Broker-owners don’t have a product to sell; they have a brand. That means culture is the foundation of the job, according to broker and real estate trainer Rebecca Thomson, principal of the Thomson Real Estate Group in Chicago. Unfortunately, many leaders of real estate companies don’t spend time enough time fine-tuning their brand’s philosophy, which is why she offered culture-building tips during her presentation at the 2019 REALTOR® Broker Summit. “Culture is the glue that keeps your company together,” says Thomson.
If you’re unsure of the current state of your company’s culture, start by asking agents. Select a few new agents and a few veterans to find out what attracted them or what keeps them at your brokerage. Ask what they think is working well and what needs improvement. Use that feedback as a starting point for writing or updating your value statements. Thomson recommends three to five value statements that go beyond just a single word. “Education,” for instance, isn’t a value statement, she says. But your true value statement could be, “expertise in the marketplace,” and education is a tool your agents use to get there.
If you’re a broker with multiple offices, you may know that culture doesn’t always fully reach every location, says Thomson. If you have an office that’s more popular because its systems function well or its great camaraderie, then find out what’s working there. Learn what the staff experience is like, Thomson says, because “if they don’t feel like they’re part of the organization, that’s a problem.” Conduct regular agent surveys to make sure your company values and systems are functioning cohesively.
Sometimes change is hard, whether it’s changes in personnel or implementing a new piece of technology. “The worst thing you can do is roll something out and be done with it,” Thomson says. First, she recommends making sure the tool or system aligns with your brand values. Then, develop a plan for introducing the new product to your office. You might need some agents to do beta testing. If all goes well, create a training schedule, come up with frequently asked questions, and make a big splash to let everyone know about it. Then, have follow-up conversations with agents to see what's missing or what can be further improved.
A positive company culture also relies on a fair and equitable pay structure. Make sure you have fair commission splits with transparent benchmarks, Thomson says. While agents aren’t supposed to disclose their splits per their independent contract agreements, “at cocktail hours they talk,” she says. “Having an institutional split range takes pressure off managers because they don’t want to be unfair. And, if agents feel like they’re getting a fair deal with you, they’re less likely to leave.”
For brokers looking to attract new agents, Thomson recommends having a recruitment plan in place and be sure to track your recruitment efforts. Look at the submarkets you want to expand into and find agents who will help you make headway. “We expect our agents to be consistent, so we need to do the same thing with recruits,” she says. “Always be closing, whether you’re recruiting or selling.” Agents who are considering switching firms are often being courted by more than one firm, so if you’re not being consistent, they’re going to go with someone else, Thomson says.
“The worst thing you can hear is ‘I’m thinking of leaving your company,’” she says. First, take three seconds to breathe in, try to avoid judgment, keep your emotions under control, and ask where the move is coming from. When it comes to retention, you have to be clear about what you provide. If they’re set on leaving, always do an exit interview and never burn bridges, Thomson adds.