Sunday, February 10, 2019

Building the Team

Much like a corporation is considered its own entity, teams will take on a life of their own. This is a good thing when you have the right bunch of people and can lead to better productivity. Micromanaging is counterproductive in the long run and not a growing trend for leadership in the 21st century. The conundrum is how to let go of control and signal to the staff it’s alright to pick up the slack. In an organization where all plans and decisions are centralized, that transformation will not take place overnight. This is where the boss must be willing to let go of a certain amount of control and begin to encourage employees to take more initiative. But, the proper relationship between team and team leader needs to be in place.         

Workers need to have a certain amount of trust before they are willing to take on greater responsibilities. A common fear is someone might make a mistake (and they will) and be blamed for a bad decision. People need to know it is alright to occasionally go out on a limb because management will offer the safety net below. This begins with a sense of belonging.

When team members know they are legitimately valued as a part of the organization, they tend to take ownership. Ownership of the department, ownership of decisions, and themselves ownership of their own mistakes. Empower people and give them access to more resources and decisions. Allow them to speak freely about concerns they may have about a specific task. This will not only lead to better morale but less stress for management.  

Several articles and business text books have been written of the extreme measures the five-star hotel chain Ritz-Carlton will undergo to satisfy their guests. In fact, each employee has a budget of up to $2000, per incident, to ensure guests will come back again. If a valet or maid can fix an issue, they do so, even without managerial approval. This level of trust in turn, spurs greater loyalty from company employees. With the average patron paying a quarter-million dollars over a lifetime, it’s a wise investment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

May I Offer a Little Friendly Advice?

There is an old saying: "Free advice is only worth what you paid for it". Well, hold on! Not everything that is free is completely worthless. Consider the air we breathe. Yes, there are times when advice can be good and beneficial to its receiver. There is another adage: "The best things in life are... FREE". Perhaps more than the actual advice, we should better scrutinize the source. WHO is the one imparting the sage wisdom? Are they actually a sage? In other words, is it someone who actually has experience in that field?

When I was in business school, we had the occasional adjunct professor teach some of the upper class courses. An "adjunct" was someone who was not on regular staff, but still worked in the industry of which they were teaching. That being the case, they were usually night classes. I always had this feeling that the regular faculty didn't like adjuncts. Nonetheless, THEY are the ones from whom I learned the most. If I saw an instructors name in the course catalog I didn't recognize, I knew it was probably a business owner or CEO. It would be someone I could ask real-world questions and get a straight answer. An answer based on experience and not what was already written in the textbook. In other words, I valued their advice.   

In real estate, it is estimated over half of all agents nationally quit after the first year in the industry.   One major reason for the high turnover is rookies feel they are not adequately trained in the BUSINESS of real estate. Over a decade ago, I was a real estate trainer for one of the largest RE/Max franchises in the country. It was a job I enjoyed and held that position for about five years. The program I put in place for new agents was hugely successful as evidenced by the stint of their careers. The training was said to be so good that veteran agents of other companies would recommend their friends who wanted to get into real estate to come see me! The managing broker loved me.

Given the acclaim from within as well as externally, you would think all the newbies would always hang on to every word I said in our training meetings, right? Nope! A new agent would knock on my office door and ask "Do you have a minute"? I always made the time. Once they asked a question or told me of a challenge they were having, I would tell them the best course of action or even offer a couple of suggestions. USUALLY, it was based on an experience I actually had throughout the course of my own career. I was puzzled the times they would not heed my words and go it their own way, sometimes re-inventing the wheel.   

On one particular incident, one of my agents asked if she could simply use the old house photos from an online listing that had expired with another company. Though I had never heard of such, I told her it was best she take her own listing photos and "start fresh". Simple enough, right? It may have been laziness on her part, but it certainly was not by accident she posted the old agents pictures online. Three days later the broker of the expired listing's company called my broker and words were exchanged. I believe the topic was intellectual property rights. Once my young agent caught wind of the conversation, she called the old agent and further exacerbated the situation. Feelings were hurt and there was now bad blood between the two firms, which in real estate is NOT good. Not good at all. All she had to do was take my advice... and her own damned photos.

