The Talent War

May is a Property Academy Mastermind Meeting month, (they’re bimonthly), and travels from Brighton to Edinburgh via Bath, Cardiff and Manchester, to mention just a few of the cities I’ve visited in the last four weeks, highlight the regional differences when it comes to stock levels, price falls/increases and general sales/letting volumes.

But one topic has dominated above all others and it’s an issue across the country – finding and keeping the best talent.

At the heart of the issue are three factors:

1. The industry isn’t as appealing as it once was and talented people are choosing other sectors. With incredibly low unemployment, talented people have more options open to them than they’ve had for many years. And why would they pick estate agency? “Long hours including evenings and weekends, low basics, complicated commission schemes that promise high levels of OTE that are unobtainable, no real career development and miserly levels of investment in training” – that’s how the CEO of a leading recruitment agency recently described the typical package on offer from many EAs.

2. Generation Y, (aka Millennials), people aged from 19-34, think and act very differently from Generation X and the Baby Boomers who are in charge of most EA companies. GenYs believe that two years in one company “is like forever”, having a degree entitles them to £40k a year from day one, that 9am to 5pm means arriving at 09.00, not 08.59, and leaving at 17.00 – that’s packed up and walking out the door on the dot. They need constant praise, don’t know how to react to setbacks and failures, (largely as a consequence of winning an award for coming second last at school sports day for effort), and have no conception  of what “putting in the hard yards” means or that every job has “stuff’ that needs to get done but isn’t that exciting.”

3. Talent with experience is in incredibly short supply due to the fact that Generation X is only 10million in total compared with 16/17 million each for Baby Boomers and GenY and this has been compounded by the failure of corporates and independents alike to provide training and development beyond the most basic levels with only a handful of EAs making any investment on management and leadership development.

But it could be so different. Let’s look at each of the points above with a different paradigm.

1. Estate Agency is the best industry in the world, (maybe second to being an astronaut but only just). As an EA you get to help people fulfil their dreams and move on with their lives from one chapter to another. You meet new people every day. You’re not tied to a desk. You’re dealing with valuable assets and huge amounts of money – the stakes are high and rewarding. You have incredible variety, in 10 years no two days will be the same. The challenges constantly change and you need to adapt to face them and have the satisfaction that comes from that.

2. Young and old alike can succeed. It’s both a young persons industry and one that’s ideal for those approaching retirement indeed might already be retired. There are no barriers to entry, it’s a meritocracy.

3. Technical skills and experience are secondary to life skills and the ability to deal with people. You don’t need to be a superuser on system x, y or z – indeed you only need to have mastery of one piece of equipment – the telephone. You don’t need years of experience – if you’ve an abundance of common sense you’ll grasp all but a few situations straight away.

I’ve also travelled to San Francisco in the last month, with the Property Academy Summit Group, to visit several leading companies in Silicon Valley. They also have the challenge of recruiting and retaining the best people and here are a few lessons from Google, Facebook, AirBnB,Tesla and others EAs might consider:

1. Accept that two years is the norm for GenY and then work on reasons why they should stay longer. These include a clear career path, proper training and development, new challenges (GenY’s love projects and the chance to show off their ability).

2. Look at your environment. Your offices (be they on the High St or elsewhere) should be designed to attract talent more than attracting customers. GenYs want to work somewhere they feel is cool (and here’s the thing, GenX and Boomers like it too). Pinstripe suits and ties can be cool, (watch an episode of ‘Suits’ to see how to do it) but only in some environments – many EAs would do well to relook at the dress code and other outdated practices from the 1980s.

3. Retention is as important as recruitment, maybe more important. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, reckons that the executive teams of the Great companies spend 60% of their time on recruitment AND retention. Too many EA owners and senior directors spend too much time at their desks pouring over spreadsheets when they should be out in the field finding and keeping the best people.

Whichever model of agency you subscribe to one thing is for sure – the real battleground is the war for talent.

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