This month’s National of Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable discusses how brokerages are preserving their company’s culture amid a changed landscape.
This article first appeared in Real Estate magazine’s special-edition Women in Real Estate issue. View the entire issue here.
Cindy Ariosa, Senior Vice President, Regional Manager, Long & Foster Real Estate, Chantilly, Va., Liaison for Large Firms and Industry Relations, National Association of REALTORSⓇ
Joan Docktor, President, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach, REALTORSⓇ Philadelphia, Pa.
Michael Saunders, Founder/CEO, Michael Saunders & Company, Sarasota, Fla.
Tracy Kasper, broker/owner, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Silverhawk Realty, REALTORSⓇ, Boise, Idaho
Cindy Ariosa: As we begin the year with renewed hope for a healthy, stable world, we realize that if there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s how much we have learned; that a focus on culture is even more critical in a period of social distancing, and remembering the human element in our use of technology is key to preserving a meaningful environment. As leaders, we have been working hard to develop practical strategies, and we’re taking this time to share ideas. Joan, what’s your team doing to keep everyone pulling together?
Joan Docktor: Agents are social people by nature, and so the challenge has been to keep them engaged. When COVID hit, technology offered a lifeline, and we quickly learned that the better we became at virtual engagement—the more helpful, meaningful content we provided—the more our agents responded. In fact, in spite of how busy our people are in today’s market—or maybe because of it—our virtual sales meetings and training sessions are so well-attended that they will likely be with us forever. Our Friday Forums, for example, which typically drew 300 in-person attendees each month, are attracting a thousand or more online.
Michael Saunders: I can echo that. We’ve always been a collaborative company, very much into togetherness, whether it’s mentoring, celebrating or working together to support and give back to the community—and we knew we needed to pivot overnight to translate that to an online platform. We began reaching out to every agent and encouraging them to reach out to their clients. The goal was to inform, to guide, to reassure, and to offer help where needed. The message was—and remains—be safe, be calm, be kind. It’s a message that resonates, that reinforces the trust our clients place in us, and that I think inspires the loyalty and respect of our agents as we move through this together.
Tracy Kasper: Yes, the key from the outset has been good communication—great content across many platforms. I know my agents look to me for guidance, so what I share with them must be timely and varied and worthy of sharing—current events, safety protocols, insightful speakers, even friendly competition. We are in this together, and whether it’s training or mentoring or virtual cocktail parties, it’s all about relationships—mine with my agents and theirs with their clients. That’s what keeps culture intact.
CA: For me, that means reaching out to three people a day, and keeping everyone accountable for staying connected. It means in-depth virtual workrooms, a place to share stories, to maintain a sense of family in a time when in-person get-togethers—even holiday parties—had to be canceled or moved online. Now we face the prospect of more months without in-person festivities. What about awards—a vital part of every company’s culture? How do we make them meaningful?
JD: Each of our offices does its own awards recognition, often with a virtual happy hour, and we host our monthly Breakfast of Champions virtually for our 40 top achievers. That’s working, but now, with our major awards event scheduled in March, we are investigating various scenarios—hopefully something we can do safely outdoors, where we can actually be together.
TK: For the holidays, I personally dropped off a gift at the front door of every agent. You can do that when you have a manageable number. We had a virtual hot cocoa party—or whatever anyone wanted to drink—and we opened presents and just had fun, much as you would at any party. If we can’t be face-to-face, we try to duplicate that atmosphere to recognize our top achievers.
MS: I’m on board with that, even with 700 agents in 23 far-flung offices. At the holidays, we gave each office funds to plan virtual holiday parties in whatever way they chose, and we celebrated our top 100 performers with elegant baskets of champagne, chocolates and cheeses delivered to their door. During the worst of the shutdown, our agents delivered groceries to the elderly and raised funds to provide and deliver restaurant meals. That personal touch is what we want to honor in every company event, virtual or not.
CA: I think what we’re saying is that in a relationship business, our role as leaders is to relate—to be as creative and inclusive in the virtual world as in any other environment.
JD: And that character counts. It’s character, really, that defines company culture.
MS: The challenge of 2020 underscored that. Kindness and respect are as important to culture as professionalism and a drive to be the best—and in some ways, the effort we’ve made to stay connected through all this has brought us closer together.
TK: That’s the thing that’s worth taking with us into a post-COVID world.
For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor.