Special report: the keys to a strong company culture

Creating an environment that promotes retention, productivity and happiness

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Key Takeaways

  • Nearly three-quarters of real estate pros believe culture is “very important” to a company’s financial success.
  • Close to 60 percent of real estate pros said they were “very happy” with the culture of their company, which they were likely to describe as “positive” and “agent-first.”
  • The freedom to work in different settings with flexible hours (without compromising regular communication with management) is shaping strong cultures today.
  • Brokerage leaders must work to attract agents to networking and training events to maintain a healthy culture.
  • Management must lead by example and suit their actions to their words and values.

Real estate firms large and small are presented with the unique challenge of creating a sense of unity and pride among their agents who aren’t even employees, but independent contractors with a lot more freedom.

Enter the idea of company culture, the focus of Inman’s latest Essential Guide, exploring what real estate professionals value most in their work environment and how leaders can foster a culture that promotes retention, productivity, happiness and a positive image.

Culture manifests in many different forms: flat or hierarchical, innovative or stodgy, collaborative or siloed. It’s created through a shared set of values, everyday interactions between coworkers and management, gestures both large and small, technological offerings and support, communication style, training opportunities and key decisions. A strong culture, which may be less obvious to the naked eye than a bad one, is something that an organization must continually work to shape, improve and live out.

There was no doubt among respondents to Inman’s survey about the significance of culture; nearly three-quarters said they believe culture is “very important” to a company’s financial success.

When asked if they thought their company had its own culture, an overwhelming number of respondents — 87 percent — said yes. The majority considered their culture to be strong already but said that an improved culture would further bolster their desire to stay where they are.

“Whether a person is defined by the IRS as a self-employed contractor or an employee, it is unimportant when it comes to culture,” said a Louisiana agent. “Culture is the glue that binds associated professionals together and helps maintain a sense of inclusion, support and camaraderie.”

Yet culture will be constantly challenged in a dynamic business environment. In the digital age, broker-owners and managers have to work harder to bring their agents together for opportunities to connect, such as networking events or social gatherings. Additionally, as many brokerages around the country experience fast and exciting growth, leadership must preserve a sense of culture amid the changes and momentum.

Red flags such as agents rarely coming into the office, poor communication in a remote setting, a few negative associates or teams in the mix or a managing broker who is never available may be signs of trouble that, left unaddressed, can have a profound effect on the health of your business. And while a national brand may have an admirable set of values and mission statement, if the local office isn’t “walking the walk,” its managers need to step up or risk creating a disjointed environment that leads to costly turnover.

“When people are happy, they are more productive, and there is less turnover,” said Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers Americas, the global luxury real estate franchise, in an interview with Inman. “Turnover costs money and takes away from efficiencies when you have to retrain and rebuild. With a strong culture of positive, productive individuals, you attract similar talent. If people aren’t happy, that not only affects them, but the people around them and can certainly impact the bottom line.”

Positive, agent-first, tech-focused: The picture of a modern brokerage

Real estate pros overwhelmingly expressed praise for their own company’s culture, with nearly 77 percent describing their workplace culture as “strong” or “very strong.” There was no clear consensus on who had the culture edge between franchisors or independent firms — 18 percent said indie and 6 said franchisor — but over half believe the strength of a culture is dependent on the specific company.

Respondents cited easy access to managers, a relaxed yet professional environment, a family feel and transparency as aspects that made their culture stronger. They appreciated their companies’ “forward-thinking” mindset, commitment to keeping up with the times and focus on technology training. Eighty percent said they were content with their current commission split, with the majority of agents at 70/30, or at an office where splits vary among agents.

Close to 60 percent said they were “very happy” at their company, with 24 percent describing themselves as “happy,” and 12 percent as “neutral.” Just a small sliver — 5 percent — reported feeling “unhappy” or “very unhappy” at their place of work. Nearly three-quarters said that culture contributed to their happiness at work “a lot.”