Growth was the word for 2015 for Keller Williams Realty Inc. After becoming the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count, the company found the good news of continued growth coupled with the challenge of providing training to keep pace with that growth. The Learning Team at Keller Williams didn’t disappoint. Training was renewed and ramped up in everything from leadership development to onboarding to fostering the kind of engagement that limits attrition and facilitates additional growth. The supportive culture at Keller Williams, where associates are given tools to learn how to build strong businesses, has made training and development part of the company’s core. As Keller Williams grows, learning and development are not simply boxes to be checked. The corporate culture teaches associates that their growth as leaders in their local markets is key to building bigger businesses and funding bigger lives. The only question is how will Keller Williams top itself in 2016?
Growing and Learning
“In the four years since we launched our Growth Initiative, our local team leaders have more than tripled their recruiting appointments,” says President John Davis. He says based on that data, the company now knows its conversion rate from appointments to agents who join the company, and that has become Keller Williams’ baseline expectation and standard. “Our opportunity is to improve that conversion rate by focusing on providing even more value to agents,” Davis notes.
With the help of Keller Williams University instructional designers and faculty and KW MAPS coaches, the company is focusing across its leadership training on sharing what Davis calls the company’s value story. “This includes using the ‘language of real estate’ (numbers) to connect with professionals outside of our company and sharing the impressive results that our training data proves our agents are achieving,” he says. “Thanks to this shared vision, gross agent recruiting increased 18 percent in 2015.”
Growth Through Value
Keller Williams believes retention complements recruiting. “It’s the other side of the coin,” says Davis. The company’s full-day course, “Growth Through Value,” teaches its local leaders how to deliver the value of Keller Williams training, resources, technology, and services. “When agents are productive, engaged, recognized for their successes and involved in our culture, they have no reason to go anywhere else,” he says. Keller Williams also has empowered its market center administrators, as part of their leadership role in the company’s offices, to focus proactively on retention. Davis says the industry standard in real estate is for about a third of agents to turn over in a given year. “Through our emphasis on recruiting and retaining great agents, we’ve driven that attrition rate below 20 percent,” he points out. “In 2015, we added more than 20,000 associates to our family.”
CEO Chris Heller says Keller Williams’ strong culture is one of the reasons agents want to stay with the company long term. “Our success results from a deeply ingrained culture of learning, innovation, and giving,” says Heller. “From sharing profits to taking care of our family members during emergencies and giving back to our communities, we’re united by the good we can do when we work toward a common goal.”
And training, Heller emphasizes, is critical to helping Keller Williams’ agents be more purposeful and productive, to providing clients with a better customer experience, and to building more stable and profitable businesses. “Our culture is one of the top reasons agents choose to join our company,” he says. “To foster and strengthen this culture, we offer cultural training across our training offerings.”
The company’s corporate culture is so well known, in fact, that Heller says researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business currently are writing their fourth case study on the Keller Williams culture and how it reflects and reinforces the company’s business success.
A key to the supportive culture Keller Williams offers its associates is the suite of tools it provides to facilitate collaboration. “In many sales fields, high achievers guard their secrets. At Keller Williams, we’re not only an open-books company, we’re an open-learning company!” says CEO of KW MAPS Coaching Dianna Kokoszka. “Co-founder and Chairman Gary Keller and the leaders of our company have fostered a culture of collaboration because we know that together everyone achieves more. When agents share best practices, agents’ productivity increases and everyone benefits.”
Kokoszka says the company’s most intensive forum for sharing ideas and solutions is KW Masterminds. Three times a year, associates gather to share challenges and learn new ideas. The company’s top leaders personally lead these Masterminds sessions. “We track everything, and the best ideas are fed back into our training and coaching programs, so we can continue to grow and improve,” says Kokoszka. “Our Masterminds series is one of the reasons Keller Williams is setting all-time records for productivity and profitability and growing three times faster than our industry.”
Building Future Leaders
With more than 133,000 associates in 773 market centers around the world, the ability to identify and train leaders is critical to Keller Williams’ success, says Davis. “In fact, we teach our leaders to find their replacements. Our leadership pipeline training programs are designed to help aspiring leaders choose a leadership path,” he says.
Agents interested in pursuing opportunities in franchise leadership have a prescribed path of courses to gain skills as emerging leaders. Davis says that more than 75 percent of Keller Williams’ office leadership opportunities are filled internally.
An alternate leadership path, which includes a curriculum of 12 courses based on the systems and models of Keller’s bestselling book, “The Millionaire Real Estate Agent,” teaches agents how to form and lead their own real estate teams. “As a result of this training,” says Davis, “this year, Keller Williams had more teams on the REAL Trends/Wall Street Journal list of America’s top agent teams than any other real estate franchise.”
Indeed, leadership development at Keller Williams is a systematic and well-thought-out process. “All Keller Williams University courses and training materials are built on models of what the best are doing, whether that’s Gary Keller interviewing top agents for The Millionaire Real Estate Agent or our training team working with our top offices to rewrite Ignite,” says Chief Learning Officer Bryon Ellington. “Everything we do comes from our best associates, so we know it works at the highest level.” (See p. 105 to read about Keller Williams’ Leadership Week program, which won a 2016 Outstanding Training Initiative Award.)
The company currently is beta testing a new education platform called KWU Connect that embodies this philosophy. When it’s rolled out to Keller Williams associates this month, it will provide an educational and social community for associates to access all KW training content, classes, and, most important, associate-generated content such as videos and audio files, documents, and links to additional resources.
KWU Connect gives associates new tools for finding all of the company’s learning content, whether that’s self-study classes, video on demand, or live instructor-led training. “We’re giving people best-in-class search tools to quickly find the resources they’re looking for. More important, we’re giving them tools to share and communicate,” says Ellington. “We’re leveraging the power of social learning so our associates are not only learning from KWU, but sharing with each other. We’re bringing the best minds in real estate together to share, collaborate, and learn from each other.”
A Learning-Based Company
Keller Williams’ success stems from its focus on learning and training as a core competency. “Gary Keller has said that Keller Williams is a training and consulting company that just happens to sell real estate. Training success starts with that mindset,” says Davis. “You have to be learning-based. And you have to want to get better.”
Davis recommends that companies seeking to build a better learning infrastructure be open to trial and error, and constant refinement. “You have to be willing to revise, or even replace, your best effort,” he notes. It’s a matter of identifying the right people to lead the right initiatives using the right systems and models. From there, it’s a process of constant refinement, focusing on the outcomes of the training provided and being honest about what worked and what didn’t.
“Training should be integrated through everything your organization does and inform every strategic decision,” Davis says. “It’s through our training that Keller Williams has the biggest impact on our associates’ ability to create opportunities for themselves and their families.”