What I realized was there are people who seek validation rather than unbiased advice. They have an idea and go to the expert. IF the expert agrees... YAY! But if the veteran dissents, they simply do what it is they really wanted to do all along. I use to be extremely annoyed by this, as I considered my time was wasted. Now I see it is part of being human. To varying degrees we all do this. We get it in our head what we want to do, but ask opinions of others to cover ourselves. This is why it is vitally important to suspend making final decisions on important issues until enough workable information is in. Granted, it's hard to separate our emotions from a logical decision. That's the human part I was talking about. Consider all the down on their luck gamblers in Las Vegas; a prime example of not separating ideas from emotion.   

Real estate is a tough career, but so is public speaking. I'm not even talking about being on stage. That is only 10% of it, the tip of the iceberg. As a public speaker and corporate trainer, I have about ten people a year ask me how to get started as a motivational speaker. I always stop what I am doing and take time to talk to them and answer any question they have. Why? Because a lot of successful speakers along the way stopped to talk to ME. They gave me advice and I took it. I always let novice speakers know the one most IMPORTANT bit of advice I can spare for someone just getting in the business; join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a public speaking club where one can learn the skills. The cost is only about $100 annually and generally, members are warm and welcoming. So, how many would-be Tony Robbins took me up on my advice? None! Not a single person I ran into again or called a month later actually joined Toastmasters. My guess is their dream is more attractive than the actual work of bringing it into reality. 

My advice to you: the next time you seek someone's opinion and their idea is contrary to what you initially thought, do further fact finding. However, they may be able to spare you some heartaches and stress. Has this person actually done what it is you want to do? If not, then WHY are you asking them?  Find someone qualified with real-world experience. If something isn't as easy as you originally thought it was, you're probably on the right track.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Professionalism Begins Online

We have all had bad days, but is that a license to blab to the world about how much you hate your job because we're just not "feeling it" that day? SPOILER ALERT; the crux of this article is that no one cares! Nonetheless, there will be teachers, CPAs, Realtors and even doctors who will spill their guts on the internet through social media. The individual may feel a little better after a purge, but his or her audience is aghast.

A couple of weeks ago, I was with about a dozen veteran real estate agents who were mortified by some of the recent posts of fellow Realtors. Things that apart from just being in bad taste, could actually get the licensee in a lot of hot water. Of course, I immediately pulled out my smartphone to see who was doing what. Oh yes, you will get reactions, but will you get business? I will confess just when I think no one is reading my feed, I may drop a quick comment about an elected official or some new government policy and inadvertently start a firestorm controversy. Right there on MY page... YIKES! Well, if you are alright with that, than that's your business decision to make.

It really is a business decision. Most people with a professional license are independent contractors. That being said, they are small business owners. To which they are THEIR OWN boss and responsible for taking measures to avoid liability. If one agent tweets out their own resentment toward a fellow Realtor, the overall process or heaven forbid, their own client, repercussions are soon to follow because literally everyone on the planet can read it. As in the case of Realtors, the NAR Code of Ethics, Article 15 reads...

"REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices." 

The supporting standards go on to state the professional could be made to remove the post and, essentially, apologize. In the case of clients, they could sue over a careless post as it is a breach of agency. So why would someone want to air their dirty laundry online in the first place?

Rachel Albertson, with InfoRule Social Media, a Murfreesboro based marketing firm states; "You do not have to be friends with clients on social media. In fact, I do not recommend it."  Apparently, Disney thinks that's a good idea as well. Their employees are NOT permitted to mention they work for Disney. To violate this policy could be grounds for termination. So, be mindful of how you intermingle your private life with business.

Legal issues aside, remember what your mom told you about "conversation in mixed or polite company"? Do not discuss sex, politics or religion. Mom was right! Yet, here is where a lot of people miss it. To spare you the details here, MASHABLE has compiled a list of people who were let go over social media posts. I am not suggesting we have no opinions or never share our ideas, that's not my place. Though I will offer a friendly reminder if you post something political, you stand the chance of alienating half of your audience.

