How to Develop a Training Program

It is important for any training program to be effective and thorough. Below is a step-by-step method to get your training program off the ground:

The Basics

Real estate sales training has evolved from a rarely offered luxury to a necessity that new sales associates have grown to expect. Fortunately a successful training program does not require spending a lot of money, but it does require quality administrators and a good deal of foresight.

A quality training program will be an appealing recruiting benefit, a major tool to productivity and profit, and will enhance your company’s image.

Whether your company is large or small, made up of new or experienced associates, establishing an effective training program requires you to set behavioral objectives, choose appropriate administration options, identify the steps of development, and create a management support system.

Program Development

Behavioral objectives: A behavioral objective outlines the specific measurable behavior that the student is expected to perform at the end of the training session. Many companies set their training objectives in terms of what the instructor wants (instructor-oriented) or how much material to cover (content-oriented). In order to have an effective training program, the behavioral objectives must be in terms of what the student is to perform.

To set behavioral objectives, you should begin at the end by visualizing the skills you want the student to have. Describe the behavior you want the student to have by using verbs that express measurable behavior, such as “demonstrate,” “choose,” “compute,” “describe,” “identify,” “perform,” or “explain.” Non-measurable verbs such as “understand,” “know,” and “appreciate” must be converted to measurable behavior by asking yourself, “why must they understand this and what behavior must they exhibit to prove they do understand?”

Examples of real estate training behavioral objectives are: “At the end of this session the student will be able to…”

  • Recognized sources of listings
  • Demonstrate active listing skills
  • Explain the sequential nature of selling
  • Structure feature-benefit statements
  • List the steps of marketing a listing
  • Plan a strategy and procedure for an offer presentation.

A training objective must also be measurable within the training environment. If it can only be measured in actual field situations, then it becomes a management behavioral objective. A student may plan a strategy for an offer presentation, but once in an owner’s living room the objective changes to “Present the offer in accordance with the strategy.” This can only be measured by management.

When you base a training program on behavior you weed out unimportant information and automatically increase the program’s effectiveness. For example, real estate financing is an area which a sales associate must know. When you ask yourself why this is important and then reduce it to what the sales associates have to do, it becomes an easier subject for them to learn.

Establish major points: Once you have established the objective, you should list all the major points that support them. One of the best ways of doing this is through “storyboarding.” This originated at the Walt Disney Studios and is now taught by Michael Vance in his Creative Thinking Seminar. In its simplest form, it involves putting all your ideas on index cards and mounting them on a wall. Ask other people for ideas and put them all on the cards: points, stories, examples, subtopics, and illustrations are some of the topics you should write down.

This process of “throwing it at the wall to see what sticks” will produce creative ideas that will evolve into an organized seminar. Move the cards to form major areas with the sub-topics underneath. Continue moving them into a logical, sequential order. When you have finished, remove the cards and stack them in proper order. You will then be ready to write the outline.

Writing the outline: Before writing any course text you must first make a complete, well-organized outline. The index card storyboarding makes this process much easier. Using Roman numerals for your major points and then follow standard outline procedure.

The easiest way to establish the outline sequence is to follow the chronological order of the behavior you want the students to master. The intent is to create a logically flowing image in the student’s mind. There are times when sequence is determined by a “need to know” order where a foundation of knowledge is established before the actual practice is taught. To determine sequence you should ask yourself, “At what point does the student need to know this information?”

Writing the text: Too many classes have produced students who are proficient at taking notes but not meeting the behavioral objectives. You should consider putting most of the information in writing so the students can spend time practicing the skill rather than writing about it. If there are times when the element of surprise is important or if you want to arouse their curiosity, then use some type of fill-in-the-blank outline.

If the outline includes sample dialogues, charts, lists, or examples, put them in an appendix. This makes the text flow without interruption.

A complete text has other major benefits. It insures content consistency throughout a training network. It minimizes the use of lectures by an instructor and serves as a valuable reference for the student.

Support Materials

Good instructors make an outline come alive through their delivery style and use of support materials. None of these support materials are intended to be a replacement for a good instructor.

Interactive presentations: For the traditional route, use PowerPoint presentations to highlight major points in a more interactive, engaging way. PowerPoints are especially useful for conveying complex computations and transactions that can be explained over several slides. Be sure not to clutter each slide with too much information but do break up text with entertaining interludes in the form of quotes or sayings, fill in the blanks, cartoons and embedded audio files or videos.

If your trainees are younger, you may want to consider newer forms of interactive presentation. Sites like Prezi, Google Docs, Scribd or Animoto all offer a variety of ways to compile information and present it online. By creating presentations with these sites, you can go beyond the typical and sometimes tired powerpoint arrangement, keeping young trainees engaged and tuned in throughout. If they need a refresher, attendees can also access these files online at any time after your lecture.

