Experts share insights on business strategies during social upheaval

Listening to employees is paramount, top HR and strategy execs say at HousingWire Annual

Alongside the discussions around how the pandemic is changing consumer behavior, how to solve the current inventory shortage and how the economic forecast for 2021 is shaping up, was a conversation much bigger than mortgage and these boom times. It was a conversation focused on how lenders and companies can – and should – create a business strategy during social upheaval. 

Moderated by Adam Constantine, owner and CEO of Ace Creative, the HousingWire Annual panel featured Trina Scott, chief diversity officer at Rock Ventures; Montell Watson, director of corporate strategy at Movement Mortgage; and Kenon Chen, executive vice president, corporate strategy at Clear Capital. Together, the four panelists engaged in a candid conversation on how they and their company executives have responded to the global pandemic and social unrest following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

While I would encourage everyone to check back soon for the full session recording since this article can’t fully recreate the impact of the panel, there are some key points that I want to share. 

The first question that Constantine asked was, “What were the events that took place in your organization that eventually led to social unrest and Black Lives Matter being a topic of conversation?”

All three panelists said that versions of the conversation were had before 2020 started, as they all worked to give back internally to their employees and their communities.

“The conversations have been going on for some time, but you fast forward right into the COVID experience as well as George Floyd, and [those conversations] heightened,” said Watson. 

Scott added that as a company based in Detroit, which has one of the highest density populations of Black residents, this wasn’t a new conversation for Rock Venture. “To Montell’s point, it redirected our efforts and doubled down our efforts in this space,” Scott said. “It put a keen focus on us as an organization on how we can start to address those issues more directly and use our leverage and privilege as an organization to impact the outcome in a positive way.”

Looking from the perspective of a data-rich company like Clear Capital, Chen said he went on a journey of wanting to connect the knowledge, assets and relationships that the company has to a meaningful purpose, and address how they can use the information and the data to make a positive change.

After setting the foundation of how these conversations started, Constantine followed up with another question that a lot of leaders were probably asking themselves: When do you know it’s time to address such an event, both internally and externally?

“Our philosophy is written from a sense of urgency, and you can feel that sense of urgency if you keep your ear to the ground, whether it be in the community that you work, live, play or serve in, or whether it is with your internal community,” Scott said.

As Chief Diversity Officer at Rock Venture, Scott brought the added perspective of how one of the largest players plans its strategic responses. She explained that as an organization, they have to stay current on what’s happening around them in order to continue to keep their competitive edge and be the top mortgage lender across the country. Because of this, she said that balance is important. “You can go down the path of everything that comes out you’re responding to, but you also have to be very mindful of those things that are impacting your internal community first,” she said. 

In this situation, she said, “Just like we responded to the work from home environment, we had the same sense of urgency from the racial uprising. So, for us, it’s been important for us to continue to listen to our team members and respond to that.”

Following Scott’s comments, Chen added, “I think there’s a number of things that we have to learn from a company like Quicken and Trina,” highlighting the structured and well-thought out way they’ve approached the pandemic and social unrest. 

Constantine, directing a follow-up question to Chen, asked him how a company that’s more business-to-consumer focused and not in the spotlight like Rock Ventures, how do they know when to respond?

Clear Capital’s CEO wrote a letter to the company, which was about love and taking care of people, he explained. “Starting with that atmosphere and approach allows better conversations to happen because it’s with the foundation that we will lead with our heart, and not just what makes sense from a corporate revenue standpoint,” he said. 

Lastly, Constantine asked the panelists what advice would they give to someone whose situation they cannot personally relate to. 

“I would advise individuals to listen. Open your mind and open your heart and listen. Listen to have a different perspective,” said Watson. “That is just a huge thing during times like this, especially in today’s world with social media. There’s a lot of someone giving one side of their perspective.”

Adding to this advice, Scott stressed the importance of not forcing people to be re-traumatized.

“These conversations are not something that we all have gotten comfortable with, especially in the workplace,” Scott said. “One thing that we advise all leaders across the organization is to hold space and give people the space to be able to share. And, don’t force people to share.” 

And, most importantly, she said, “How do we continue to hold space so that people can continue to share with us how to get better?”

One additional tip that Scott closed with is an idea that they implemented two-and-a-half years ago with senior leaders: a book club. “We pivoted from these leadership related books, and we started talking about race,” she said. “And that was powerful because this gave us an opportunity to do this introspective work that we need to do to see how we show up every day as leaders and set the time for our team members.”

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