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Recruiting and retaining staff

"I run a successful Sales and Lettings agency but things get harder as the months go by, particularly in terms of recruiting and retaining the right staff . Any thoughts on this?"

Julian O'Dell, founder of TM Training & Development
Julian O'Dell

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development

I remember allowing myself a wry smile at an industry event a few years ago where there was a panel of experts discussing what made a successful estate agency. There was an unsurprising consensus among those on stage that the staff was their most important asset and investment.

Staff training & retention imageThe irony was that at the accompanying trade exhibition, there was not a solitary stand devoted to staff development, upskilling nor talent acquisition, but plenty purveying software, gadgetry and technology. Furthermore, I knew a good few folk in the audience who nodded sagely at the observation about the importance of staff yet provided minimal or no support to their team in terms of training or skill improvement. They are often the same people who have an entirely reactive recruitment policy that steers clear of spending money on outside recruitment assistance but rather relies on panic measures when an employee moves on.


Talent spotting and acquisition is as much of a battle as winning market share. Indeed, if you win the former, you are in a strong position to win the latter. A proactive recruitment policy to include an ongoing search for great staff even when you have no vacancies (of course sometimes it is worth creating one for the right person) and time set aside every month for interviewing are the bare essentials in the quest to be the best. Whoever is responsible for interviewing new recruits should have been trained in that discipline including the art of behavioural questioning, effective listening and similar.

75% of staff who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their boss.

It is such a crucial responsibility and often allocated to inappropriate people. So many interviewers fall into the classic trap of seeking eligibility rather than suitability when appointing new staff – in other words focusing on an applicant’s track record rather than their skills and attitude.

I have witnessed some horrific recruitment decisions within the industry largely based on the fact that a job applicant has worked as an agent for a while so can come in and hit the ground running. This supposed quick fix is inadvisable (though admittedly easier) compared to recruiting on the basis of key attributes like desire, work ethic, intelligence and self-awareness. Knowledge of how to actually do the job can be bolted onto those aforementioned qualities via training.


As to staff retention, assuming the basic remuneration and reward boxes are ticked, staff, development is another big issue to address.

It always galls, though no longer surprises, that my question to agency owners, “What is your annual staff training budget?” is frequently met with a response of, “What staff training budget?” Investment in staff by training is essential to give your company the edge over untrained competitors. It also shows a willingness by owners to prove that they put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the “staff are our most important ingredient” philosophy. This in turn improves staff satisfaction, motivation and retention. This is not an advert for our training company – use who you like, do it yourself if you have the wherewithal and time – it is merely a plea to agency owners to ensure your businesses are the best they can be.


The ability for negotiators to spot and win instructions has been massively affected by our training, leading to a significant improvement in conversion rates, market share and income. In most cases, it only takes an extra let or sold instruction to be won as a result of new techniques to more than pay for the training itself. Many firms take the view that their key question is not “Can we afford to train our staff?” but rather “Can we afford not to?”

Conversely, mystery shopping exercises we carry out prior to training are currently revealing that the standard of customer service and indeed selling skills has dropped at a time when arguably they should be at their highest.

Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll found that “75 per cent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their boss – not the position itself.” If that doesn’t convince owners to invest in training to ensure they are leading the team effectively, nothing will.


The other almost incalculable impact is the cost of high staff turnover where unsuitable employees move on or are eased out, and/or the better team players seek opportunities elsewhere as they are not progressing or are forced to carry less able colleagues.

If I had a tenner for every agent who told me “estate agency is a people business,” I’d have retired long since. If I had another tenner for agents who failed to support that notion with investment on recruitment and retention, I’d have retired even sooner.

August 26, 2016