Leading RE’s At Home With Learning
2016 saw Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) take talent development to the next level. The company created a program that has allowed its brokerages to better select sales managers, and in the process, improve their companies’ overall performance. Taking charge of the process by which sales managers are selected has given these companies the power to improve the quality of their managers while spurring sales, and, ultimately, bringing greater service to customers. An eye toward providing employees with comprehensive talent and career development has created a sustainable, high-performing workforce.
Becoming a MAESTRO at Leadership
“Without question, we are most proud of our MAESTRO Leadership Program,” says Vice President of Talent Development Barbara Wichman. During the development and deployment of LeadingRE’s Sales Manager Assessment, which identified key performance indicators to assist its brokers in selecting quality sales managers, the company made the decision to go all in and create a one-of-a-kind talent development program: MAESTRO Leadership. “It is built around the three key pillars discovered during our focus group for sales manager selection: Culture, People Development, and Financial Growth,” Wichman explains. She says the company piloted its newest talent development program with 25 sales managers in 2015.
MAESTRO training consists of three in-person, interactive three-day workshops covering the three pillars of real estate leadership. The program is taught by a team of real estate industry leaders led by Wichman and Leadership Coach Mike Staver. The six-month program includes a behavioral assessment tailored for sales managers, relevant assignments, and Webinars between sessions, pairing with an “accountability partner,” ongoing communication/motivation, and other resources—all designed to empower MAESTROs to apply what they learn to create better real estate sales outcomes.
“Attendees gave rave reviews in evaluations and are regularly posting stories about what they now are doing differently and their results via closed groups on Facebook,” says Wichman. “The MAESTROs are sharing what they learned with their broker and teaching other managers, extending the impact of the training beyond our student base.”
In addition, the company held a one-day workshop exclusively for the broker/owners of MAESTRO students to reinforce what these managers learned, and to maximize the learning experience within their organizations.
LeadingRE collected key performance indicators from the pilot attendees, and compiled year-over-year comparisons to measure the impact of the training:
- 83 percent achieved a 28 percent increase in average number of sides (transactions) per agent.
- 57 percent increased total number of sales associates by an average of 16 percent.
- 72 percent increased total office sales volume by 16 percent. The highest increase in volume was 65 percent.
Learning Resources at All Levels
Leadership development provided through MAESTRO is just one facet of a comprehensive suite of learning resources. LeadingRE’s talent development resources are designed and available for nearly every role and department within real estate brokerages: leadership, management, sales, marketing, technology, relocation, business development, and customer service. “This holistic approach sets us apart and helps us deliver on our mantra, ‘Making the best brokerages better,’” says Wichman.
Part of offering learning resources on such a wide scale is keeping pace with evolving learning technology. In 2016, the company incorporated Lynda.com, a video-based learning resource, for online, just-in-time learning. “Our internal staff holds a diverse set of needs and learning goals. With just over 100 employees, we needed to find an option that would give breadth and some depth to the learning needs of all employees,” says Wichman.
The learners leveraged Lynda.com in two ways. The first was to look for courses that supported their learning needs as identified in their development plans, to provide additional learning options for further skill development. The second use was for just-in-time reference activity, which, Wichman says, received a lot of play. Over the course of five months, more than 2,350 videos were viewed with an average viewing time of 12 minutes. “With some of the top courses viewed being Excel and Google analytics, we know folks are looking for answers to questions that affect immediate productivity needs,” she says. “Providing this resource reduces online search time and provides proven quality learning. Additionally, leaders have set up learning tracks for their teams, and have access to analytics that alert them to the progress made by each team member.”
Recognizing CLEAR Success
CLEAR values (Collaboration, Leadership, Excellence, Accountability, and Respect) are the cornerstone of LeadingRE’s culture, Wichman points out. Introduced in January 2016 as a part of driving an “intentional culture with articulated values,” the CLEAR values are the basis for the company’s internal recognition program, along with a monthly award that is presented to the employee who has most exhibited that value, chosen out of a pool of peer nominations. CLEAR winners receive gift cards from a traveling trophy, which the company even ships back and forth to remote team winners. CLEAR recognition can be given to anyone either in-person or using an online tool. The CLEAR recognition program and monthly CLEAR awards have helped to reduce employee turnover by 30 percent from 2015.
LeadingRE also began having purely social monthly breakfasts to build and strengthen relationships across departments. LeadingRE also sponsors parties for its company volleyball team, part of a city recreational league, and senior managers attend a few games each year. Additionally, the company began a “Lunch with the Leader” program in which a C-suite leader takes a different employee out to lunch each month, and successfully implemented a “Summer Hours” program, giving employees an option for Fridays off.
To ensure the company keeps its pulse on employee engagement, a confidential employee survey is conducted every year, with results first shared with managers, who then share with their teams. “Every year we introduce new benefits or activities specifically targeted to ideas or concerns expressed in the survey,” says Wichman. “Based on the questions we repeated on the survey from 2015 to 2016, 18 of 27 questions showed improvement (a 67 percent increase), with virtually no declining scores.”
Mentoring “Smart Starts”
The greatest of learning resources is meaningless without the human touch—namely, the support of a learner’s fellow employees. With that in mind, the company redesigned and redeployed its one-on-one relocation mentor program (“Smart Start”) to incorporate blended learning approaches and enhance long-term results. New relocation directors must be recommended for the program, which includes passing 10 pre-requisite online courses, earning the Global Relocation Professional (GRP) credential, and participating in monthly calls with an assigned mentor for nine to 12 months for training support.
“We recruit seasoned veterans, and assign mentors to match similar company profiles for the best fit to culture and needs. Because our mentors volunteer significant time, we built in accountability elements, and only full-time relocation staff members are eligible,” says Wichman, who notes that mentee graduates receive certificates and join their mentors and peers for recognition at exclusive conference events and from the main stage. “In 2015, there were 20 Smart Start graduates,” says Wichman. “The referral performance of our graduates in the first full year after completion improves, on average, 150 percent!”
Planning for the Future
With effective learning and development created and rolled out across the company, the next concern is succession planning. “Succession planning and business exit strategies are critical factors in real estate, because many owners are in their 50s, 60s, or 70s, and some do not have family members interested in the business, and don’t have a plan for the future,” says Wichman. “LeadingRE has many legacy companies spanning generations, including the two oldest brokerages in the industry—Baird & Warner in Chicago and N.P. Dodge in Omaha, both of which are more than 150 years old.”
The company assists succession planning through its CEO Exchange Groups, including one that specifically comprises second- and third-generation family members, and by offering live sessions at its conferences on succession planning strategies. It also makes an effort to “bring up” younger members of management teams by involving them in LeadingRE activities and groups, so the company is able to informally mentor them. “We work one-on-one with companies to direct them to additional succession planning resources to assist with such decisions, and our CLO has worked with numerous companies to facilitate their decision-making,” says Wichman.
In October 2016, LeadingRE held its first two-day Family Succession Planning Workshop featuring family business consultants, attorneys, valuation experts, and other member brokers who have successfully undergone such transitions. The program was attended by 19 companies that are facing generational transition of their family businesses, for whom this event assisted with planning, communication, advice, and best practices from outside experts and member brokers.
“During the last 12 months, we have provided confidential coaching and ‘brokering’ to 10 member brokerages to support their efforts in succession planning,” says Wichman. “This individualistic approach allowed us to retain 95 percent of known ‘at risk’ brokerages that may have sold to firms outside of the network. Doing this fits our culture, and those of our affiliates, and enhances our network’s value proposition.”