A company with a focus on military veterans leverages its strengths to fulfill its mission.
When a client is having a rough day, it’s a little harder to do your best work. It’s a whole different level of difficulty, though, when that customer’s rough day includes coming under enemy fire in a foreign country while navigating the VA home loan program on a cellphone. But for the people at Veterans United Home Loan, a mortgage company with $7 billion in loan volume and more than 2,000 employees, that kind of rough day is exactly why they do what they do. Veterans United serves active duty and retired veterans by helping them obtain home loans through the VA’s program for service members. To provide this kind of service, Veterans United uses CliftonStrengths.
“We know that they’ve got so much going on, so our goal is to make the home loan process as seamless and supportive as possible,” says Dr. Amanda Andrade, Veteran United Home Loan’s chief people officer. “Buying a house can be very challenging, so the more we can help them and be supportive, the better their experience is. By doing that, we have met our goal.”
The company has three official values to help it reach that goal: Be “passionate and have fun,” “deliver results with integrity,” and “enhance lives.” It’s a rare company that makes fun a part of its job requirements, but Veterans United believes people have to enjoy their work to excel at it. Moreover, the company believes that “hard work and excellence,” according to Andrade, are necessary to help veterans find their homes. That’s a lot to ask of 2,000+ people doing a difficult job for an extremely deserving -- but uniquely challenging -- customer base. So Veterans United has adopted CliftonStrengths to help its workers help its customers.
Veterans United is unabashedly biased toward positivity. That bias opened the company intellectually to CliftonStrengths, because building upon strengths offer far more potential than fixating on weaknesses. In fact, Gallup research shows that people who work with their strengths are more engaged -- workers’ chances of being disengaged at work are one in 100 if their managers focus on their strengths -- and the engaged have higher rates of well-being. Ultimately, engaged workers are happier and so are their customers, which is the essence of Veterans United’s values.
Unlike many organizations, Veterans United doesn’t even track profitability and productivity as it relates to strengths. In just over two years, more than 70% of their employees have taken the assessment, just so they can understand themselves better.
“The more we can do to help our employees understand the how and why of who they are, the better their lives are. This helps them be more impactful for the customers they serve. We work hard to foster an environment of open and honest communication, and that naturally pushes the idea of strengths,” says Andrade. “Focusing on strengths has highlighted our mission of enhancing lives. When employees know more about what they’re naturally talented at, they can really capitalize on it.”
That said, CliftonStrengths has helped Veterans United’s business aims. The company on-boards with the assessment and most of the longer-tenured employees are well-versed in their themes of talent. That helps Veterans United sort workers toward where they’ll do the most organizational good and enjoy the most personal satisfaction. Teams evolve and members come and go, so CliftonStrengths provides a common language for people who may be new to one another. It also helps leadership weight teams according to talents. A group of people with a high degree of the talent in the Strategic Thinking domain, for instance, gets a lot more done when they have a couple of partners strong in the Executing domain.
What Matters Most…and Most Often
To make sure CliftonStrengths remain part of the day-to-day operations, Veterans United keeps them visible. People and departments are encouraged to learn about CliftonStrengths if they want to, and an overwhelming majority has been. Workers get emails about their talent themes, they have lists of their talents they can display, offices have graphics about strengths in common areas, and teams have strengths-related activities they can do together.
“We really try to weave it into who we are, what we’re talking about and what matters to us at the time,” says Andrade. “When you know what your strengths are, you have a stronger ability to be understood and be who you are. With that, you have a better chance of hitting that flow and that satisfaction, which is really important to us as an organization.”
It’s so important that after finishing up a curriculum on trust that they dovetailed into strengths, Veterans United launched a company-wide exercise on mindfulness this summer. And a Veterans United office in Texas is currently on a scavenger hunt -- every week the people there get an email with some talent themes, and they are to find coworkers with those themes and ask them five questions about their talents.
Meanwhile, leadership, management and front-line workers at Veterans United are making the difficult task of getting a home loan easier for thousands of veterans. All the while, they’re doing it with excellence, integrity and fun. While the job may be stressful, the folks at Veterans United have the talent to do it and do it well. They know this for a fact because they’ve spent a lot of time learning about those talents.
“The more we understand ourselves, the better equipped we are to serve our veterans,” says Andrade. “We are definitely mission-driven and our mission is to enhance lives. CliftonStrengths was really complementary to that goal. And because we feel so entirely privileged to be able to serve that population, we have to focus on how we can do that best.”
Jennifer Robison is a Senior Marketing Editor at Gallup.