‘Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy’

March 16, 2017

Nearly 350 title and settlement professionals from across the country participated in the first ALTA Springboard, which was held March 8-9 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Embracing the new, live-event approach of spending more time collaborating and sharing, ALTA CEO Michelle Korsmo kicked off the event sharing some advice from the 1990s educational children’s cartoon “The Magic School Bus,” encouraging attendees to appreciate and understand their own expertise rather than relying too much on so-called experts.

“Nobody is good without practice,” Korsmo said. “In kids’ speak, I go back to the wise words of Ms. Frizzle who often said ‘take chances, make mistakes, get messy. Failure is an encouraging springboard. It prepares us for whatever may come. Don’t think you’re not creative enough. Let’s see what happens when we work and develop things together.”

The conference started the morning of March 8 with a charity event to welcome attendees. Sponsored by Fidelity National Title Group, attendees decorated pairs of Tom’s Shoes that were donated to local Fort Worth charity, Presbyterian Night Shelter.

Staffing and Development

After that, the schedule moved into the meat of the agenda with attendees and vendors participating in Ideas Festivals to share ideas and solutions to three main topics. During the staffing and development conversation, ALTA President Dan Mennenoh ITP, NTP and Devon Irby from H.B. Wilkinson Title Co. kicked off the conversation by explaining their success in improving employee satisfaction and retention.

“We need to attract young people to our industry and give them an opportunity to find a career,” Mennenoh said. “It’s about finding the right people and finding them the right job functions.”

Irby said that when the company revamped its hiring process it focused on finding people with three things: basic office skills, buy-in to the company culture and a good attitude. She outlined seven actions companies should follow to improve hiring and retention.

  1. Determine attributes and skills that fit into company’s culture
  2. The biggest asset is the people. They know your culture and values. Irby said H.B. Wilkinson Title’s best hires were recommended by current team members.
  3. Take advice from “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and don’t panic. Rushing to fill a seat costs money. Having the wrong person is more disruptive than having an empty desk. “Now we take our time,” Irby said.
  4. The interview process is the first opportunity to talk about company culture. Orientation process is the second. Reinforce culture during process.
  5. Onboarding must be done with clarity and deliberation. Reinforce the company culture. Set the new hire up with a mentor.
  6. Follow-through is essential. Invest in each team member through their professional development. This doesn’t always mean dollars. This helps develop accountability for the team member and the company
  7. Must have buy-in from the entire team. “We struggled with our offices being individual because they are rural and people don’t see each other regularly,” Irby said. Important to call people team members.

In addition, H.B. Wilkinson Title created an individual development plan (IDP) to assist employees in career and personal development. The IDP helps employees reach short and long-term career goals, as well as improve current job performance.

“We meet with every employee and find out what they are interested in and where do they want to grow professionally,” Irby added. “And then we check in during the middle of year to see how things are going.”

Core Values

The second Ideas Festival delved into core industry values. ALTA President-elect Steven Day NTP (executive vice president of Fidelity National Title Group) and ALTA Senior Counsel Steve Gottheim discussed how to identify and instill the values that are important for running a title operation in a way that empowers staff and enhances brand.

“We want to be proactive and play offense because we are a great industry that has professionalism, ethics and service,” Day said. “It’s time to shift the mindset and talk about the core industry values of what the industry and organizations provide.”

Gottheim shared a quote from Roy Disney, the elder brother of Walt Disney and the financier of his efforts, who said “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

“It’s important to make values more than words on a page,” Gottheim said. “Companies need to figure out how to turn values into something powerful so that every decision your team makes is about core values.”

Connecting With Customers

The third and final Ideas Festival was held on March 9 and focused on connecting with customers. Linda Grahovec ITP, IEP, NTP, vice president of sales, marketing and communications for Fidelity National Title Group, and Betsy Russo, managing member of MCP Title Services, offered advice on what it takes to acquire new business in this changing market. Grahovec and Russo challenged the audience to think about how they can meet the needs of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers in the market.

This conversation spurred discussion about what each of these groups needs and expects from the experts involved in their transaction. In addition, attendees discussed how they build a great experience for real estate agents, lenders and builders through preference surveys, educational seminars and proactive outreach.

