Today’s show features Chris Allen, Chief Talent Officer at Movement Mortgage.
“We exist to love and value people by creating a movement of change in industries, corporate cultures, and communities. There’s not the word ‘mortgage’ in there. The most important thing, and the reason we exist, is to love and value people. We do that by then having a greater impact–a movement of change, a disruptor if you will–because loving people is sort of a statement that people reject because of corporate culture.”
Ray: Well, hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert, your host here at the Bottom Line Faith podcast. And for those of you who are regular listeners, you know, this is the program we sometimes call the fastest 30 minutes on the airwaves because these conversations go so fast. But this is the program where the metaphor we like to use is where we lift the hood and we tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership. And we get the opportunity here at Bottom Line Faith to interview some of America’s top Christian business owners, executives, athletic personalities and high-profile leaders in the marketplace. And so it is an honor and a blessing. And I am in hot and sunny South Carolina. I’m just across the border from Charlotte, North Carolina. And we are at the headquarters for Movement Mortgage. We’re going to hear all about Movement Mortgage today. But our guest, and I am so excited, is Chris Allen. Chris is the Chief Talent Officer here at Movement. Chris, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Chris: Thank you so much. We’re excited.
Ray: Well, you have been so gracious today. Prior to us recording this, you’ve given me a tour of the office and the building here, and we got to sit in on an all-staff meeting that was incredibly inspiring. Folks, as you’re listening to this interview today, you can check out Movement Mortgage website at movement.com. That’s movement.com. And so Chris, why don’t you take a moment and help our audience understand what your role is here. We’re going to get into your backstory and how you ended up here and your walk with Christ, but what do you do here at Movement?
Chris: Well, it’s funny, because whenever I tell people, I’m the Chief Talent Officer, they immediately asked questions like, so what do you do? You actually hire the talent, the singers and dancers? What is Movement Mortgage really doing? But no, the Chief Talent Officer role is sort of a new title. Google calls it the Chief People Officer, but I’m responsible for all human capital, all people functions here. So everything from talent acquisition, through training and development, through your traditional HR functions, through benefits, and how we engage our employees, and also something that we call market support, which is how we engage the sales force around the country in 47 states now, and so we’re a mortgage company, but I oversee the people function within the company.
Ray: Well, you just shared here, you’re a mortgage company, which is not a new industry, but you all are doing some really cutting edge. Really, this company is an industry disrupter. Right? We talked about that off-air a little bit, how does that look? How is this company disrupting an age-old industry?
Chris: Yeah, we love the term disrupter. It’s kind of fun for us. But no, I think when you look at the, at the grain mortgage industry, you have an industry that traditionally had two sides: operations and sales. Those two sides were almost combative against one another, sales trying to get the deals done, ops just trying to figure out, hey, I’m going to take my time; I’ll get this done when I’m ready.
Ray: And it’s got to be perfect.
Chris: Absolutely. As a disrupter, we’ve attempted to bring those two sides together in partnership, and as teammates. And so we created a process here, where we call it basically seven-day processing, it involves the underwriters seeing that file first going to processing for seven days, going back to the underwriter. And we believe that in the industry, people can compete with us. But we can get applications to closing faster than most people. The second part of that is the people function, where as a mission statement, we really exist to love and value people within this industry. And that’s a disrupter in itself. So not only are we trying to close these loans faster, which is how we are profitable in this industry. But we care about people along the way. And I think our mission statement is a part of that disruption as well.
Ray: That’s really exciting to hear in an industry that, I’ve had mortgages, right? I’ve been a customer in the mortgage industry, and it takes a long time. And you guys really have streamlined that process, shortened that process, and you’re doing it in a way that’s honoring people. It’s not just a transaction, right, and that’s really your core and your passion.
Chris: Yeah, the goal is ultimately, in one of the largest, if not the largest financial transaction of a person’s life, the most debt that they’ll ever take on, why not create an experience that really values the person on both sides of the transaction, the Movement employee, the real estate agent that may be involved, the borrower who’s actually taking on this debt, and how do we help in that transaction?