Professionalism begins online. In the 21st century, the majority of consumers start looking for an insurance agent, mortgage broker, Realtor or dentist through the internet. The search is actually a funnel. The buyer asks a question of a search engine, follows the answer to an industry publication, then a geographic company and then YOU! They already have a vague idea of what a professional is suppose to be before they ever click your name. When they ask a serious question, they anticipate a serious, coherent answer. If what they find instead is an agent posing with a sock monkey, they may not take that professional as one who is serious or would be responsible with their money. In short, the agent appears UNprofessional. Don't get me wrong, I love sock monkeys as much as the next guy, but if there is no marketing tie-in or a picture of a give away at a children's hospital, no one would take me serious. They certainly would not trust me with their biggest financial investment. Time to take down the cutesy avatar.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Prepare for the WORST, but..." Wait, how does the rest of that go?

"Prepare for the worst, but HOPE for the best!" Why is it we tend to forget the last part of that maxim? Is it because we have heard it so few times? Perhaps it's too long? Maybe the concept itself is too complex. It may be the first part, the doom and gloom part, takes all our concentration.  After all, can we really expect our minds to think in two completely different terms? Yet if we are looking under rocks to uncover potential booby traps, we never take the time to enjoy the proverbial flowers.  

First, understand that anxiety is actually there for good reason. It's a survival mechanism. We are constantly looking for an alternate ending, a way out, or at least a really good lie. We want to have options when it comes to saving our relationships, not getting mugged, being fired, or just talking our way out of a traffic ticket. Self preservation itself is not bad so long as it is not at the expense of others. However, we get stuck there. We are always watching out for the next big financial pitfall or social jackpot. Our minds take in billions of bits of information every day. The great majority of that data has no bearing on our lives whatsoever. Nonetheless, there is a lot to sift through. Perhaps there really are more things that could go wrong than right.

Without a doubt, negative self-talk will manifest itself into a bad attitude, limiting beliefs and even a poor outlook on ourselves. Some of that talk is our own creation and some of it (some more than others) is something that has played each and every day since we were small children. So, why is this little inner PA system always playing? With exception to deep-seeded emotional issues, there are just two reasons; we are comfortable with what is familiar, and silence scares us. Yep, that's pretty much it. Trusting in the way things have always been done is far better than looking inward at ourselves.  Have you ever known someone in a co-dependent relationship? Rationale would dictate they leave an abusive entanglement, but they remain due to a fear of the unknown or even possibly being alone.    

Perhaps we should BEGIN hoping for the best! Far more important than dwelling on unrealistic negatives is how to move forward searching for positive outcomes. This takes adjusting our own attitudes toward, well, everything. This is nothing that can be done a psychologist, minister, board-certified magician, your boss, your parents, your spouse or the HR lady. Sorry, not even I can help you with this one. It is something the individual must do for themselves.   

However, here are a few things that help you move in the right direction;

Get a better class of friends. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once stated; "We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with." We tell or children to not hang out with the wrong crowd. Yet do we head our own advice?  You are only obligated to see your extended family on Thanksgiving, the other 364 days of the year are YOURS!  Seriously, do we seek those who can help elevate us or simply those who are comfortable and familiar?  Maybe we gravitate toward those who are most like us, as we are now. Perhaps we are the ones who are co-dependent.

Again, with the diet and exercise? Yes and who knows, there might actually be something to it, too! There have been hundreds of studies on the emotional and psychological benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. That means more fish. Also, we must train ourselves to fill our lungs with more air so we can better get oxygen to our brain. The type of deep breathing we can only get from exercise. Good news here; ANY physical activity will get our heart rate up, so have fun with it. Unless you have a medical condition, there is no wrong exercise.    

"Purple giraffe!" Did you just envision a blue otter in your mind? No, because it was filled with the image of a two-tone lavender equine with a long neck. The human brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time with any great detail. Whatever is there, is there. If we tell ourselves to NOT think of something, it's still there. We can't allow ourselves to become frustrated when we imagine the worst, like getting fired, breaking up, arguing with our children or Bananarama on tour. Acknowledge those negative ideas for what they are; distortions of reality. Then, simply let them creep on through our mind until they find the exit. They will eventually leave, they always do unless we choose to hold onto them.    