“The housing market is changing,” Grahovec said. “Millennial buyers are the largest segment of the housing market and will be for the next 10 years. In addition, half of workforce will be under 30. We must be ready to meet the needs of these consumers.”

Russo said that title companies need to create a customized experience for the customer at each stage of the process in order to leverage the relationship.

“We connect with consumers during different parts of the process,” she added. “We get a customer, take their order, do the closing and handle post-closing issues. Are we really connecting or just letting sales people bring in business and then its hands off.”

In addition to the Ideas Festivals, several career advancement talks addressed these topics and rounded out the discussion:

  • Building Collaboration
  • How to Be a Good Manager
  • How to Deliver a Good Presentation
  • How to Move Up in Your Company
  • Leadership Development
  • Overcoming Barriers
  • Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
  • Time Management Skills
  • Women in Leadership

Loving the Collaborative Learning

Bill Svoboda, founder and owner of CloseSimple, described Springboard the best collaborative group experience” he’s ever attended.” As a vendor, Svodoba enjoyed being part of the discussion, sharing ideas and networking with others.

“The room was electric and much better than breaking up the group into 20 small rooms where the energy would drop,” he added. “I think it's a huge win whenever you can put your guard down to get to know people in an informal setting where everyone is expected to talk.”

Shana Knight of First Choice Title agreed that getting input on a topic from several people was more valuable than hearing one person’s perspective.

"We certainly enjoyed the ALTA Springboard and took away some great ideas," she said. "We thought the layout was great and were happy to be a part of the very first one."

Knight attended with co-worker Amber James. Both took home valuable information on modifying their interview process and examining their core values to ensure the fit with the company’s culture. They plan to frame the company’s values and have each team member sign it to show they are dedicated to meeting those values. 

“We learned some tactics that we believe will help us tremendously in the interview process,” Knight said. “One example is switching topics quickly during an interview to make sure the candidate can multi-task. Another is giving them a small task to complete associated with the position for which we are hiring. We also took away several ideas on how to highlight our core values within our company and realized we may not have adequately communicated those values to our team in the past.  We learned that we need to remind our team members to keep them at the heart of everything they do.”

Wendy Cromer, compliance officer for Benchmark Title, plans to implement new onboarding procedures and the Individual Development Plan that she learned from attending Springboard. Her favorite speaker during the career talks was Erika Meinhardt, president of National Agency Operations for Fidelity National Title Group. Meinhardt spoke about women in leadership.

“I wish every female at that conference could have heard her,” Cromer said.

Amanda Villanueva of First Community Title received one of 20 scholarships awarded by Fidelity National Title Group to attend Springboard. While she was unsure of what to expect because of the new format, the collaborative approach quickly convinced Villanueva that this would be a great experience.

“Who has fun at a conference talking about title insurance?” Villanueva asked. “ALTA found a way to do it. My key takeaway was that building and growing business starts from the inside. Making sure your employees are happy and feel appreciated is key to a successful business.” 

Like many attendees, Villanueva valued the opportunity to network and learn from other attendees. During Springboard, ALTA unveiled a a peer-learning hub called Brain Dating, which allowed attendees make online connections and schedule meetings (Brain Dates) with fellow participants to discuss specific items.

“My favorite part was the Brain Dates,” Villanueva said. “That was the best way to have targeted conversations about what was important to me. It insured that I walked away with key information that I know I wanted, the rest was gravy.” 


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

North American Title Insurance Company (NATIC) is a seasoned title insurance underwriter, helping title agents to achieve their individual business goals for more than 50 years. Today, the company conducts real estate settlement services in 39 states and the District of Columbia through a network of experienced, independent agents. SoftPro is the nation's leading provider of real estate closing and title insurance software. With more than 14,000 customer sites and over 60,000 users nationwide, this award-winning software offers a suite of products designed to increase your volume and revenue by reducing the time it takes to do closings. SoftPro has been recognized by the American Business Awards every year since 2007 - winning awards for Superior Customer Service, Support and Product Development.