Ray: Yeah, that’s really neat stuff. And so Chris, our audience here at Bottom Line Faith, we have business owners and leaders and executives that listen to the program, and that’s the core of our audience. We’ll have teachers and professors and other professionals as well, but it really is a ministry into the business community. And so our audience is used to hearing folks who have been in business their whole lives, you know, they went to school to become business leaders and such. But you’ve had a really interesting journey of how you’ve ended up here, would you take a moment and help our audience understand your story?
Chris: Well, if I tell them, they’re all going to stop listening.
Ray: I doubt that.
Chris: I grew up in the Chicago area, ended up by God’s grace at Wheaton College, and I was a soccer player. But I started out majoring in Christian education. And I realized that I had a passion for business along the way. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a passion for Christian Ed. It was like, I have some other interests. So I went to basically the office at the school and said, I want to figure out how to get more business. And they said, well, have you ever heard of interdisciplinary studies? I was like, no, I have no idea what that is, tell me. And they basically allowed me to write a paper convincing a board of the combination of business and Christian education to create basically my own custom-tailored major. And so I ended up graduating from Wheaton with a full major of Christian education, about 20 plus hours of business, a couple hours of Kinesiology. And the reason I share that is because that’s what my career has looked like as well. I came out of Wheaton; I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to play soccer after school with the Charlotte Eagles, which was a Christian professional soccer team.
I played and was a part of the organization for four years, then transitioned into the pharmaceutical industry, because a dad of a kid that I coached said, you’d be good, I didn’t know anything about it. But I learned about corporate cultures; I learned about training; I learned about sales in that environment. Transitioned out of that into an investment company that I helped the founder build. And there I learned about entrepreneurialism, and how to build a team, and how to build structures, and really the financial side of the investment world as well. I transitioned out of there in 2012 and went on staff with our church here in the Charlotte area called Elevation Church. We’ve been a part of the church since it was founded in 2007. I’d rejected their request to come on staff a few times and finally said yes, and ultimately went on staff in 2012. Oversaw students in one of the campuses, was a part of some of the leadership there. And then in 2015, I transitioned out into the mortgage industry. But when I look back over that career, I am about people and in any of those environments, it’s not like my role within it changed, just the environment did; the setting did; the walls did. But who I am as a person, and my calling to develop people and create safe environments for people to thrive and create cultures and ultimately leads to success, whether it’s in the pharmaceutical industry, the investment world, church world, or mortgage industry, is still the same.
Ray: It is the same. And one of the things that I’m really, really pumped up about in our conversation is you really, I mean, genuinely, this isn’t a show, this isn’t a facade. You genuinely see this as your mission field, don’t you?
Chris: Absolutely. I get at least 40 hours a week with people and call me a pastor within a business, but my opportunity to meet people’s needs on a daily basis, because people don’t leave home at home; they bring their life to work. And people have to deal with that stuff within a work environment. Why not create a place in a setting where we can have an impact on people? So absolutely, this is my calling.
Ray: And folks, I just wish you all could have the experience that I even had this morning. Thank you, Chris, for allowing me to observe and kind of participate in the all-staff meeting, hundreds of people, and it was more like a party than a business meeting. You have dancing mascots and music, there’s a lot of energy, and that really is the people component. And that’s a big part of your role here, right? What is it that really is unique about this place? And what are some of the best practices that you have instilled here that is transforming this culture?
Chris: Yeah, I think from the founding of this company, Casey Crawford and Toby Harris really had this understanding that we want to create an environment where people really do feel loved and valued in a corporate culture at the highest level or at the foundational level, that is really it. So then it’s a matter of like, how do we actually create that? And I think in corporate cultures, obviously, we’re dealing with the millennial generation, this next generation of the workforce. But I don’t know if I buy everything as just millennial. I think all of us want to work in a place of purpose.
