The Stuff of Legend.
I recently met up with my old mates Pete Jackson and Alan Robinson and over a long lunch, we put the world right and walked down memory lane telling tales of estate agency from the last four decades.
Jacko and Robbo have built not just one but two outstanding estate agency businesses. First, Jackson Property Services (JPS) where I had the good fortune to work with them in the 1980’s. Then, after selling JPS to the Halifax, (for a multiple that seems even more incredible now than it did then), they’ve helped several partners to build Robinson & Jackson (and Robinson Michael & Jackson), to 23 branches in SE London and Kent.
We reminisced about the days prior to proptech – no Rightmove, no internet, no mobile phones, and worked out that each of our branches in the mid 1980’s sold and completed on the same or more properties than many of the best branches do today – which begged the question, how? How did we do it then, what was it that set our business apart from the competition? And the answer can be summed up in one word:
The late, great management guru, Peter Drucker, is often quoted as saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” but he didn’t. Indeed the quote was first attributed to him six years after he died. But he could have said it, because it’s so true. I’ve updated the saying as I feel it tells only part of the whole story:
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture eats systems for lunch. Culture eats brand for dinner.”
Most good businesses have a clear strategy, have implemented effective systems and have developed a brand that stands for something in their marketplace. But the very best businesses go further, they work as hard, harder even, on their culture, probably more than anything else. If you have a great culture you can almost do without a strategy, you can work around imperfect systems and the brand becomes the people rather than the logo, slogan or shiny website.
At JPS we created an “esprit de corps” unlike any other I’d experienced before and few since. We were one big family, made up of individuals with different backgrounds, education and talents, that had a common purpose – to be “The Bestsellers”. Our logo, the swift, (which R&J and RM&J use now), stood for getting properties sold quickly, and whether any of our clients got it or not didn’t matter, the team did. We were driven by targets, league tables, incentives and recognition. Every month, quarter and annually, there was a sales meeting to update the team on who had done best, who had improved the most, who had achieved a personal best and these events became bigger and bigger, culminating in my final year by taking over the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and having a fledgling presenter called Jonathon Ross hand out the awards including a TVR car and a cheque for £100,000! The whole culture was focussed on achieving the best possible performance and this was in no small part due to having a lot of fun while we did it.
I urge you to define your culture and write it down. Cross out any corporate speak and make it real. Then create iconography around it, and more importantly the stories that reflect the real values of the business. And tell these stories repeatedly so they become the stuff of legend.
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