Give yourself a time out. Take some quiet time, you deserve it. Go somewhere completely devoid of people, phones, distractions, wi-fi or even background music. Have a conversation with yourself. As stated, we already talk to ourselves, so this should be easy. Have an honest talk with yourself about the type of person you are, what makes you happy, and where you want to be in life.  Believe it or not, this is where I LOSE MOST OF YOU. As simple as it is, it's just too damned awkward.  

Get enough sleep. A Columbia University study showed the rate of those surveyed who had sleep
deprivation and sought out professional help for psychiatric disorders by about 8:1, versus those who were well rested, yet sought help. Eight to one! How many of those eight would never have had an issue had they just got an extra hour or two of sleep each night? Those one-hour sessions lying on the psychologist's couch would have been just as effective had a subject actually fallen asleep on it!   

Live with passion! No doubt, some people aren't seeing the good simply because they just are not happy.  Happiness really is a decision, not a state. Of course, we all have bad days, suffer regret and mourn loss. But that should be the exception to human existence. When I conduct career coaching with clients, I ask them what they are most passionate about. Sadly most simply do not know what would excite them to get out of bed in the morning. They only roll out of bed due to habit or a sense of what the consequences will be. Passion overcomes fear and if we are anticipating all the good that will come from the new day, our attitude will rise to meet the need. 

Sad to say, we will always have those little negative thoughts and anxiety. The trick is to outweigh them with positive expectation and constant reminders of how awesome we truly are. And that, takes purposeful intention.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Service at the Speed of the Human Race™

The information superhighway was never intended for people to take a leisurely stroll. The internet was created, and exists for the rapid gathering of data. Service itself is just a byproduct. Truly, when it gets to decision time, people want to SLOW DOWN a bit. But, how do you do that or even hit an "off ramp" if everything is moving so fast?  

The concept of "Service at the Speed of the Human Race™", simply means gathering all pertinent information for our clients as quick as possible, explaining it to them in a way they understand, and then allowing them some time to decide how to proceed.  No teleporters or magic wands, just good client service. In fact, this has always been the model. But unfortunately, it's a point a lot of online platforms completely miss. At some point in the decision making process we must slow down, as bad information, out of sync priorities and miscommunication can upset an otherwise smooth process. If we are the professionals in our field, those who have knowledge and prior experience, and it does fall to US to tap those brakes.  Otherwise, our client stand to make a huge mistake, especially as it applies to real estate.

Click here for FCM page
It is a concept First Community Mortgage refers to as "the human mortgage approach" of doing business.  Though they have access to all the tools of an online-only bank, they realize the greatest advantage is in their people. More important, their people making face-to-face connections with clients. Mortgage seekers don't want to be forced in to the next step of the process because the site says it's prudent to do so.  Nor are they willing to be denied by an algorithm. They want to look a professional in the eye and get some advice. People want options. Yes, at a point there is the need for a little bit of hand holding. That is a service you cannot get from the internet.

I recall several years ago, a large discount department store was playing with the notion of expanding into real estate. They had kiosks set up in a few of its stores as a pilot program to see how many more magazines, cheap toys, shirts, flip-flops, and 2000 square foot homes they could sell. This was at a time when there were not as many real estate information outlets as there are now. The discount chain's concept was to provide fast and convenient data while customers were shopping otherwise. People did in fact look at home listings on the in-store computers, but when it became decision time, elected to seek the advice of a Realtor®. The project was abandoned.  

Recently, I worked with some clients to sell their home. Within the first 24 hours, we received four offers. Each was good. The clients selected potential buyer to work with and we were able to sell the property for about $10,000 MORE than we originally anticipated. All this happened without the use of such online services as Homelight, Zillow or Trulia. For the most part, the offers that came in were by word of mouth. As for the bump in price; I went "old school" and actually MEASURED the property thereby finding additional square footage that was not reflected on the tax record. Something that would not have been caught by a "Zestimate", but rather by little ol' me!   
In the 21st century, we want something and we want it now!  However, instant gratitude is for the most part, a fantasy. Gaining information today is no problem at all, but is it the RIGHT information? More important, is it the right information for that individual? The human mind can race at a sprint, but the heart still needs go the distance of a marathon. That is what is meant by Service at the Speed of the Human Race™.    

Blaine Little is a real estate instructor, business trainer and an agent with Reliant Realty in Murfreesboro, TN