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By Don Kottick

RISMEDIA, Nov. 24, 2008-Many buzzwords flow in and out of the real estate industry, some are generated within and some work their way into the business lexicon through osmosis. Many business leaders and speakers talk about the need to develop a “culture of success” in their organizations. It is therefore important to understand the two key words that anchor this phrase; culture is defined as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group; and success is defined as “a successful performance or achievement.” Combining these two definitions for the real estate industry, a “culture of success” in the real estate business translates into “the behaviors and beliefs of the team members that drive successful performance and achievement.”

Without question, leadership is paramount to developing a culture of success, but it is equally important that the incumbent leadership understands the necessary inclusion and the value of support staff in this equation. In real estate, the importance of support staff is often underestimated or even excluded from the team. The reality is that support staff is one of the primary cornerstones when building a culture of success in any brokerage.

To paraphrase motivational speaker, Robin Sharma, when employees “are happy and motivated and feeling centered/peaceful/appreciated-they’ll rock your world by how big a game they play.” Great support staff can serve as a true point of differentiation for the brokerage, disengaged and disgruntled staff can conversely be the demise of the firm.

How many times have you seen the receptionist or the administrator verbally abused by an agent who has had a bad day and is looking for an outlet for their frustration? How many times have you seen a member of the support staff berated when a technological glitch has impacted an agent? How many times are you seen a member of the support staff work late into the evening to prepare an offer and their generous act goes unnoticed by the agent who successfully lands a large deal? Respect, recognition and open communication must be present in order for a culture of success to grow and flourish.

Remember a customer’s first and possibly only exposure to the company is quite possibly the receptionist who answers the phone. In order to further understand the importance of this statement, we must define customer as a buyer, a seller, an internal agent or an agent from a competing firm that may be recruited at some future point. Did anyone ever sit with this staff member and stress how important they are to the overall process and to the achievement of the corporate objectives? The answer is more than often “no.” If most support staff were interviewed, they would probably report that they perform a perfunctory routine of little intrinsic value and they just put in their time to take home their pay every two weeks. The reality is that their duties and responsibilities can shape and create the customer experience that determines whether a customer will use a firm, whether existing agents stay or whether competing agents will be successfully recruited.

Any support staff position that interfaces with the public becomes, in essence, the company and thereby serves as a liaison and spokesperson for the brokerage firm. This individual is responsible for communicating to the customer the culture of the company by their very actions and behaviors. Any interaction, no matter how brief goes toward creating a brand impression in the client’s mind. This interaction could occur with your deal secretary, the accounting staff, the office manager or any other customer facing staff. Here is a quick example, if the receptionist answering the phone is short and surly with their responses, from the customer’s perspective the brand equity of the brokerage and through association that of the agent will decline. On the other hand, if the receptionist is friendly, resourceful and helpful, the perception of the both the brokerage and the agent would naturally increase in the mind of the customer. The customer associates the receptionist and all the support staff as extensions of the brand and representatives of both the agent and the brokerage. Many agents forget this fact when they vent their frustrations on an undeserving team member.

Internal perceptions are also important as they either enforce or undermine the cultural direction of the organization. If support staff do not dress in business attire or openly read books or eat food at their stations, they inadvertently are sending the wrong messages to the other members of the team. Perceptions can become reality. If the salespeople are driving hard and a member of the support appears to be lackadaisical in the responsibilities, then the perception could negatively impact the development of the culture.

It is important when developing a culture of success in your organization that the importance of support staff is never underestimated. Since the dawn of time, humans have belonged to tribes and it is this tribal mentality that has allowed the race to survive as a species. Fast-forward to today, most functional members of society want to belong to something, especially if they are appreciated and hopefully rewarded. Support staff is no different; they are and should be treated as important members of the tribe or team. This can be accomplished by ensuring the corporate culture delivers respect, recognition and there is open and full communication at all levels of the organization.

When hiring support staff it is also important to ensure that sufficient time and energy is allowed during the selection process. How many times have you heard the hiring manager say there is a scarcity of good support staff and I have to take what I can get? Wrong! The cost of a bad hire can be tracked through lost business, loss of good agents, consumed resources and an erosion of the culture. Hire smart and take the time to ensure there are sound hiring practices in place to attract the right individuals into the right roles. Ensure that each position has a full job description along with the appropriate deliverables and the individual understands their objectives.

How many times are you seen great attention and effort directed to ensuring the 9 to 5 full-time staff were high quality, fully trained individuals and then little effort or training was applied to the evening or weekend staff? The origin of this flawed thought process stems from the fact that most of these individuals are probably students who are going to be transient anyway so why invest time and resources to bring them up to speed. As a result they are given the basics to survive in the role so that the full-time staff can fill in the gaps. This approach means that approximately 30-40% of a brokerage’s operational time is manned by individuals with little stake in the business – does this sound like good business sense to you? The answer is a definitive – no.

Following this line of thinking, how many times have the incoming telephone lines been directed to a third party answering service that is ill-equipped to answer the phones? As a simple test, call your company after hours a number of times and see if you are happy with the result. This outsourced service needs to monitored on regular basis to ensure they are meeting the necessary objectives as they too support the culture of success of your organization.

Now back to the main thrust, it is critical to a company’s success to acknowledge how important the support staff is to the entire operation. As stated earlier, achieving a culture of success is not possible unless support staff is included in the equation.

Some simple tactics to meet this objective are as follows:

– On regular basis, management should meet with support staff to communicate their importance to the company’s success;
– Each position should have a clearly defined job description;
– Each position should have clearly defined, attainable goals and objectives;
– Management should meet with each individual member of the support staff to ensure that they understand the goals and objectives and how these link back to the objectives of the company;
– Implement a performance review process;
– Inclusion of support staff in corporate meetings and functions when possible;
– Develop an Esprit de Corp within the support team;
– Reward and acknowledge successful behavior;

These simple actions will go a long way to making support staff more productive, more fulfilled and more responsive to the needs of both the customer and the agents. Remember creating a culture of success is possible if the fundamental cornerstone of having a dynamic, engaged support team is actively present in the company.

Don Kottick is the vice president & division manager of Royal LePage/Johnston & Daniel Division.