Personnel Assets

Investing in top talent is like money in the bank

To recruit and retain talented professionals, commercial real estate companies must recognize that employees are one of their most valuable assets. Highly skilled employees bring companies new business, increase revenues, build strong client relationships, provide referrals, and gain industry recognition. Real estate executives must assess how their companies measure up in the marketplace and be willing to make changes to remain competitive. If a company’s employees are not getting what they want and need, the competition will do its homework to figure out what it takes to lure top achievers.

To bring in — and retain — the industry’s best and brightest, commercial real estate companies should view their employees as they view their real estate investments: Are they hiring candidates who will perform and provide the greatest return on investment? Are they maximizing the value of their people by providing the tools and resources required for top performance? Are they protecting their investments by building strong relationships with their employees?

Recruiting Strategies

Companies must develop strategic, aggressive, and creative recruiting plans to attract the best talent in the marketplace. Contrary to popular thought, recruiting is not about filling open positions. Rather, companies should identify the most skilled candidates available in the marketplace and look for opportunities to bring them into the organization. The first step is to develop a recruiting culture in which every organization member plays a significant role. Empower all employees to become talent scouts; encourage them to set up introductory meetings between industry professionals and the company’s hiring managers. Establish an attractive incentive program to reward staff referrals. Make it worth employees’ time to proactively seek out professionals and sell them on the company.

Employee referrals are the best way to recruit top talent according to 58 percent of human resources executives who responded to Spherion Atlantic Enterprises’ Emerging Workforce Study. A basic employee referral program generally produces 25 percent to 30 percent of all hires. However, companies that implement best practices in their employee referral program routinely attribute the program with generating up to 75 percent of all new hires. While communication and promotion are keys to successful referral programs, so are incentives: Employee referral bonuses average $1,200 and are one of the most cost-effective ways to recruit talent, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. Companies that are on limited budgets can develop other innovative rewards such as extra vacation days, travel vouchers, gift certificates, and employee recognition programs. Tokens of appreciation from company managers, such as a thank you letter or going out to lunch, also go a long way.

Companies also should encourage industry leadership and involvement with professional organizations such as the CCIM Institute to help promote the company and its people. This gives staff members opportunities to scout for talent and build relationships with fellow professionals. Building rapport and long-term relationships with other industry professionals will make these individuals more open to recruiting invitations.

To further develop relationships with prospective employees, companies should consider hosting events for local real estate professionals. Networking receptions, an industry speaker, a training topic, or a profile of a local real estate project can act as the nucleus for such events. Companies can target top industry professionals and limit the attendance to the first 25, 50, or 75 respondents for a more intimate gathering. Creating a relaxed, no-agenda atmosphere provides an opportunity for industry professionals to become familiar with the company as well as its leaders and employees.

Another strategy is for commercial real estate companies to grow their own talent. When hiring, organizations should view entry-level candidates as potential members of a future executive team. Companies that invest time and resources in such candidates will have a leg up on their competition.

Whether a company is hiring a junior analyst or broker trainee, employers should seek out new college graduates for entry-level positions by developing relationships with local colleges and universities and making contacts with the undergraduate and graduate placement offices as well as the real estate professors. Look for opportunities to participate in job fairs, sponsor and participate in university real estate society functions, and post jobs and internships on college recruiting sites. Companies also can create internship programs for real estate students, providing them with opportunities to develop valuable skills and experience. While not all interns will become employees, companies may gain exposure to a new generation of real estate professionals. Interns who have positive experiences will spread the word to their fellow students and real estate colleagues for years to come.

Hiring the right candidates is more than matching job descriptions to résumés. Hiring managers must be trained to write compelling job descriptions and conduct successful interviews. They should spend the same amount of time selling the company and the job opportunity as getting to know the candidates and their specific skills and qualifications. A skilled interviewer is much more likely to recruit and select good candidates.

Retaining Talent

One in five workers will change jobs this year, according to The No. 1 reason employees leave companies is lack of professional development opportunities. Other reasons include poor relationships with their supervisors, lack of recognition, lack of flexibility for work-life balance, and compensation and benefits.

Companies must demonstrate their commitment to employees’ growth and advancement and promote employee achievements. Make employees aware of growth opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills and share their success stories in company communications and meetings. For instance, suppose an employee recently obtained his or her CCIM designation. Congratulate the individual and educate the company’s employees about the CCIM Institute, the designation, and the value it brings to the company. In addition, be sure to make employees aware of educational opportunities such as those offered by the institute — distribute upcoming course schedules along with information on the company’s policy and financial participation in professional development. Other employees will be inspired and motivated to learn more and achieve more.

Companies must keep employees challenged by giving them opportunities to grow. Assigning new responsibilities and getting employees involved in special projects can maximize employee talents and add interest to their roles. Use annual performance reviews as opportunities to discuss employees’ short-term and long-range career plans. Find out what the company can do to equip them with the skills and experience necessary to achieve their goals. Managers should meet with their employees on a quarterly basis to determine if employees are getting what they need and want.

Commercial real estate companies’ compensation packages should be competitive in the marketplace, and companies should review compensation models and benefits annually. Experts estimate that professionals must make a job change every three to five years to maintain their fair market value in terms of compensation. The last thing companies want to do is penalize employee loyalty by underpaying them, so understanding employees’ market value and paying for it are critical.

Employees also should be compensated or rewarded for all revenue-generating activities, especially those that are beyond their specific responsibilities. For instance, if a broker refers business to a different service line within the company, an incentive program should be in place to reward such actions. Incentives encourage employees to think in terms of the company’s overall success.

