No Room for Rumors

Building a thriving team environment at your brokerage means establishing openness and transparency.

February 1, 2011

A pervasive "fear factor" in some real estate offices can dramatically drag down the business. ­Managers are often at a loss for dealing with rampant gossip, bullying, and other undermining behavior from sales associates and staff, believing that avoiding confrontation is the lesser evil.

At my mid-sized brokerage, we’ve developed policies that help prevent such problems from happening. We’ve found that a culture of openness and transparency is the surest path to boosting morale, retention, and productivity.

The proof is in the numbers: My company, Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa, Calif., saw its sales volume grow 17 percent from 2009 to 2010 while transaction sides jumped by nearly 20 percent. We are ranked fourth in ­market share in our Orange County, Calif., region, competing against companies with multiple offices and hundreds of agents.

Here are some strategies we use effectively to promote teamwork:

Seek goodwill. Negative energy can quickly bring down an office, so use foresight. In the hiring process, look for individuals who value a group atmosphere and camaraderie. I tend to be less focused on whether this person will add to the bottom line than whether he or she will add to the office goodwill. Our agents know that we hire with the good of the company in mind. This is one of the best ways to foster loyalty.

Nip toxicity. It is quite common that a few ­people (unfortunately, they are usually the most vocal in the group) just enjoy being the bearer of bad news and helping create negativity. That’s why you must communicate your company’s core values to new and old agents alike. Practice what you preach, maintaining zero tolerance for gossip. Encourage people to come directly to you. If someone is making trouble, ask for a private meeting with that person to talk about the problem and potential solutions. Nonthreatening conversations giving these agents a voice will help create an atmosphere of trust. If people can’t adhere to the positive working environment, ask them to leave.

Distribute leads fairly. In the cutthroat real estate industry, there is a great deal of concern about fairness in the lead distribution process. Therefore, a clear and well-defined strategic policy must be in place. We have an automated lead assignment system. The plan is simple: If a lead comes in and is not answered promptly, it goes to the next agent. This approach puts every agent on a level playing field.

Give individual attention. Twice a month on "Mentor Mondays," I meet with the agents one-on-one to flesh out concerns and give guidance to help them reach their goals. During this time we also go over buyer and seller scripts and role-play to improve our lead-closing techniques. Many rumors are identified during these sessions and are dealt with immediately. I’ve found that this greatly improves agent retention.

Our agents do face evaluations by management; however, the reviews are meant to improve agents as salespersons and enhance their effectiveness, rather than be disciplinary. The evaluations are designed to be constructive rather than punitive. The feedback is two-way between management and the agents, with both sides holding each other accountable for performance. This is clearly outlined in company policy.

Encourage open discussion. We’ve created a book club to foster creative and productive conversation. Some of our favorites are The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, and The E-Myth Revisited by Michael ­Gerber. At each gathering, agents have an opportunity to lead the discussion and ask questions of others. These popular roundtable discussions have helped people get to know each other, boosting ­morale and trust. 

Valerie Torelli is the president of Torelli Realty, an independent real estate company in Costa Mesa, Calif.