Why agents leave: it isn't the splits

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 14, 2004
  • Realty Builder
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by Jon Cheplak

Special to Realty/Builder Connection

Recruitment and retention of quality agents is essential to the profitability of a real estate company. All managers want to know the answer to this question: why do agents leave?

Agents will say they are leaving because they are getting a “better deal” at company XYZ. As a manager, you believe the agent is getting a better commission split, when in fact, the better deal is that the agent decided they were better off working closer to home, they want to work where their friend Mary works, or the new broker provides more advertising support, or any of an assortment of reasons.

It is easy to accept the “better deal” excuse, because it takes the responsibility out of your hands, but sometimes these excuses don’t hold water - if working with Mary was an issue, why didn’t your agent suggest Mary come and work for you?

As for a better deal, you certainly don’t determine the commission split, the company does. If you truly believe a better split is the reason they are leaving, then you must still take a certain responsibility that your management style was also a contributing factor.

The truth is agents don’t leave the company; they leave the manager.

You are in a human resource business that is built up or broken down around relationships. Retention in your office is dictated by you and what is offered in the manager/agent relationship. It is why agents join and or leave an office. If agents are being inspired in their current environment with valuable leadership and the experience of input, you will find retention is rarely a problem.

Here are the two biggest mistakes to avoid with agents and solutions that you can use in your daily work of recruiting and retention: you’re not aware of an unhappy agent, or you ignore the fact that an agent is unhappy.

In talking with agents over the years, I have always found it interesting to hear how many agents may be truly unhappy with certain policies, but they stay at the same office. An unhappy agent can be good for you and your management if you are in constant communication and maintain a strong relationship with them. Given a chance to identify their concerns and deal with them will help you retain a good agent.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spot agent problems and challenges and deal with problems before they become issues? Unfortunately, many broker/managers don’t. You know that recruiting numbers are great, mortgage capture is climbing and profitability is breaking records and one disgruntled agent does not seem so important.

The situation is similar to a listing that never sells...you ignore it until it expires! The agent does not expire, but the relationship does, and the agent walks out the door. And you’re upset? Interestingly enough, if you step back and look at the relationship, there was always something you could have done differently to change the outcome, if you only knew what the real problem was.

Solution: Feedback is critical in any relationship and the only answer is to maintain communication among the agent population in a bottom up fashion. The simple solution is “business transparency.”

Transparency is defined in the new Merriam-Webster Dictionary as transmitting light: clear enough to be seen through. Make your leadership style clear enough so that your agents can see through and identify the total picture or your company.

From this leadership style you will have a constant pulse of the challenges in your environment and the opportunity to deal with those challenges before you get a result that you do not want. Hopefully, your agents understand customer service when dealing with their clients. And they expect you to understand customer service to them; many feel they are the customers.

Do agents tell other agents when they are unhappy? Of course they do, and it can create a virus in your office. Is someone in your office having a bad experience? Call that agent right now and deal with the situation. If you don’t, they will tell five more agents and a mass walkout could be just around the corner, especially if another broker/manager learns of your agents’ discontent.

While feedback is important, you cannot rely on casual conversation. You must have a feedback loop mechanism in place that provides agents the opportunity to openly share their opinions and experiences with you and your office. It could be as simple as a quarterly survey that is designed to find out what is working for your agents and what isn’t. This amounts to your asking your agents how they feel about your leadership.

If at this moment you are concerned about this exercise, then you’ve got some work to do. Don’t be concerned. Embrace the challenge and remember that we are striving for professional excellence. Read every survey and then complete the feedback loop by responding to all of the agents concerns. Look forward to the truth and not what you want to hear, because this is where the real nuggets of growth lay. In many instances, you will be surprised as the agent’s feedback will be better than you may have expected. The extension of openness that I define as “Business transparency” will create tremendous loyalty and clarity in your agent relationships.

Problem: the agents don’t see you as a valuable business proposition.

I have heard managers say that agents stay because of the wonderful culture and environment. It is my opinion that the office cultural environment is the glue that keeps agents and offices together when everything else goes wrong. The office manager is responsible for maintaining that environment.

So what makes a good manager?

Contrary to most beliefs, a problem solver is not the most important trait in a branch manager and low on the totem pole of attraction items for an agent when considering to join or leave a company.

Instead, I have had glowing reviews from agents who respect the manager that inspires them. They want a manager who recognizes their challenges, helps them understand the workings of the office, and encourages them to become valuable decision makers. In the end, they feel great about the decisions they have made on their own, and see themselves as an important business entity within the company.

What real estate agents truly want is a business coach/leader, not a manager. Answers to transactional challenges can be found anywhere. A good business coach is a rare commodity. You may have brought someone into the business and now you expect tremendous loyalty because of the great training they received from you when they were first getting started. Loyalty lasts with agents only as long as they are receiving value from their broker. Agents spend thousands of dollars every year for coaching and training so that they can grow their business. What if you were the coach and trainer that every agent in your office turned to?

Solution: Inspire your agents by being their number one business manager and coach!

True measurement of a relationship is not in the dollars but the value that is exchanged. An agent gives value in production and support of the company. What value are you giving your agents? Take a look at every name on your roster and do two things. First of all, determine if you think the agent feels they are getting value from you. If there is someone that you feel is not receiving value, then immediately make a plan of action to get with that agent. Now that you’ve determined who is getting value, the next step is to define what exactly it is they are getting back from you in the business relationship. If it’s not coaching, training and inspiration you have a defined issue that you will need to focus on. Everyone wants a coach and needs inspiration. That is a big part of your job.

Constantly empower agents in their career with business analysis and coaching that will facilitate their movement to the next level. The next level can be defined quite simply as more production with the same amount of time and effort, or the same production with less time and effort. I find that supporting agents in either scenario tends to work out wonderfully and results in long term relationships. Support agents with prospecting, presentation, marketing and business analysis training. Also, provide an accountable relationship with measurement of activities and results. As you transform from manager to business leader, you will see an evolution within your office of sales people becoming business people and experience a result that will create a higher level of loyalty than you can imagine.

Keep it simple - keep your agents

While it all sounds simple in theory, it is also easy in practice. How many problems in your office can you address if you know what they are? All of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they all get solved. It isn’t always about a solution. Agreement isn’t always the end in mind, respectful discussion and understanding is often the goal. There is a wonderful old saying, “Little things mean a lot”. Listening can be the little thing that means a lot.

Be the valuable business proposition and take your agents to the next level with your leadership and coaching abilities. If the environment is good and you are injecting value into your agents business your retention challenges will go away.

Even though you may feel you are doing a good job in your office, there is no doubt that there is probably someone in your office that could get a higher split from a competitor. But they haven’t left, because it’s not about the splits. Obviously there is value this agent is getting from you. Are you extending this same value to all of your agents?

- Jon Cheplak is cofounder of The Real Estate Recruiters, The Management and Recruiting Solutions Experts. Info: 866-558-4632, e-mail Jon at recruit@therealestaterecruiters.com or www.therealestaterecruiters.com.