We want to work in a safe environment where we can use our gifts and abilities to their fullest; I would say to the glory of God, not everybody may say that, but to their fullest, and to be valued within it. And so I think the special thing here is we’ve tried to create a community and environment, a safe culture for people to thrive and become their best spiritually, physically, financially, mentally, emotionally. And all of those factors affect us as people. And so why not create a workplace environment for people to thrive. And so I feel like that’s probably the secret here, although it’s not a secret. We try to tell people it all the time. We’re not perfect at it. But we’re continuing to try and create an environment where people just enjoy their work, where they feel a sense of fun, they feel a sense of purpose, that they’re part of something bigger than themselves, where they see that there’s potential, and where they feel like they’re being developed and growing. And that’s ultimately what people want
Ray: And it just happens that mortgages is the financial platform of the business, right? I mean, you really could transplant pretty much everything you’re doing into any industry.
Chris: Absolutely. I mean, mortgage is just how we make the profit we need to do the things we want to do in the community. But even my philosophy, I’m bringing people in, a lot of the people who have joined our organization didn’t go through college and school hoping to be in the mortgage industry, many of us just sort of end up because God’s called us to different places. And I think if you went and interviewed all the people in this building on hey, did you think you would be in the mortgage industry? 90% of them would say, I had no idea I’d ever be in mortgage. And so it’s not just about mortgage, it’s about creating a place for people to come to work that they really feel valued.
Ray: Well, in fact, you know, most businesses and business owners know that at some point, they try to develop their mission statement, their vision statement, their core values, and so forth. And your mission statement here has nothing to do; it doesn’t even mention mortgages. Would you just share with our audience that mission statement? Yeah, it really is much bigger than that.
Chris: Our mission statement is, we say we exist to love and value people by creating a movement of change in industries, corporate cultures, and communities. There’s not the word mortgage in there. The most important thing and the reason we exist is to love and value people. We do that by then having a greater impact, a movement of change, a disrupter, if you will, in the industry, mortgages, or broader industries, like the financial industries in general, but also calling on corporate cultures. How do we help other Christian business owners, other Christian businesses, even secular businesses understand how to really love and value people because that loving people is sort of a statement that kind of people reject in terms of corporate culture. And then that third component is we don’t just make money to make money. We want to be profitable because it matters for the impact that we can have in communities. And so we’re doing a lot of things around the community. That’s really Casey’s heart and Toby’s heart is that we would have a greater impact on the communities in which we serve.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. And I had a chance to learn some of those things on the tour today. And so someone’s listening to the program right now, and you’re thinking mortgage company? Well, this company, even though the industry’s really long-term and well-established, it’s still young, it’s not even 10 years old yet. So would you share the size and scope of the impact of the organization?
Chris: As we sit here today, we are an organization of about 4300 people. 2500 of those people have arrived in the last 24 months.
Ray: Ooh, that’s called a wave.
Chris: So as an organization, we have our operations side, four operations centers we call them, in Norfolk, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; the South Carolina, Charlotte area; and then in Tempe, Arizona. And then we have 1600 or so loan officers, which we consider our sales side, in 47 states around the country, and they are in specific retail offices or could be working in relationship with a real estate brokerage. And so that’s kind of the makeup of the company. I think the shock factor is that 2500 people in the last 24 months, we’ve had explosive growth, the company was founded in 2008 out of the financial collapse when nobody else was starting a mortgage company. Casey and Toby had this vision that we could do it differently and started with five people. It’s been slowly growing. And then I think in 2012, you saw the beginning of sort of some exponential growth. And then 2015, 2016, and into ‘17 have been really explosive.
Ray: What I love about this program is we share stories, we share best practices and examples. But more than anything, we want to be a voice of encouragement to other Christ followers. And so you just shared with us a story of a company. They didn’t start a new product or service; they took a long-standing service, product that’s been in the marketplace. And it did not start in the best of economic conditions. In fact, some of the worst, and yet there was a core there. And so what words of encouragement would you have? Maybe right now, there’s a Christ follower who owns a business or leads a company or a division in a company or whatever; they’re thinking about a new idea or a different way of doing things. What words of encouragement would you have for them right now?
