Are you winning the talent competition?

Julian O'Dell
Julian O’Dell

I attended an industry event a few years ago where there was a panel of experts discussing what made a successful estate agency. There was a predictable consensus among those on stage that their staff were their most important asset and investment.

There was an irony in that at the accompanying trade exhibition, there was not a solitary stand devoted to staff development, upskilling nor talent acquisition, but plenty purveying software, gadgetry and technology.

Furthermore, I recognised people in the audience who nodded sagely at the observation about the importance of staff yet who I knew, from previous interactions with them, provided minimal or no support to their team in terms of training or development. They are often the same people who have an entirely reactive recruitment policy that steers clear of spending money on outside recruitment assistance but rather relies on panic measures when an employee moves on.

Talent spotting, acquisition and retention are battles as significant as winning market share. Indeed, if you win the former, you are in a strong position to win the latter. A proactive recruitment policy to include an ongoing search for great staff even when you have no vacancies (of course sometimes it is worth creating one for the right person) and time set aside every month for interviewing are the bare essentials in the quest to be the best. Whoever is responsible for interviewing new recruits should have been trained in that discipline too – there are key essential skills that are often absent in the interviewer leading to inane questions like “Do you consider yourself to be a team player?” or “Are you target driven?” Now I wonder how an interviewee might answer those…

Recruitment is such a crucial responsibility but often allocated to inappropriate people. So many interviewers fall into the classic trap of seeking eligibility rather than suitability when appointing new staff – in other words focusing on an applicant’s track record rather than their skills and attitude.

I have witnessed some horrific recruitment decisions within the industry largely based on the fact that a job applicant has worked as an agent for a while so can come in and hit the ground running. This supposed quick fix is inadvisable (though admittedly easier) compared to recruiting on the basis of key attributes like desire, work ethic, intelligence and self-awareness. Knowledge of how to actually do the job can be bolted onto those aforementioned qualities via training.

As to staff retention, assuming the basic remuneration and reward boxes are ticked, staff development is another big issue to address.

If you were asked the question “What is your annual staff training budget?” and your truthful response would be “What staff training budget?”, there is a problem. Investment in staff via training is essential to give your company the edge over untrained competitors. It also shows a willingness by owners to prove that they put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the “staff are our most important ingredient” philosophy. This in turn improves staff satisfaction, motivation and retention. This is not an advert for my training – use who you like, do it yourself if you have the expertise and time – it is merely a recommendation to agency owners to ensure your people are the best they can be and crucially that they recognise that their development is important to you.

And the level of investment? As an example, the ability of hundreds of estate agency personnel to spot and win instructions has been massively affected by our Zoom sessions during the past two years, leading to a significant improvement in conversion rates, market share and income. In most cases, it only takes one extra let or sold instruction to be won as a result of new techniques to more than pay for the training itself.

Thankfully many agency owners take the view that their key question is not “Can we afford to train our staff?” but rather “Can we afford not to?”

Furthermore, a Gallup poll found that “75 per cent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their boss – not the position itself.” If that doesn’t convince owners to invest in training for those within the business who manage teams and individuals to ensure they perform their roles effectively, nothing will.

The other almost incalculable impact is the cost of high staff turnover where unsuitable employees move on or are eased out, and/or the better team players seek opportunities elsewhere as they are not progressing or are forced to carry less able colleagues.

If I had £50 for every agency owner who told me “our staff are our biggest asset,” I’d have retired long since. If I had another £50 for those same owners who failed to support that notion with appropriate investment in recruitment and retention, I’d have retired considerably sooner.

Julian O’Dell is head of Marvellous Training Solutions.

 

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