As originally published on Forbes
By Anthony Hitt, President & CEO, Engel & Völkers Americas
There are countless articles and books extolling the importance of organizational culture, but when it comes down to defining what culture is and what sets one company’s culture apart from another’s, things become a bit more nebulous. Is it the people? Is it certain operating standards? The client experience? I believe it’s a combination of these and other factors that coalesce to form the unique DNA that makes up each organization’s brand identity.
When a client walks into an Engel & Völkers shop, be it in Belize, Minneapolis or Budapest, they can expect a certain look, feel and experience. Similarly, when that client is looking for a home across the neighborhood, across the country or on the other side of the world, our network has been built in such a way that an advisor in New York can connect a buyer with an advisor in Paris to seamlessly facilitate that search. This collaborative approach within our network and rigorous commitment to providing white-glove, concierge service to every client who walks through the door are just some of the small things that make our culture what it is.
There are certainly challenges in translating organizational culture when a brand expands into new countries, something I’ve experienced firsthand in overseeing our own expansion in the Americas. And while each market is distinct, there are certain brand consistencies that must transcend this growth. Of course, this is easier said than done, but an attempt to instill certain brand values in every new shop has provided some key learnings along the way.
Culture Is Not an Afterthought
A prospective brokerage may check all the boxes on paper, but not accounting for culture at the outset of a potential partnership or affiliation can lead to disaster down the road. In meeting with prospective brokers, and at the agent level, dedicate specific time toward describing the organization’s culture to gauge whether a prospective partner is a good fit for the brand, and equally as important, if the brand is a good fit for the person or team.
An individual or even one brokerage within a larger brand, who doesn't match a broader culture can feel very isolated, and this can have a negative impact on the culture as a whole. After all, it only takes one person to change someone's perception of an entire company. Yes, sometimes there is a cultural mismatch, but that's when a culture of leadership comes into play, and action must be taken to resolve this. Cultural misfits can weaken culture faster than anything else.
On the other hand, people thrive within cultures where they feel safe to express themselves, they are encouraged to take the next steps in their careers and collaboration is supported. As the next generation of both real estate professionals and clients, millennials are the most inclusive demographic to date, welcoming all genders, ages, races, ethnicities and so on. Organizations are well served to follow this lead — not only is it the right thing to do, but diverse teams lead to more innovation.
When people are happy, they are more productive, and there is less turnover. With a strong culture of positive, productive individuals, a brand attracts similar talent. If people aren't happy, that not only affects them, but the people around them too, which can certainly impact the bottom line.
I often like to think about organizational culture like dinner parties. The best of both are made up of people who come from diverse backgrounds, have unique experiences to share and bring something special to the table. If you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a prospective broker, agent or otherwise, you may want to think twice about how they’d fit into your organization.
Adaptation to the Digital Age
Technology has undoubtedly altered the real estate landscape, equipping brands and individual agents alike with an arsenal of tools that enables enhanced customer experiences. However, in a service-based industry like real estate, technology will never be able to replace human interaction and relationships between industry professionals and between agents and clients.
Brand leadership should look at the ways technology can enhance collaboration across their networks. At each brokerage, brokers and managers should be communicating with their agents regularly to ask questions such as, "What can the company do to help you from a technology and tools perspective?”
At a brand level, leadership should be leveraging technology to communicate with the network at large about all of the great things brokers and agents are doing in terms of business, marketing, philanthropy, etc., so that victories can be celebrated and shared across the network.
Bringing People Together
As a business expands, it becomes increasingly important to bring people together on a regular basis. Hosting events on a regional, national and global scale are crucial to maintaining brand culture even as it continues to grow. Each touchpoint reinforces a brand’s key pillars and values. Whether bringing together top producers from around the world or regional leadership to collaborate on marketing initiatives, we’ve found that a blend of education, celebrations and unforgettable networking experiences has worked very well in building a collaborative culture across borders.
It’s equally important not to discount the differences that make each market distinct. The key is to determine the non-negotiable brand tenets that must be upheld so as to maintain the integrity and DNA on which an organization was founded. As an organization expands across borders, bringing on the right people and partners to cultivate the desired culture will build overall brand power and strength.