The 60- to 80-hour work week is a thing of the past. Today, most real estate professionals are looking for work-life balance. As the complexion of the workforce changes, this balance becomes an even bigger consideration. Baby boomers, who historically have worked long hours, are starting to think about slowing down or retiring. Yet employers can’t afford to lose older, more experienced workers. On the other hand, generations X and Y have the same desire for work-life balance. Forward-thinking companies should devise solutions, such as flex-time, part-time, four-day work weeks, or increased vacation time, to accommodate work-life balance desires for all employees if they want to attract and retain top talent.

Motivating Today’s Professionals

Contrary to what many people think, money and titles are not the driving factors when real estate professionals consider making career moves. These professionals want to associate themselves with companies that have demonstrated success and have strong reputations for integrity and professionalism in the industry. Also among the most important considerations is the employee-employer fit.

Culture Fit. Prospective employees frequently ask themselves: Do I see myself fitting into the company’s culture and environment? Do company leaders share my core values and beliefs? Is the atmosphere conducive to my professional success? Surprisingly, many companies have a difficult time describing their culture and work environment. Hiring managers and employees must be able to articulate the company’s vision statement, core values, and company culture in a consistent manner so that this information can be shared with prospective employees and other industry professionals. They must emphasize the qualities that differentiate their company from the competition and communicate these qualities in job postings and interviews.

Because cultures evolve over time, managers should solicit periodic feedback from employees. They should ask employees to describe the company’s work environment: What do they like? What is unique or different? Find out what employees dislike, what they would change, and what they would add. By doing so, the company fosters goodwill with existing employees. But more importantly, in identifying and addressing existing employees’ wants and needs, a healthy and desirable company culture is created that will attract new employees and help retain existing ones.

Tools and Resources. Make it possible for employees to focus their time and energy on their roles and responsibilities by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support. The brokerage business is highly competitive and much more sophisticated than in the past. Deal makers need to be armed with advanced marketing, research, technology, and analytical tools as well as ample administrative support. Make sure that candidates and employees alike know what tools and resources are available to them so that they can take full advantage.

Leadership and Teamwork. Today’s real estate professionals are looking for leadership that encourages teamwork, collaboration, and internal referrals, among other qualities, and steers clear of the dated “every man for himself” brokerage model. Generation X, ages 31 to 42, is the relationship-oriented generation and thinks in terms of “we” instead of “me.” Generation Y, the under-30 population currently entering the workforce, desires strong personal friendships in the workplace and will make career decisions based upon those friendships. Companies must bridge the generation gap and create opportunities for professionals to get to know one another on a personal level and collaborate professionally on projects.

Training and Education. Real estate companies historically have been slow to offer training and professional development programs. But in today’s real estate environment client expectations are high. Companies should establish a comprehensive training program for employees who are new to the industry, as well as training for experienced professionals designed to continuously increase their knowledge base and sharpen their skills.

Training programs do not have to be costly or time-consuming. Companies can establish an internal mentoring program or conduct weekly training meetings led by internal experts or outside speakers. For instance, companies can volunteer one of their in-house technology experts to conduct classes on Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel, or other financial analysis programs to educate employees on the software’s features. Companies also can contact related-service providers in the brokerage community, such as title companies, lenders, architects, engineers, general contractors, and environmental firms, to conduct informational seminars for employees.

Outside training opportunities provided through organizations such as the institute or local and regional commercial real estate associations are other resources to consider.

Recognition. All employees want to be recognized and appreciated. Managers should pay attention to employee accomplishments and take the time to personally acknowledge achievements with a phone call, voice mail, e-mail, handwritten note, award, or press release. While closing big deals deserves recognition, there are other victories that are worth celebrating. Employees who bring in new clients or listings, hit their production goals, or obtain their CCIM designations deserve company-wide recognition. While frequently inexpensive, recognition is one of the most powerful ways of motivating and encouraging employees.

When commercial real estate companies land sought-after professionals, the market pays close attention. Take the time to ramp up the company’s public relations efforts and promote the achievement. Distribute press releases to all the applicable publications, such as local business journals, local newspapers, and industry magazines. Companies can leverage this positive publicity and go after other high-profile candidates while the news is still news.

Paige Palmer, CCIM

Paige Palmer, CCIM, CPM, is vice president at Lynous, a Plano, Texas-based talent management company for the real estate industry. Contact her at (214) 387-9595 or DemographicsThe real estate industry is facing a monumental challenge — attracting and retaining top talent in a market with high demand and a shrinking pool of candidates. Consider the facts: The average broker age is 46.2 years old, according to CEL & Associates. The baby boom generation, which reflects 45 percent of the total workforce, will begin to retire in droves during the next few years. Prime-age workers, or those between the ages of 25 and 54, will decrease to 65.2 percent of the workforce by 2014. By 2015, nearly one-fifth of workers will be over age 55 and there will be an estimated 10 million more jobs than people available to fill them, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 3 Hiring TipsStudies have shown that good culture and personality fit is proven to be the key to an effective, long-term employer-employee relationship. Behavioral-based interview questions and personality testing can be very revealing and helpful in the decision-making process.Brokerages that test entry-level candidates for their natural sales abilities can fine-tune the selection process and reduce turnover.Most individuals are not financially positioned to consider commission-only opportunities. Companies that do not invest in a draw or salary are limiting themselves to a small fraction of the hiring pool and may not find the most talented and capable employees.


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