Chris: Yeah, I think my biggest thing right now is with a new idea, I think that there is a way to be Christ followers in the way we manage and lead people. So regardless of what the idea is, or the industry, or the area of the marketplace that you are in, I think the disruption factor is in what you do on the people side, that can you create an environment to attract and retain talent of this next generation, different than anyone else is doing? And I think that’s going to be the key to growing business over this next season. I don’t know how many years, but what is the environment that you can create to both attract this next generation, attract them around being purposeful, around coaching them, around developing them, and then retaining them, around ultimately giving them a greater purpose to be a part of? I think that’s the key to growing businesses in this in this next season.
Ray: There’s really a lot of wisdom in there, folks. And what Chris is sharing with us, you told me offline, you launched this university concept and what I loved about what you told me there is when the growth plans of the business were established, and we’ve got to bring in hundreds of people. So you had a choice. You could go out and find people who had been in this industry, and yes, they will be experienced. But they would bring in some other habits too that, because you’re a disrupter, you’re going about doing things a new way. So briefly walk us through, you brought in a whole generation, frankly, a whole crew of people, brand new. What was that like? What’d you do? How’d that look?
Chris: Yeah, so Ray’s just referring to how we founded Movement University, and in June of 2015, we were presented with an issue. Our sales side is growing, how are we going to keep up with operational growth? And the options were, we can go out and train people in the mortgage industry, we’ll just take a few of your processors and underwriters, and when they leave, we’ll take a few more, and we’ll just trade them back and forth, which is pretty typical in the industry today. Or we can train up an entire new, as you mentioned, raise a generation of mortgage employees who never thought about this as sort of a career path. And so in September of 2015, we launched our first Movement University class with 56 people. Since September of ’15, between September ‘15 and really November of ’16, we hired over 600 people through this concept called Movement University.
And we knew that we needed to create a model to teach them and train them how to process within the mortgage industry, essentially take a mortgage application and get it ready for underwriting and closing. But we also knew that we needed to create a program to develop these people. Not all of them would be considered by definition millennials, but many of them were. We also had some career changers, we hired veterans, and they were mixed in with these classes or cohorts. But what we created was a program where we took people through StrengthsFinder, we help them identify some of their gifts and abilities and strengths. We taught them how to work within a team. We took the classes out on ropes courses, and they did team building challenges. We built relationships with them; we taught them how to work in teams. And what we really created was a community; we created these small communities. And so we’ve learned so much that the program has taken on multiple different iterations over those months. But what we’ve experienced is just this core group of people who came in with a bottom line excitement for being involved in an organization like ours, having no idea how to process a loan. We’ve given them a skill set, but now they’ve created this foundation of culture builders within the organization, people passionate about our purpose. And I don’t think there’s any other way we could have done that.
Ray: A couple things come to mind. And that is, if this company ever said, we’re going to go do this, or we’re going to start that, you could take that foundation because you’ve got a transplantable culture. And that’s what I’m so excited about in this conversation is it keeps coming back to this: mortgages just happens to be the tool. But you’re talking about bringing in people who knew nothing about mortgages, nothing about the industry. But it was built on a cultural foundation. You know, Pat Lencioni talks about that culture eats strategy for lunch. And so that’s really what you’ve done here. And that’s really the primary part of your role. And so what’s some of the secret sauce that you’ve discovered in bringing somebody into an organization that knows nothing about what you do and making them successful in the skill set side?
Chris: I think that there’s some intangibles initially, and that is to deal with an individual’s insecurity up front; create a safe environment. Like your freshman year in high school or the first day of high school, when you walk into a new place, not knowing anything, not knowing how to get to your classes, we have to create an environment where people feel safe, where the fears and the insecurities can come down. Because let’s face it, we’re all insecure.
Ray: That’s right.