Student manuals: After you have created an outline and a text, you have a choice of printing formats, such as loose-leaf three-ring, corner staple, center-stapled magazine, perfect or square bound or a combination of these. Base your choice on your budget, the quantity you will use, frequency of updating required, the image you want the manual to have, and the ease of use for the student.

Instructor guide: The student manuals can be used simultaneously as an instructor outline. In fact, teaching is easier when both student and instructor are using the same manuals. The instructor, however, does have more information in the way of lesson plans, personal notes, stories, backup material and other support information. Assemble a loose-leaf 3- or 4-ring binder to serve as an instructor guide, tabbed by topic. This guide can include an outline, time sequence, workshop guides, case studies, role plays, articles, cartoons, transparencies, class lists, reading lists, famous quotes, notes on previously taught classes and anything else an instructor may use to deliver the topic. It may be feasible to have a master guide in the classroom for each instructor’s reference.

Handouts: Students see handouts as an extra bonus. Handouts give you more control over when the students receive the information. Handouts work well for the news articles, sample sales dialogues, information forms, prospect questions, case studies or role-playing information sheets.

Books: Students are always interested in reading good books to add depth to the topic. Consider supplying a few key paperback books that strengthen training and provide a reading list.

Videos: Videos can be used for both information delivery and as a feedback tool. In the role of information delivery, you can show instructional videos from YouTube, Vimeo or similar sites. You can also create videos of your own that highlight key points in a visually stimulating way. Videos are excellent for adding the power of a second opinion, serving as an objective third party, displaying complex visual imagery, demonstrating behavior as a model and adding some variety to training. However, videos should never be used to give the instructor a "break."

There is also a key rule for showing videos in a classroom that every instructor must follow: Never work in the dark. Keep some, if not all, of the lights on while the video plays. You want to have eye contact with the group and you want to keep everyone’s attention.

Videos don't have to be a purely passive information tool. Try recording trainees during role-playing activities. Then, play back the video and discuss what went right and what went wrong during the taped interactions.

For a decent quality, cost-effective option, the Flip UltraHD Video Camera records in HD, shoots up to 2 hours of video and easily connects to the USB port of your computer or laptop.

Administration

There are three basic ways to manage the training function: Use a full-time training director, a coordinator plus faculty, or a combination of a training director and faculty. Regardless of the management system used, there must be someone who is ultimately accountable for the quality and delivery of training.

Training director: A full-time training director assures the highest degree of quality, control, and consistency. It is also the most expensive option. Your firm’s size and your annual recruiting projection will determine the feasibility of this choice. A full-time training director could be warranted in a firm of from 400 to 500 associates recruiting 1,500 new agents annually.

A training director’s primary responsibility would be delivering the new associate training program. For a three-week program they would teach two and a half weeks with help from guest speakers. The remaining time could be devoted to other responsibilities.

These other responsibilities include developing and delivering programs to experienced associates and branch managers, offering staff development and recruiting assistance, arranging career nights, special seminars, company gatherings and refresher programs to new agents and guest seminars at branch office sales meetings.

Selecting a training director is extremely important. Training directors should have credibility with the branch management team as well as with the sales associates. They must have a successful track record in the real estate business; however, they do not need to be “superstars.” (In fact, “superstars” will sometimes have difficulty sublimating their egos enough to let the students grow.) The training director will be the model, the example, that the new agents will emulate. You should choose this person as if all future associates will be a mirror image of him or her.

The training director must also demonstrate a desire to help others. Typically, training directors are the people agents turn to when they have questions or need help. Their ability to communicate knowledge is more important than merely possessing it themselves. There are many people in the real estate business who are extremely knowledgeable but who have limited ability to communicate their knowledge. Look for people who may have some past teaching or speaking experience.

For students to pay attention and learn, they need a person who is outgoing, dynamic, enthusiastic, and fun to work with. Most trainers are from the “expressive” behavioral style. They are highly assertive yet emotionally warm with other people.

Training coordinator: Use some of the criteria for training director selection to choose your training coordinator. You should also consider holding auditions for instructors. Announce to your company your desire to develop a training program and solicit applications to join the faculty. Schedule a day for auditions, assign a training topic to the candidates, assemble an audition committee, evaluate the candidate’s performance and choose your faculty.

This team now has the choice of developing the actual course material or purchasing pre-packaged training programs. They should then plan and organize the training agenda and schedule.

Combination: Using a training director with a faculty is a balance between the two previous options. In this case the key training person has more experience and involvement than a coordinator, but has responsibilities besides training. An example of this would be a branch or regional manager who is also a skilled trainer and responsible for its delivery.

This option has the following benefits: The training director provides the leadership, consistency, quality control, course development, and instructor development while the faculty adds variety, current “in the trenches” experience, and different points of view. This may be the best option for the most real estate companies.

