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HomeEquity Bank is Reaping the Rewards of Investing in its People and Culture

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HomeEquity Bank is the provider of the CHIP Reverse Mortgage to Canadians aged 55 and better.  

In the last few months, HomeEquity Bank has appeared on Waterstone Capital’s list of Most Admired Cultures, they received an Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces Award in recognition of leadership and innovation in engaging employees, and most recently, Canadian Mortgage Professionals named the Bank one of the Top Mortgage Employers for 2023.

In a recent Financial Times article focused on HomeEquity Bank’s success in creating a shared sense of purpose, Sherry Dondo, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer noted that the highest scoring question on their last two engagement surveys was: “Alignment: I understand how my job supports the company’s vision or purpose.”

This is especially impressive when many workplaces are trying to figure out how to stay connected, engage employees and keep the organization’s purpose front and centre. 

The Bank employs over 300 people across Canada. Close to 200 in and around Toronto are shifting to a flexible hybrid environment, working in the office three days a week. Employees can decide which days they want to work onsite and have the freedom to choose where they will work when they aren’t in the office.

We contacted Dondo to discuss the strategies and approaches she believes have helped HomeEquity Bank create such a strong sense of shared purpose and an award-winning culture.

Q: Why do you think employees feel so aligned to your purpose?

The pandemic taught us that people want to stay in their homes. In some circumstances, moving to long-term care is not ideal for everyone. Many Canadians aged 55 and up are sitting on their largest asset, and a reverse mortgage is a way to tap into that resource to help live retirement on their own terms.

Our core value “Customer Focused. Passionate Advocates” is ingrained in what we do every day. Every one of us at the Bank can share stories of how reverse mortgages have helped people stay in the homes they love and live a good quality life that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do. 

Q: How would you describe the culture at HomeEquity Bank?

People are at the core of culture. Our leaders work hard to create a very caring and respectful culture; they are visible, accessible, and approachable whether employees are working onsite or remotely. Our CEO strongly believes in the value of community and connection in the workplace and this is very evident to employees.  

There is a feeling that you are a part of something, and that creates a strong alignment to what we’re doing. It is a special and unique place.

Q: How do you create that sense of openness and accessibility?

Communication and recognition are both strong at HomeEquity Bank. The CEO hosts monthly all-employee meetings where he speaks openly about the business, things he’s excited about, and issues of concern. We also have quarterly roundtables where new hires can meet the executive team.

All leaders look for opportunities to bring teams together to collaborate and celebrate successes. We have a popular, online social recognition platform for anyone to post a shoutout or celebrate an employee birthday or work anniversary. Employees can nominate colleagues who go that extra mile for a “High Five Award,” and nominees are recognized publicly by our CEO at the monthly meetings.

We’ve also recently modernized our performance management system, called Continuous Conversations. It is based on shared accountability between leaders and employees. We have identified behaviours that closely align with our core values. On top of regular conversations, each quarter leaders check-in and give employees feedback on their performance, and employees complete a similar process on behalf of their manager. It allows both leaders and employees to understand and demonstrate the behaviours that are core to our culture.

Q: What are you doing to support employees’ health and wellbeing? 

Employee well-being is essential and has been a strong area of focus for us over the past few years. 

When designing our wellness programs, we consider the total spectrum of our employees’ personal, financial, mental, physical and social health. HEB provides a generous and competitive health benefits program, a wellness spending account and enhanced coverage for mental health practitioners, as well as free access to online wellness programs available 24/7– such as yoga, meditation, fitness, and nutrition. 

In addition, our employees have the option to participate in employer-matched Group RSP/DPSP and Employee Share Investment Plans with free investment planning and advisor support.

We continually review our offerings to provide innovative programs that meet our employees’ needs.

Q: How do you create a sense of belonging and inclusion at HomeEquity Bank?

We embrace a diverse and inclusive workplace where people feel they can bring their whole selves to work; this is embedded in another of our core values, “One Team. One Vision”. Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council is sponsored by senior leadership and comprised of representatives from across the business. The purpose of the Council is well understood and communicated; people can articulate the mandate. 

We’re learning and growing all the time. We host awareness and education events to understand implicit bias and how it shows up in our workplace, policies and processes; we’re also an Employer Partner with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) to help us benchmark and broaden our scope. 

The DEI Council organizes special events around observances, such as Black History, Pride, Indigenous and Women’s History Months, creating safe environments for people to listen, learn, and share personal experiences. We partner with employees and community leaders to bring valuable opportunities for real-life stories and discussions with our teams. 

We have moved the dial significantly, with more plans to come. Our diversity and inclusion measures in our quarterly check-ins and employee engagement surveys rank quite high. That means a lot.

Q: Manager empowerment is one of the factors considered in the A/50 Award. How do you empower managers?

We support our people leaders so they feel equipped and resilient in supporting their teams. Leading through the pandemic and now coming out of it and operating in a fully hybrid business environment demands a lot of new things from them. We’ve launched several innovative programs to help leaders learn.
One that we’re proud of is “Leading at HomeEquity Bank,” an app-based learning experience through 1st 90 that allows leaders to learn in the flow of work. It focuses on the key leadership attributes and behaviours we think are important here. For five or ten minutes daily, they can use the app to work on leadership behaviours and interact with other leaders when needed. It is unique and has been well received.

Last fall, we ramped up with a focus on leadership to support our attraction and retention strategy. We provided leaders with new tools and will be rolling out more programs this year.
We call it retention-focused leadership. It’s all about having the right conversations with your people regularly that go beyond work and consider the whole person, to anticipate and mitigate reasons for departure.

Q: In the Financial Times article, you mentioned that you are about to open new “resimercial” offices in Toronto. Can you talk a bit about your new space and what you mean by resimercial?

We’re very excited about this project. 

HomeEquity Bank is moving its head office from mid-town Toronto to the Royal Bank Plaza in August. It is a beautiful new space in the heart of the financial district which is easily accessible for TTC and GO Train commuters. The resimercial design incorporates some of the comforts of home with all the conveniences of an office. It will encourage people to collaborate, feel connected, and build relationships with colleagues. 

There will be unique spaces such as a library – a quiet area with comfortable seating and a fireplace –, configurable meeting spaces, innovation and collaboration zones, private phone rooms, and a large café/lounge that can be opened up to host large events.

It’s quite different from the traditional workspace we’re in today. We’re creating new ways for people to come together and innovate, which is important not only for our transition to hybrid work but also for our future business success.

Our employees were surveyed about work needs which influenced the design and have a hand in selecting some of the furnishings and naming our new spaces. We’re sharing weekly videos to watch the progress of the construction build and gearing up for the big move this summer! 

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