Chris: So you create a classroom environment where people can fail, where the expectation is, you’ve got time to figure this out, we’re going to give you the skills necessary, but we’re going to build a community around you, people that you can rely on as well. I would say that the secret sauce is really in the word community, that we’ve created these groups of people that lean on one another, that feel safe to learn, you know, in anything, from a corporate or business perspective, you’ve got the right people, they can learn what they need to learn. Obviously, there’s roles where it takes specific education or further education. But for the most part, if you’ve got people who are bought into the culture, they can learn what they need to learn. And so we’re looking for people who align with us culturally, but who also have the desire and the ability to lead and learn, and they’re servant leaders, and they’ve got good communication. So we’re looking for a lot of those behavioral characteristics before even any skill sets.
Ray: I talk with business owners across the country, and the number one challenge, across the board, it doesn’t matter industry or company or product or services. How and where do I find new people? Here’s a little insight for you. Chris has shared two or three times this concept. Millennials, we all heard about millennials, the largest generation in the history of our country. Well, guess what, gang? Right on the heels of the millennials is the next generation, which is 1.1 million larger than the millennial generation. So if you’re listening to this program, and you don’t have a strategy and a plan in place on how to recruit and develop a new generation of talent, you’re getting some great best practices today from Chris here at Movement Mortgage. Chris, one more time, I just want to mention the website, movement.com. And so one of the other questions we talked about before we went on the air here was the core values here, built on Bible verses and biblical principles. And you don’t hide it; it’s out there. But somebody might say, well Chris, is that illegal? Can we do that? What have you discovered? Tell us about that.
Chris: I just think that that assumption is just wrong. And obviously, from an HR perspective, there are things that you can and can’t say, and things you can and can’t hire based upon. But there are no laws or regulations on us or myself, proclaiming what I believe in an out front and bold way. And so as a corporation, and we are privately held, but as a corporation, we don’t hide anything. And as we interview people, we are simply just saying, hey, do you feel like you understand who we are? And in those interviews, a lot of great conversations come up. But if nothing comes up, and they feel comfortable in this work environment, we’ll hire anyone that fits what we’re looking for. And so I would just say, we are out front with it, and yet, we have an entirely diverse workforce here, and they know what we stand on, they know what our priorities are, but they’re also choosing to be part of it. And what a great platform to impact lives as well. I know people of all religious affiliations in this building, and I just think it’s fantastic environment to do ministry. And so as you mentioned earlier, like, I do see this as my ministry.
Ray: Absolutely. Chris, if you’re up for that, I’m going to come back, and we’re going to do part two sometime.
Ray: Are you up for that?
Chris: That’d be great.
Ray: One of the things we love to share: lessons learned. You’ve had this incredible journey, this incredible pathway where God has had you in corporate settings, and in church settings, and then back here now, back in the business world. Greatest lesson you’ve learned or and/or greatest mistake you’ve made, and what’d you learn from it?
Chris: I think the greatest lesson is everything rises and falls on leadership and leadership is so important. And when you’re growing rapidly, when there’s exponential growth, when you’re trying to build a culture, it is vital that the leadership that is in place is completely aligned with the mission and vision. Now from a mistake standpoint, because I tend to be pastoral and everybody comes and talks to me about everything, I’m in the HR space, I hear everything that’s going on, I hear how employees view their bosses, I hear about employees who are resigning, who were fired, everything, I hear everything.
I put all the little puzzle pieces together. My caution is in what do I do with that information? And as a Christian leader within this organization, or in any organization, how do I take what I’m hearing and filter it through the multiple filters of, okay, that’s just a disgruntled employee, that’s a real issue, that’s something I need to go deal with, that’s something I can leave, that’s something I can let work itself out, or that’s something I need to go get involved in. That discernment has created some mistakes in the past for me, where I just want to point out problems or issues because I’m just so wired to go solve that I have to be careful and really discerning about what I do with the information that I’m hearing within the organization. So from that idea of like, everything rises and falls on leadership. But yet, leaders, we need to be careful about and discerning about what we do with the information that we’ve got. That’s probably the greatest lesson and mistake all tied together.
