NFM Lending relocated its headquarters to a new larger building in Linthicum three years ago to accommodate the nationwide mortgage lender’s rapid growth.
Little did CEO David Silverman realize the company would need to leave those new digs for a time 2½ years later as the coronavirus pandemic swept into Maryland and the state ordered people to initially shelter at home.
Silverman founded NFM in a tiny Baltimore office with his then-girlfriend, now-wife Sandy and three other employees. It’s grown into a firm with branches across the country employing around 850 people.
Silverman endeavors to instill a culture of accountability where every team member is responsible for growth, but he also makes sure to invest in them.
“He cares enough about the comfort and health of the team members working from home during the pandemic by making sure they have everything they need. Even if it means buying them ergonomic chairs for their home office," one employee said
Silverman took some time to answer a few questions about how the pandemic has affected his company and his leadership:
How has coronavirus impacted your workplace?
At the beginning of the pandemic, NFM put in place various new policies to address the threat of COVID-19. A temporary onboarding and recruiting policy was developed to adapt our recruitment process so face-to-face interaction was eliminated or kept to a minimum. We also transitioned parts of the new hire onboarding process to be remote-friendly. A new travel policy was also developed to help identify essential and nonessential travel and to guide our employees in making informed decisions about if, and when, to travel outside of their state.
A “Health-First Reopening Strategy Playbook” was developed for our corporate office and each of our branches to safely reopen office spaces as state guidelines allowed. Each location met with human resources and was provided with detailed instructions on how to reopen their branch. As part of this initiative, we also identified COVID Coordinators at each of our locations to assist offices in preparing for employee reintegration and to be the point of contact should any potential COVID exposure occur. Human resources partnered with our learning and development manager for an animated training series to guide employees with workplace safety education.
What are you doing to maintain your workplace culture in an age of virtual meetings, social distancing and closed offices?
Over the last few years, we made a significant investment in our video capabilities and services. This paid off as we were well-prepared with employee communication programs and systems that were already in place. This includes my biannual town hall meeting as well as regular, personal “shout-outs” to a select group of employees. Employees enjoy “happy hours” with the president and chief operating officer/chief administrative officer. These virtual meetings have given front line employees an opportunity to spend time with senior leadership in a relaxed manner.
Once a month, we recognize our top salespeople in our Great 8 video. This creates a friendly competition among our producers. We are a strong believer in employee recognition with one of our biggest programs being our Value Awards. Employees nominate other employees based on our company values of service, innovation, teamwork and excellence. All nominees win various prizes for being nominated. Winners are also recognized in a quarterly video and receive a plaque they proudly display on their desks. We regularly send out NFM-branded swag to employees, who send in pictures of themselves wearing the gear for display on our social media. NFM also has been participating in many virtual charity events.
What have you learned about your workplace that you did not know, or perhaps did not appreciate, pre-COVID?
I’ve always appreciated how hard our people work because they believe in the mission of this company, but how they have handled this current situation with grace and dignity has shown me a whole new level of professionalism. A lot of it is the culture we’ve built, but a lot of it is the quality of people that we are bringing into this organization. We have shown time and time again that no matter the obstacle, we can overcome it.
How has the pandemic and related issues tested you as a leader?
I think any leader needs to trust his people. When difficult times arise, there may be a tendency to want to take more control of the ship to make sure it stays on course. For me, I remind myself of the great staff that we have — people with decades of experience in the mortgage business, people who have seen it all, people who are not scared of a new challenge, but expect it, and are ready to rise to the occasion — and I lead them, but I also trust them and let them make the right decisions.
What are the lessons you and your organization have learned from the coronavirus?
Nothing that I didn’t already know from having been tested many times since 1998. The housing market was sailing along at the beginning of the year, so if anything, the coronavirus was a reminder to always be prepared for a downturn by building a strong company with a solid business model where people make ethical decisions and we hold ourselves accountable. We have done that and that has helped us survive treacherous waters, but we are preparing now for the next wave so that we can survive any storm.