Office Culture, It's the Formula for Real Estate Success
A company’s culture is difficult to define. It is one of those intangible things that we hear about but can’t really explain. I guess it really is more of a feeling than anything else. The Balance* describes it as “the personality of the company which includes a variety of elements including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals”.
I am sure some of you reading this are saying ‘aw c’mon Curt, how can a real estate company full of independent contractors truly have a personality?’ As someone who has worked for a number of organizations over my career, I can 100% tell you that each company definitely has its own distinct vibe and culture.
Many of the planet’s finest companies, like Google and Apple for example, have identified the importance of exceptional company culture. Measurable factors like productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention are tracked and scored. The goal is to attract and retain the best talent because they really, really want to work there.
According to Sujan Patel of the Entrepreneur, ‘having a great company culture is no longer just an option. Today’s workers consider it as much as they consider salary and benefits. In fact, fantastic company culture is almost expected along with other traditional benefits.’
But, this is real estate - not the high-rolling and hip tech landscape.
In the real estate realm, company culture has typically been that of the lone wolf mentality, rather than a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere. Every man or woman for themselves and eat what you kill no matter who gets harmed along the way mindset. Culture? Nah, more of a free-for-all.
Fellow Realtors in most offices are viewed as competitors, rather than colleagues. At all times you hold your cards close to your chest for fear that you may lose a prospect or potential client to some shady eyes across the office. But does it really need to be this way? In what other industry is this the norm? It’s bizarre, but like many things in our business - it’s just the way it has always been and change is slow.
We need to alter this mindset, and this isn’t just a ‘small’, ‘hip’, or ‘indy’ Brokerage mentality - it’s a whole damn industry thing. The traditional brokerage model is need of a redesign from top down to eradicate the toxic culture that has infiltrated so many offices. There are so many ways to accomplish these changes and many of these individual points we have covered off in other blog posts, but the goal is to get them all to add up to creating that elusive, yet optimal, modern office culture.
This one is a huge one, because all real estate offices start with a top-down approach. The Brokers and leaders set the tone for the rest of the agents in the office and the model for behavior that promotes success within the company. Good luck shaking a win-at-all-costs culture in your office when the Broker can’t see the benefits of stepping back from their own sales career to help and support the agents. A full-time Broker needs to be available to answer questions, facilitate training and mentor the hungry minds in their office. A selling Broker simply doesn’t have the time to foster the right culture when they are head down and focused on their own sales career.
Agents and office staff must be seen as equals within any successful company. Most brokerages create hierarchies within the office without even knowing it. The experienced Realtors get the fancy corner offices, while the newbies get tossed into cubicles until they figure it out. It’s tough to create an environment of collaboration and equality with walls blocking all these possible beautiful conversations. We could all do without the constant reminder of the office pecking order within the physical environment.
Nothing is more toxic to a company’s culture than special backdoor deals for top producers or disgruntled agents. The squeaky wheel gets the grease as they say, and unfortunately, this happens more than you might think in many Brokerages. Here’s how it goes - A Realtor complains about something and to avoid a current issue, the Broker bends and appeases. But this is only a temporary band-aid on a much bigger problem. Inevitably, that Realtor talks to someone else in the office and the downward spiral of that stellar office culture begins. And there truly is no end to this problem. The Realtor that was provided that ‘special deal’ can’t stop wondering if there might be an even better deal to be found somewhere in the office? It’s hard, but you gotta draw the hard line. Realtors can rest assured that everyone is getting the same fair treatment in the company - a true team of equals.
Sales awards and sales meetings
The real estate industry has long rewarded sales volume and sales volume only. Annual awards and tips-of-the-cap to monthly top producers are celebrated at company functions or on sales boards within most offices. To some, this motivates them, but for the large majority of Realtors sales boards are seen as the wall of shame and these monthly meetings only discourage agents from staying on their own individual path to success.
Each Realtor should have their own set of goals and measures of success. Achievements should be celebrated based on their predetermined criteria and not on some arbitrary number from head office. There are other ways to acknowledge your office leaders. For example, at our company, we have awards for a variety of non-sales related items like those that best demonstrate office culture, support one another and genuinely represent our company values. These people need to be celebrated even more so than your top producers as they are the glue that holds your office together.
Check your ego
If you want to create an environment of collaboration and inclusivity - you better have those big Realtor ego’s checked at the door. You know, the billboard prima donna’s who remind you of how they roll with the other local minor celebs. Fun to chuckle at, but when it comes to office culture they can be a killer. Great culture focuses on those quiet top producers, 4th line grinders and future stars that haven’t already developed bad habits. These are the Realtors that understand the value of collaboration, mentoring, and working toward a common goal, yes, true culture builders.
One of the most overlooked aspects of a company’s culture is training. Those who learn together grow together. A properly designed training program provides an environment where agents can interact and learn from one another. They share in each other’s successes and challenges both growing as agents and as a team. That collaboration element needs to be engrained into every training session and encouraged by the brokers.
Training also allows broker leaders the ability to convey the company’s identity. A key component of culture is a core set of values and beliefs shared by all those within the group or community. Training gives the brokers the ability to demonstrate these values and beliefs in the way we conduct business and instruct our agents to run their businesses.
Pull the Weeds
I like to think all Brokers strive to hire the most competent and ethical Realtors we can, but every now and again we get someone that, for whatever personal reason, goes a little rogue. Even when you ask the right questions, sometimes it can be tough to pick these people out in the interview process. Differences in personalities are inevitable and not everyone in the company will be the best of friends, but the second you have someone that is outwardly counter-culture or behaving unethically these people need to be removed as soon as possible. This not only protects the brand and company in the public’s eye, but it reassures the rest of your office that the top-tier culture you preach will be defended.
Unfortunately, from my experience, many brokers turn a blind eye to poor behavior in the petty interest of profits. This short-sighted mindset nets them more today but certainly sends the wrong message to the rest of the office which will only hurt in the long run.
Do yourself a favour and pull that weed today.
I have heard it said that you can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake culture. Culture encompasses so many different aspects of a company’s identity that you will be exposed quickly if you are faking it. Whether it be the design of the office, the delivery of training, the mantra of its leaders or the message its employees and agents carry to the street a company’s culture can be inspiring to both it’s Realtors and it’s clients.
“While brand recognition favors the large franchise model, brand is distinct from culture. Just because people recognize your logo or your commercials doesn’t mean that they connect to your culture, and most corporate real estate brands have traditionally done a poor job of defining either.” Troy Palmquist
I love this quote, and this is truly where I believe independents have a distinct advantage over the franchise giants. Real estate is inherently local, no argument there. Independent Brokerages are typically more plugged into the local scene. They work to create that sense of community on a more meaningful level than the national brands that need to require more generic messaging to fit all of their service markets. Done right, that sense of community flows through into your office space - your office is a community too. I leave you with this - if culture is just as important as compensation when choosing a company, it’s time for more Brokerages to acknowledge this. Recruitment and retention are buried in Realtor happiness.