The call for good staff training and development rings out clearly from within today’s property industry as it fights off the public perception of an untrained, semi-skilled work force.
The days when anyone could join the industry and be selling or letting properties within hours of getting their feet under the desk are a dim memory, the industry is professionalising, training, mentoring and developing people’s careers in earnest.
THE ROMANS WAY
Romans, founded 30 years ago, with 28 branches in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey was recently acquired by venture capital firm Bowmark Capital, which also owns Leaders.
A manager has to think about the team – coach, mentor and improve their performance. That’s what our Role of the Manager training provides. Vince Courtenay, Romans.
I met Residential Managing Director Vince Courtney, Lettings Managing Director Michael Cook and Barry Wild, Director of Romans Direct, its customer service arm. They have between them 50 years’ service at Romans, concentrating on training and development, bringing multiple benefits for staff and the business.
“All staff, even if they have decades of experience in the industry, have a week long induction from the directors and department heads,” says Vince.
“We rolled out this induction in 2006, because I had seen how, you got a job, you were sat down at a desk and were lucky to be given an hour of your manager’s time – in at the deep end.
“By the time staff start work they have an understanding of our culture and what we expect of them on the customer service front, they know the systems and have met our key players.”
“The training includes our commitment to customer service as well as learning about our software package, Reapit,” says Barry. Explaining the significance of customer service is the most important part of the induction and lasts for about a day and a half.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. Muhammad Ali
“This approach seems to work and we have a Feefo.com rating of 95 per cent so that’s a good indication,” says Vince.
Recruits then have an eight-week training programme and an exam. If they fail that they have to revise and retake it until they pass.
Vince and Michael also meet every starter in their department during their first three months, “It’s not just a nice thing to do, it’s how we discover any gaps in their coaching,” says Vince.
This may sound like business as usual but Vince says there is a serious rationale for the six-figure training and development budget. “We want to give good service to our clients and never more so than now with the increasing competition from online-only agents. If our people don’t understand that then it’s not going to work.”
Romans back this up by using a ‘mystery shopper’ company called Customer Perspectives to find out the level of customer service quality that registered buyers receive, which is used to score staff.
The people with the best scores are awarded prizes, but lower scorers aren’t given a rap on the knuckles. ”We use it as a coaching tool; we look at what they could have done differently,” says Vince.
“There is a recruitment benefit here too. Many candidates say they were attracted to Romans because it is somewhere they can develop a career. “We therefore have a great retention rate – out of our 27 branch managers the average length of service is 10 years.”
Michael adds, “I am confident that within the six counties we cover there is not another agent who offers the training programme we do. But it’s not just the training. It’s their development too.
The other training that Vince thinks is most important is the company’s Role of the Manager training. Vince says that when he first worked in the industry he was promoted into management because he’d proved himself in first sales then valuations, letting and then as an assistant manager. But he’d rarely get the training needed to be a manager even though it required a new set of skills.
“When you are a manager you have to stop thinking about your own figures and think about other’s and coach, mentor and improve their performance as well as learning about budgeting and HR,” says Vince. “That’s what our Role of the Manager training provides.”
FAMOUS NAME TRAINERS
Romans also uses many of the UK’s best known trainers such as Adam Walker, Julian O’Dell and Richard Rawlings. Adam Walker says, “I think they offer the most comprehensive training programme in the industry by what I call a ‘bread and butter’ agent,” he says. “A large part of their success has been down to their training programme because it increases their profitability. I feel there is a strong correlations between staff training and a firm’s success.
“Some of Romans’ offices turn over in a month what most firms do in a year; the reason is that their staff are more productive because they are properly trained and possess the relevant skills. The only agent that I think does a more sophisticated training programme is Knight Frank, but that’s a different kind of business.”
Romans have been clients of Adam’s for 25 years and his role includes work to provide business planning training for those who have been appointed or promoted to a managers’ role, as well as offering monthly mentoring sessions to support their first months in the job. He also does courses on basic selling skills and cross selling for Romans.