Ray: Well, you’re also dealing with confidential information and very personal information, and sometimes you need to maybe get help or insight or legal counsel or whatever. So there, there’s a delicate balance there, right?
Chris: I probably need all kinds of professional help.
Ray: Exactly. I’m with you on that couch. So, Chris, I shared with you, you know, we would have a great conversation. And folks, I’m sure you’ve not been discouraged or disappointed. What a great, great conversation we’ve had today, here at Bottom Line Faith. And I did share with you that there’s one question, and believe it or not, we’re at the end of our 30-minute segment. But if you’ll have me back, I’m going to come back and talk with you again. But I call this our 4:23 question, you know, where Solomon says that “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the wellspring of life.” It really is about our heart and what’s inside of us that’s going to determine the course of our life. So let’s just pretend that you’re at the end of this side of eternity, and you have a chance to gather your friends and loved ones around, and you’re going to have the chance to pass along the most important wisdom or advice that you could pass along. What would you say, and tell us more about that?
Chris: I’ll state it in a statement that I’ve got posted even in some of my profiles, then I’ll break it down. It’s all about people! And when you look at the greatest commandments that the Lord ever gave, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, everything you are; and love your neighbor as yourself. Love people. And at the core of everything that I am and that I do, above all else, it’s all about people. Now, that can be broken down in so many other ways, but ultimately, that, for me, as I filter through, like every task that I have to do, every project, every team that I have to put together, every team that I have to build, every employee that I have to hire or dismiss from the organization, it’s still all about people. And sometimes in the midst of a drive towards profitability or income, or I’ve got to hit that quarterly earning, or I’ve got to meet that shareholder value, we can miss the fact that it’s still all about people. Regardless of the industry, regardless of the environment, regardless of the organization, non-profit, church, business, doesn’t matter. It’s still all about people. That’s the one thing I’m trying to in-grain in my kids. That’s the one thing I’m trying to in-grain in this organization is that if we love and value one another, we can do anything. It’s all about people.
Ray: I’ve done dozens and dozens of interviews here at Bottom Line Faith, and I will tell you, absolutely, without question that is one of the most powerful and profound statements and reminders because it’s so easy for it to become about the transaction or it’s so easy for it to become about the goal or the reputation. You’re speaking the heart of God, that’s the driver here.
Chris: That’s it. If I’m called to be all that God’s called me to be, then I’ve got to speak what he’s speaking. And I believe that there is a move of God to return back to my people. And in light of all the political issues and leadership issues that we deal with as a nation and all the issues we have to deal with as a church, if we’ve gotten back to the fact that it’s all about people, it would change the way we respond to things, whether it’s in our lives, politics, in our communities, or in our work.
Ray: Wow, thank you, Chris. I’m just amazed how God blesses me in these conversations, and it has been well worth the trip to come here and hear from you. And will you come back on; can we get you back on for part two of this at some point?
Chris: Sure; let’s do it.
Ray: There’s so much more to hear from you and so much more to learn. Well, folks, this has been Bottom Line Faith, you’re already aware of that. Check us out on the web at Facebook and so forth. @BottomLineFaith is the handle there. You can certainly visit the website at bottomlinefaith.org. If you are a Christ follower and you’re a business owner, business leader, and you’re looking for this community that Chris has been talking about, you know sometimes, if you’re leading a company, it can be really lonely. You don’t always have a safe place to share those burdens and those dreams and those challenges and frustrations. We’d like to invite you to check out our ministry website, truthatwork.org. That’s truthatwork.org. Learn about our roundtables. We have chapters all across the country, hundreds of companies involved, and it is a real blessing to come alongside Christ-followers who are transforming the marketplace for Christ. Well, folks, as I’ve said, this is the fastest 30 minutes on the airwaves, and I know today’s been no different. Once again, I’d like to thank our guest today, Chris Allen, the Chief Talent Officer here at Movement Mortgage. Check them out online, movement.com. That’s movement.com. Again, I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert. Until next time, God bless and go impact the marketplace for Christ.