was their way of making sure employees know they appreciate them for WHO they are, not just what they do. Julie and the rest of the leadership team at Royal United Mortgage conducted many virtual check-ins with employees, asking how they were doing as well as their family. This gave them a different format to reach out to engage with employees.
You shared with me in a prior conversation that you utilize focus groups to make sure your employees know you heard them and want them to be a part of what your organization is doing. How did you put those focus groups into place?
Although Julie is not a fan of the words “focus group” because it has a perception of a one-time change, she likes conversations that focus on a START/STOP/CONTINUE process. Here’s how those conversations work:
START: Doing things because it is going to impact the organization and move the needle forward
STOP: Doing things that just are not working
CONTINUE: Focus on the fundamentals of what is working and keep doing them
As they have done with other programs at Royal United, they have a process around the STOP/START/CONTINUE outcome:
- Thank employees for participating
- Identify what they heard
- Explain what you are going to do with this information
- Put processes in place to address these actions
- Measure again to see if the needle was moved
- Let employees know what the organization has learned
They do not shy away from telling employees why they may not move forward with an idea or recommendation. They appreciate that employees have presented ideas and feel they owe it to them to explain the WHY behind why they have decided to not act on an idea that was presented.
What role has your benefit strategy had in your overall culture and the goals you have set for your workplace?
Because Royal United Mortgage is so focused on both the professional and personal side of the employee, Julie said their benefit strategy has gone beyond the traditional offerings of a benefit plan.
“My goal is to ensure that people have the opportunity to come to work and be the best version of themselves.”
Julie believes this best version of oneself is to focus on not just their physical health, but also their mental health. They offer for not only the employees, but also every member of their families free, unlimited mental health counseling.
They know this has had a significant impact on both recruiting and retention. Julie has heard from an employee, “Your organization gave us a resource of professional counseling at no cost. It has turned my child’s life around.” This eases stress on the parents as they know this service is provided to their families.
What examples or stories can you share about your leadership team having a focus on creating and supporting a strong workplace culture?
Being visible is one of their leadership’s team core values. They work to be visible, highly engaged in the business and active among the team members. They do this through Leadership Walks, one-on-one meetings, and engaging in employee team meetings.
“It takes a lot to be great.” said Julie
When Julie said this, she was speaking of the support systems their employees have at home, and how that helps employees “to be great”. These support systems are cheerleaders, they are advocates.
The leadership team at Royal United Mortgage is very intentional about creating appreciation for team member support systems. They invite them to attend recognition events for employees. They write personalized letters to the employee’s support system members to say ‘thank you’ and recognize what the employees have done. Children love getting these letters about their parents!
Along with the other processes you have in place, do you also have a process for sharing feedback with your employees after you conduct an employee engagement survey?
You bet they do! In fact, they have an entire process whereby each division looks at results year over year, including the benchmark data. Julie finds a high level of value in comparing their performance to how they have done in prior years, even more than benchmarking against other organizations.
The benchmark data Julie reviews is the average for other organizations. In her opinion, she doesn’t want to be average, she wants to be great. There’s that competitive culture! They review specific engagement report data, meet with team members and review the results of the employee engagement survey. From there, they form START/STOP/CONTINUE focus groups to analyze the data and figure out how to move the needle.
They take their engagement survey process very seriously. It is intentional, part of their culture and it starts with communicating why this is so important to Royal United Mortgage.
“The by-product is being named a Top Workplace. What’s more important is what we do long before, and what we do every single day to get us there.”
Are there any other employee engagement surveys you do, or do you focus primarily on Top Workplaces in Indianapolis?
Royal United Mortgage focuses primarily on Top Workplaces. Between survey years, they do conduct mini-surveys to address specific topics or specific initiatives so that they are not relying on one annual time to ask for feedback.
To avoid survey fatigue, they try not to survey the entire organization more than twice per year. Also, they want to allow time to move the needle with the actions they are taking, allow time to review, and measure.
They stick to a process that has worked well for them year after year. They ask for feedback, let employees know they have heard their feedback, develop actions, explaining the why/why not, measure and resurvey to see if the needle has been moved.
How does an organization maintain a multi-year award-winning workplace status as you have?
Julie said that although they have earned this award 14 years in a row, they do NOT take it for granted. They do not assume it’s a “slam dunk” that they will win each year.
They want people to come to work to be the best version of themselves. At the heart of it,
“We are a people development organization.” said Julie
She doesn’t think they have arrived yet and are still working on it. What are they still doing?
“Constant improvement, constant reflection, constant sharing of ideas, constant environment where conflict is embraced, and change is okay. “
As thankful as Julie is for earning a 14-time achievement, Julie believes they are always working on improving, and they still have more work to do. They will continue to work every year to get better. She and the leadership team feel their employees deserve it.
“We are only going to go as far as our people take us.”
In closing, I ask all organizations being interviewed for this Award-Winning Workplace series this question…What is your success story that you want the striveHR audience to know about Royal United Mortgage, and how you have not only earned, but maintained an award-winning workplace status.
It isn’t one success story. It’s the success story of hundreds of people. It’s what each employee does to push themselves to do more, and their understanding of their ability to impact people’s lives through the work that they do.
These are the success stories they celebrate! It is about what their people do and that they recognize the business will go as far as they take it.
Royal United Mortgage understands the value of reviewing their employee engagement data year over year. As a 14 time winner, this gives them an incredible amount of data for which they can analyze, compare to other organizations, and learn from data about their own organization. Benchmarking against other companies is a good practice when comparing or reviewing what you are doing with regards to others. What is an even better practice? When you have data available, it’s time to start benchmarking against yourself! By doing so, you can review not only how engaged your employees are each year, but you can also dig deeper into specific insights based on departments, tenure and roles (and more!) within your organization. What trends are you seeing? What changes have occurred? To further analyze, ask what is going on in your organization that could be causing or impacting these changes? The information you learn from this can help you with your recruitment, retention and engagement.
Connect with Julie
(1) Julie Wright, PHR | LinkedIn
Did hearing this success story motivate you to learn more? Check out the 6 Perks to Becoming an Award-Winning Workplace.
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