“The company has a great attitude to training because most of its senior people started off in corporate chains and received good training and career development and they want to do the same for their staff,” says Adam.
“I had a guy on my cross-selling course recently whom I originally gave induction training to 13 years ago and he’s now running one of their biggest branches on a six-figure salary.”
TAKING THE MICKEY
One unusual aspect of the Romans way is that it recently took its managers to Disneyland Paris to find out about how to improve customer service. “We met one of the key Disney people at the resort and had a day with them, we came away with a lot of good ideas, most of which were implemented,” says Vince.
“The decision to monitor how new buyers are managed when registering with us came from the Disney visit. I had always felt that that all our customer service effort was concentrated on vendors and giving them the gold star treatment, but not so much buyers, so we wanted to address that.”
TRAINING THE MARTIN & CO. WAY
If the training is about people interacting with others it should be in the classroom, but if it is specialist or technical webinars are a great tool. Dean Gill Martin & Co.
Dean Gill, Head of Training, Martin & Co., has quite a task on his hands, which is where his 24-year track record in the industry is handy, including roles at YourMove, LSL and Remax. It was years ago that he got the job of Head of Training for Martin & Co, and it is now the largest letting and property management franchise business in the UK with a network of 194 offices and an HQ in Bournemouth.
The challenge for Dean is that, he says, unlike a traditional agent, all his employees work for franchisees not the company and therefore persuading them to adopt his training and development goals is more collaborative.
“Nevertheless, as part of their agreement the franchisees are required to take up the training for their staff that we see as important for their business,” he says.
This training is carried out at the dozen or so training sites where, Dean says, it’s all about staff developing within their roles. The courses are popular – Dean trains between 1,000 and 1,500 people a year.
“Martin & Co sees staff training and development as an investment, not a cost and my job is to make it a lead vehicle in the business,” says Dean.
“There is clear evidence that if we can persuade people to invest in training for their careers they tend to remain with us for longer.”
It’s clearly a different set up for Martin & Co compared to Romans, which isn’t a franchise, the difference is most obvious as Dean talks about the way he is an advocate of online webinars – or e-learning platforms – to keep staff updated on legislation and other rule changes. “If training is about people interacting with other people then it should be in the classroom whereas if the information is specialist or technical – such as Right to Rent updates – then webinars are a great tool,” he says.
Another difference is that Dean doesn’t use classrooms inductions for new starters, he uses webinars. And although Deans says he keeps an eye on what NFOPP, the NAEA and ARLA are doing, because Martin & Co has its own training academy the links to these organisations are left to the individual franchisees to take up. “I wrote our Lettings Legal Course with the help of experts and stakeholders within the business as well as specialists from outside,” says Dean. “We also do four other lettings courses for staff with different levels of experience and service.”
TRAINING OPTIONS WITH ARLA
Lauren Rand, Property Manager at Stepping Stones in Banbury, Oxfordshire, has been at Stepping Stones Lettings for a year and attended an Association of Residential Letting Agents’ Competent Agent Part A course at its training facility in London on the 3rd March. It cost £175 for the day.
The course is aimed at those who are new to the industry and require a basic grounding in the legal concepts that underpin the industry.
“My manager booked me on it and I went to London on my own to do the course, although I think several more colleagues are also doing it later this year,” says Lauren.
“What I really liked about the course was the lady who was leading it – she was really enthusiastic about the subjects and also had experience of working on industry adjudication panels so she really knew about the new legislation around Right to Rent, deposits and lettings fees.
“Also, the course was really hands on and she gave us workbooks to complete during the day, which is much better than other courses I have been on when they just talk at you. On that day, you had to get involved – particularly as you sat around her in a U-shaped layout and chairs.
“All of us were on a similar level of experience which was helpful and good for networking; there were people there from the property maintenance sector too; it wasn’t just agents, which was good.”