Compensation: The training directors compensation must reflect the degree of competence and experience you expect the training director to have. As a guideline you should consider paying a training director the same as you would a branch manager in the top third of your management team. Include a bonus option tied to critical objectives of the training department and company profitability. A training director must be regarded as a valuable member of the management team, not just a staff function. He will, after all, have an influence over more sales associates than any other person in the company. The training director sets the tone of a new sales associate’s career.

Coordinator and faculty: For smaller companies with smaller budgets, it may be more cost-effective to share the training function with a team managed by a coordinator. In its simplest form, the coordinator serves only an organizational and administrative function while the faculty delivers the actual training. The coordinator could be a manager, department head, or even a sales associate. The coordinator does not need to be as skilled as a full-time training director, but the closer you get to that level of competence, the better your training will be.

The faculty can consist of other branch managers, sales associates, department heads, and outside guest speakers.

Compensation for the faculty should include a daily speaking fee and an appropriate raise for those who have added the training function to their job descriptions. Payment for instructors who are not part of the regular faculty is also important. Instructors may volunteer to teach an occasional class for “ego satisfaction,” but for long term, quality delivery and a commitment to continued topic development, you need to pay the instructors.

Scheduling

In planning the delivery of your program you must determine the overall structure, length, and frequency.

Structure: The best way to hold the training program is on full consecutive days. Other companies have attempted to deliver it every week, mornings only, afternoons only and many other combinations. Save yourself years of searching for the best method and run it for full consecutive days.

Never run a training program for new associates during the evening (except for pre-license courses). Evening courses attract people who won’t quit their present jobs, don’t make the commitment to the business, aren’t serious career people, will miss most of the classes anyway, and will quit soon after they start. If people won’t quit their jobs to begin their real estate careers, then they’re not ready to start.

Length: The basic company training program designed for the new sales associate should run at least two weeks, preferably three and even four weeks would not be too long. This is based on including many hours of actual participative teaching techniques and student involvement. Three weeks of lecture would be pure drudgery and ineffective.

Presentations of advance training to experienced associates should be kept between a half to a full day at a time.

Frequency: The frequency of a training program is determined by the size class you prefer. You’ll need between 15 and 30 people to run an effective, involvement-oriented class for new associates. As soon as you have that many, run a training class. If you’re hiring 150 people a year, you should offer five to eight courses a year.

Administration tips: Design a simple card for the manager to use in registering a new associate with the training department. When the candidates complete and sign this card they show a sign of their commitment to the company. This also assures that no outsiders can “wander in” and take your course.

Design welcome packets that can be mailed to new associates when you receive their registration cards. The packet can include a typed, signed welcome letter, a training schedule, a map to the training location and any other pertinent information.

You can schedule training courses by using a four-foot by six-foot white magnetic board. Using chart tape you can design an annual calendar using magnetic tags for each day of training. The calendar makes it easy to identify classes, assign instructors, and do long-term planning.

You should take attendance each day, keep a weekly record, and send a copy to the branch managers each week. They need to know their new associates’ progress and commitment.

You should plan to have the students give a daily critique. Solicit students’ comments on the instructor’s performance and effectiveness. These can be reviewed with the instructor by the training director/coordinator.

Equipment: You may have to purchase a number of pieces of equipment for your training program. These include:

  1. Two white boards, one for the scheduling and one for the classroom
  2. One three-by-six foot table for the instructor and one or more one and half by six-foot student tables
  3. Padded classroom chairs
  4. A large projector/screen for displaying images from your computer or laptop
  5. File drawers or a file cabinet to organize transparencies, handouts, contracts, outlines, etc., for each class
  6. A video camera

Management Support

A training program lives or dies from the support it receives from all levels of management. This support comes in two forms: The financial and emotional commitment to the general value of training; and the specific support of the techniques and concepts presented in the classroom. The most destructive comment you can ever say to a new associate is, “Okay, now you can forget all that stuff you learned in the training session and we’ll show you how it’s really done.”

When management disagrees with or disputes a training point, the associate mentally “throws out” or questions the entire training program, not just the point in question. It’s similar to reading a newspaper article when you find an obvious mistake; you then have a tendency to question the entire article’s validity, if not the entire newspaper.

From the beginning of the planning process on, all levels of management, should work together to make the training program a success.

Adapted from "How to Develop a Training Program," by David Knox, Real Estate Business, Spring 1985, p. 8-12. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner, Council of Real Estate Brokerages Managers. Further reproduction or distribution without permission is prohibited.

David S. Knox is the National Training Director for Merrill Lynch Residential Real Estate in Stamford, Conn. and senior instrutor for the Residential Sales Council of the REALTORS® National Marketing Institute.

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