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RISMEDIA, June 9, 2008-Before you even start looking for team members to handle some of your excess workload, you’d better have a system in place, complete with procedures manuals and a plan for training. Otherwise, new hires spend a lot of time with “nothing to do,” while you work even harder to earn the money to pay them for doing nothing.

In Chapter 5 of RISMedia’s recently released book, “Power Teams: The Complete Guide to Building and Managing a Winning Real Estate Agent Team,” by RISMedia President and CEO John Featherston and top producing Broker Ralph R. Roberts, we show you how to put effective, efficient systems in place and establish office policies and procedures so the office can run itself, for the most part. You can then focus more time and energy on high-level training and setting the vision for your team. Following is an excerpt from Chapter 5:

Developing Systems and Procedures

When setting up your team, you should take a systematic approach in building and managing it. All your team members should be aware of the team’s goal and mission statement and the tasks they’re responsible for. By developing systems upfront, you’ll be much more effective and efficient in hiring the requisite talent and then providing them with the training they need to carry out essential tasks.

Identifying objectives

If you wake up in the morning and jot down a list of things you need to accomplish before the end of the day, you’re already well aware of objectives.

Sit down with a pen and a pad of paper (or at your computer) and generate a comprehensive list of objectives-everything you need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis.

Your objectives are anything and everything that you need to get done, including creating marketing packets, meeting with prospective clients, responding to e-mail messages, creating a Web site or blog, processing a transaction to closing, and so on. When you have a comprehensive list of objectives, you’re well prepared to begin the process of laying out the steps to meet those objectives.

Identifying tasks

Once you have a list of objectives, identify the individual tasks that you or someone else must perform in order to meet the objectives. This may consist of writing letters, making phone calls, doing research, meeting with clients, color coding folders, and so on. At this point, you’re not going into great detail. You’re simply creating a to-do list of what steps each objective requires.

Creating step-by-step procedures manuals for accomplishing tasks

Delegating efficiently requires that you provide anyone who becomes a member of the team or works for the team with the training and resources to successfully accomplish their individual objectives. The best way to provide training is to have written procedures manuals that team members and other staff can reference to determine how to carry out any tasks they’re required to perform.

Procedures manuals should contain more than simply step-by-step instructions. Provide any illustrations (including screenshots if the task is computer related) that may assist your staff in understanding how to perform each task. In addition, provide information on where to obtain any resources required to perform each task. Your goal is to provide enough detail so that anyone can perform the tasks without supervision and with as few questions as possible, to minimize frustration on your end as well as that of your team members.

Some of your steps will likely be decision steps, and some of the decisions a person needs to make in a real estate office are critical. Make sure your manual contains sufficient information for the person reading it to make the right judgment call or to feel comfortable asking questions without feeling inadequate. You want team members to take initiative and act independently, but you don’t want to discourage them from asking the questions required to make good decisions.

Your procedures manuals should constantly evolve. Have another team member try to use each manual and make notes to point out any missing or confusing steps. As other people use the manuals, they should point out any problems they had following the instructions so you can refine the instructions as needed.

Tip: If writing and revising manuals is not your specialty or the specialty of any of your other team members, consider hiring a specialist. Many technical writers have the training and experience to handle the job.

Assembling the manuals

Until the world is completely paperless, you need to employ at least two systems to manage your office-one for the paper that piles up on your desk and the other for the digital “paperwork” on your computer-e-mail and documents. At Ralph Roberts Realty, my assistant has access to my e-mail inbox and color-codes all incoming paper documents, so they can be efficiently distributed to the team members who are most qualified to deal with them: red for Lois (second-in-command), yellow for Sarah, green for Lisa, orange for Lauren, and purple for Kandra.

Tip: As your agent team grows, you may want to opt for a more structured approach by assembling your procedures manuals into separate binders for specific job titles-perhaps one for your receptionist, another for your marketing coordinator, and one for your personal assistant, for example.