There’s Always Time to Build a Better Mousetrap

May 11, 2014 by By Sharlyn Lauby


There’s Always Time to Build a Better Mousetrap

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Great Places to Work annual conference in New Orleans. This is an amazing event totally focused on building exceptional workplaces. I have to thank China Gorman for extending the invite. I learned a lot and look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks to come.

The closing keynote at the event was Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans. The Detroit-based company is the second largest retail home mortgage lender in the nation. Bill talked about innovation during his presentation and that “Quicken Loans is always focused on building a better mousetrap”. In fact, they take this mousetrap concept somewhat literally. The company has a Mousetrap Department!

I simply couldn’t resist learning more. Lucky for me Christina Mathes, vice president of the Mousetrap Department at Quicken Loans, agreed to share some mousetrap secrets with us.

Christina, how did the “mousetrap” team get started and how long has it been in place?
The mousetrap team was started by our leadership team originally, not to fix things, but to take a step back and evaluate our processes. We were created to be curious, question everything and challenge the status quo. It will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall!

Speaking of curiosity, can you share with readers Quicken Loans’ philosophy regarding workplace innovation?
Innovation is part of who we are at Quicken Loans! We have the “Cheese Factory”, a system available to all of our team members to submit ideas to improve literally anything – from stuff in our buildings, to the improvement of processes, to the creation of new companies!

We also have “Bullet Time”, four hours carved out each Monday afternoon specifically for our technology team members to drop their day-to-day work and focus on innovating and creating amazing new things that will impact our business or our family of companies. We know that if we are not growing, we’re dying. Innovation keeps us true to that core.

How exactly does the “Cheese Factory” work?
The Cheese Factory is our innovation hub where team members can come, submit ideas, view and comment on ideas of others and keep up to date on the status of these ideas.

We have a Cheese Factory team that is dedicated to vetting these ideas with folks from our business teams to determine if we should implement them or not. This team keeps the statuses of Cheese Factory ideas up to date and communicates regularly with team members in order to keep them informed on the feasibility of their ideas.

Last year, we received roughly 7,300 ideas from team members and about 1,000 of those were implemented. Many more ideas are awaiting implementation still!

What are a couple of ideas that have been implemented as a result of the “Cheese Factory”?
• Zagster, a bike share program available to Quicken Loans team members in downtown Detroit
• A texting platform that allows clients to communicate with their mortgage banker
• Created an allergy-sensitive environment (removed all nuts from snack bins, we only use all natural air freshener in bathrooms, lactose-free creamer in kitchens)

Is it possible for Quicken Loans’ employees to innovate or share ideas outside of the “Cheese Factory”? If so, how is that done?
In addition to Bullet Time, Quicken Loans has a culture that encourages team members to talk to a leader at any time to talk through ideas. Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson holds monthly two-hour lunch meetings with team members randomly selected from every team and level in the company. These two-to-three hour lunch meetings have no schedule or agenda, it’s simply an opportunity for team members to talk to Bill about anything they want.

How do you see the “Cheese Factory” playing a part in organizational culture?
Cheese Factory promotes culture and innovation at Quicken Loans. It’s a reminder to all team members that whether you’ve been here for an hour or 20+ years, your ideas are still heard and executed because we care about our team members, our processes and our clients! We are committed to improving as a company and doing great things, it takes every one of us together to make it happen.