Branch Managers and Rookie Programs: Match or Not?

Rookie programs are certainly a hot topic in the mortgage industry. The demographic data is clear that within the next seven years, practically all of the Baby Boomers will be retired, leaving companies with a large deficit in experienced sales staff. The need for rookie originator programs is not only evident but urgent! One serious roadblock is that many companies want branch managers to recruit and train rookies. Can this approach succeed?

In my view, branch managers rarely perform well as recruiters/trainers especially if companies want to scale their business. Why? The simple answer is each part of the rookie strategy (recruiting, and training) requires a high level of expertise. When managers are producing their own volume, there is not enough time in the day to be a loan expert; hiring expert of non-experienced sales people (screening candidates is very different when there is no book of business) and coach/trainer (training has changed dramatically in a world where shorter attention spans are the norm).

The concept of producing branch managers might have made sense with a large pool of experienced originators but hiring and training rookies requires managers with superior coaching and development skills. Typically, producing managers do not have these skills because they are more sales person than manager. Coaching and developing employees is a distinct managerial competency that our research has shown is part innate and part learned.

A Harvard Business Review article on coaching supports our research findings: “If you have room in your head for only one nugget of leadership, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at something that is personally meaningful. If you lead others, the most important thing you can do each day is to help your team members experience progress at meaningful work.” Can producing managers do what coaching requires when their time is spent elsewhere? The answer is a resounding “No!.”

For a manager to be effective, the article also states that “the manager must understand what drives each person; help build connections between each person’s work and the organization’s mission and strategic objectives, provide timely feedback and help each person learn and grow on an ongoing basis.” The bottom line is that the manager must have regular conversations around development —coaching conversations.

When I ask senior managers what is a branch manager’s most important responsibility, they answer “generating volume.” Coaching is rarely ever mentioned as a top five requirement. So how in the world can rookies expect to develop their skills when the branch managers’ bread and butter is their own production. It is not going to happen. I think that companies who want to invest in hiring rookies need to recognize that a successful program requires an infrastructure to drive it that involves more than just a branch manager.