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2010-03-05 16:18:03

The Manager has Left the Office


In a tough market, real estate companies need everyone to contribute their best efforts daily. Agents need to prospect, follow up on leads and ask for referrals. Marketing departments need to revamp websites, produce constant blog content and create company buzz on social networks. And what should managers do to contribute their best? Get out of their office!

In one of our recent management workshop, a group of managers and brokers were brainstorming ways to “make agents more productive.” It’s always instructive to hear this kind of language, as if agents were programmable robots who merely need a few new parts and software upgrades to be more efficient. The discussion turned to the usual solutions like training agents to use technology, encouraging them to purchase smartphones, mandating minimum photo and video features per listing and getting them involved on Facebook. All excellent ideas, but all missing one essential point.

Improvement isn’t spontaneous.

If it were, why would we need managers, coaches or trainers? Hardly any of us wakes up one day and “becomes” more productive. Olympians have trainers – really, managers – who show up with them every day. Yet even the best trainers will tell you that it’s not just the “training” during the class but the “implementation” after class that changes outcomes. George Washington led his men across the Deleware. He didn’t stay back in his tent.

Most of what agents and companies need to do to increase productivity isn’t rocket science. It has already been discovered, tested, proven and perfected: Prospect 50% of the time, focus on referrals and repeat business, and communicate with consumers the way they want to be contacted (such as text messaging or social media). In fact, most agents know these things.

It’s up to managers to help them do them.

What’s the best way managers can help agents do their job – whether it’s old-school or high-tech in style? The answer isn’t contests, cash-rewards or speeches. It’s not new technology or more marketing dollars. Any manager can tell you today that they have plenty of those things, but the needle isn’t moving.

Instead, managers need to do what they ask agents to do – if they want to change the outcomes at their companies. And that means one simple thing:

Get out of their office!

Managers need to be a daily – and constant – part of the production process. They need to be in the action, as it’s happening. This simply cannot be done from their corner office. And for the most part, it cannot be done in the physical office at all. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One step at a time.

Imagine what would happen if managers did not have back offices within the company. Where would they sit? Right next to the agents. What would they do? Listen, watch, learn – and be involved. That’s exactly where companies need managers to be: at the front of the action, a part of the process of creating and nurturing new business.

Managers without offices  would change everything.

Suddenly, agents sitting around chewing-the-fat would be visible to the manager. And the manager would be visible to them. Not picking up the phone or sending out email marketing would not persist for long under the watchful gaze of the production manager. Within proximity of the action, managers would see and hear how customers were being handled by whoever is answer the phone. Good interactions could be praised; bad ones could be corrected, mentored, improved. Right away. Not at some future date.

Managers in the action could greet customers and learn critical market information. How did the customers choose their company? How were things going with their agent? Are they aware of the other services the company provides? Oh, and thank you for the business. Managers meeting customers would change everything.

But without an office, how would the manager do “their work”?

Just what work do you mean? Paperwork is not the work of management. It’s the work of an administrator. Managers read reports, learn from them, and adjust production by coaching their agents. Managers don’t write reports. So who needs an office to do that?

Managers don’t plan events. They don’t order trophies. They don’t go to wasteful meetings – inside or outside the company. Managers manage output from the production floor. And that cannot be done from the corner office, a meeting at the local Board or picking out a hotel for an event. Surely there’s someone else who can do that.

But there’s only one person who can manage.

Everything would change at a company where the managers sat next to the agents all day long. Morale would soar, as agents reconnected with their leader – and received consistent support, encouragement and advice from them as the action was happening. Interpersonal conflicts would be managed, as hearsay was replaced by first-hand observation. And the act of making or capturing new business would be managed. No paperwork could ever be more important than that.

Now consider the ultimate conclusion. What if the manager actually left the building? Not by themselves, of course, but with their agents. What if managers accompanied agents on listing appointments, showings and closings? That would really change everything. New agents learning the trade would have their manager by their side, mentoring and supporting them as they applied skills for the first time. Experienced agents could move to the next level of performance, as their mentor helped them refine their skills even further. Even Olympic trainers have to actually watch their students perform in order to point out their opportunities for improvement.

A manager accompanying an agent could debrief, correct and coach the agent’s performance within minutes of the action.

Managers out of the office would not only support an agent’s performance right away, but they would learn incredible amounts of valuable information from actual consumers – many of whom are never in the office. Managers at open houses could observe and interact with consumers and learn about their expectations, concerns, trends. They could identify which marketing approaches were effective. They would conduct a “higher order” assessment of consumers in actual sales situations – and take that information back to the rest of the office. When was the last time an agent debriefed the rest of the office on what they learned at a showing or an open house?

That’s the job of management.

Some managers do this and it’s why their companies consistently beat the market and produce successful careers for agents. In fact, companies with managers who aren’t in the office find they rarely have to recruit new agents. They are too busy making existing agents productive – by participating in the production process – that there’s little need to replace failing agents. Managers outside of the office see potential failure in advance – and can take action to avoid it. Retention becomes a non-issue as well, as agents realize they couldn’t possibly substitute a higher commission or new tech-tool for real-time management involvement.

For some companies, kicking managers out of their offices may be a radical idea. The corner office is long-seen as a reward for achieving a certain level in one’s career. Yet all too often the rise in a manager’s career coincides with a drop in the company’s performance. It’s easy to blame the market, the consumer, new technology or ill-trained agents: but it would all be self-deception. Companies have sold record numbers during recessions, without the opportunities of new technology, during times when agents weren’t even licensed. Time and time again, when we look at highly productive companies, we see the same formula at work. Hard working sales professionals who are led – daily, consistently, directly – by a manager who is on the front lines, in the middle of the action. Leadership cannot be done from the back office.

If you want to change everything at your company this year, lock the corner office door. And throw away the key.

(Matthew Ferrara is CEO of Matthew Ferrara & Company, a technology organization that delivers training, consulting and technical support to real estate companies worldwide, including their new "Support on Demand" REALTOR help desk service available at 866-316-4209.)   


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