One of Transwestern’s strengths is its dedication to professional development. Initiatives like the Summer Associates program show the company’s commitment to nurturing knowledge and skills among the industry’s next generation of leaders. Our Walnut Creek, East Bay and Silicon Valley offices have borrowed a page from the Navy training manual to create a unique approach to broker-candidate training that we like to call, “The Gauntlet.”
“Only a few commercial real estate companies choose to invest much time or resources training inexperienced applicants to become productive brokers.”
Since the Great Recession, only a few commercial real estate companies choose to invest much time or resources training inexperienced applicants to become productive brokers. There is a basic attrition problem: Probably half, if not more, of the inexperienced hires at a real estate firm will leave the business before becoming brokers. It’s easier, therefore, to hire individuals who have been stuck on the bottom rungs at other firms long enough to learn the ropes and the market, and then offer those survivors a chance to take on more responsibility by changing employers.
This model may save training dollars, but it does little to build company allegiance. And in our commission-dominated industry, a lack of camaraderie can degenerate into a self-serving atmosphere in which co-workers are sometimes perceived as a threat to personal advancement and profitability.
What I’ve found to be a better recruitment and retention method is identifying applicants with a strong aptitude for the business, and then training them to work as members of a highly effective, mutually supportive team. Once they become brokers, these producers are reluctant to depart from that team, thereby reducing attrition rates and long-term training costs. This system, proven effective by the armed forces, is the essence of the intern training program in our three offices.
How does the Navy quickly prepare inexperienced men and women in the 18- to 24-year-old age group to safely handle multimillion-dollar equipment, effectively respond to life-and-death crises, and avoid touching off international conflicts in the process?
I learned the answer to that question firsthand on a 10-day passage from Pearl Harbor to San Diego aboard the U.S.S. Rushmore, the ship where my daughter, Seaman Lillian Del Beccaro, carried out a portion of her naval service in 2013. One of about 20 parents onboard, I had the run of the ship (under escort) and used my time to learn how the Navy shapes recruits into highly capable sailors and marines in a span of months rather than years.
Here are the points I took away, and how we’ve adapted those measures to our intern program:
Accelerate attrition. In boot camp, the Navy weeds out as many weak or uncommitted people as possible from its ranks before investing in more advanced training. If a recruit or employee is going to quit, it is better to lose them sooner rather than later.
“What I’ve found to be a better recruitment and retention method is identifying applicants with a strong aptitude for the business, and then training them to work as members of a highly effective, mutually supportive team.”
We run applicants through a series of difficult interviews, assigning homework they must complete before proceeding from one meeting to the next. Tasks range from manipulating an Excel sheet to zoning and property research, and interviewing city economic development directors to identify economic drivers. Finally, the candidate must interview people at other real estate firms and compare the culture of each in a report. Few candidates persist through this 30-day interview process, which is the point, and those that do have learned to complete tasks that will be required of them if they get the job.
Teach through responsibility. Soon after learning a particular job, a seaman performs that task under accountable supervision. A more experienced crewman is at hand to step in and avoid disaster, but the newbie is allowed to try, fail, and try again as part of the learning experience.
Our Transwestern interns, once hired, learn real estate vocabulary, formulas, research tools and the intricacies of the market in formal classes and by working alongside other team members day to day.
Learn through teaching. Teaching broadens the instructor’s understanding. In the Navy, the seaman providing accountable supervision may be only slightly more experienced or senior in rank to their trainee, and is learning by teaching.
After 60 to 90 days at Transwestern, our recruits – now called “runners” – have earned their real estate license and begin teaching some of the research skills they’ve learned to other interns. In addition to working as runners for multiple service lines and attending classes, these new team members verify lists and tenant records for brokers and learn to make effective sales calls. After 90 days on the job, runners are eligible for promotion to junior runner broker, when they will work to develop new business and even take the lead on small deals.
Rise through the ranks. Finally, after five months with the firm, successful candidates in our offices become associate brokers, working as an apprentice under a senior broker who will help the associate build their business and ultimately become an independent contractor or partner, earning commissions. Thus the senior brokers teach, strengthening relationships within the team in the process.
Our team-building training is delivering promising results: Former intern Kyle Snyder specializes in medical real estate and took part in a $47 million sale that earned Northern California Transwestern’s Deal of the Year award. The San Francisco Business Times recognized Matthew Hatfield, who has completed more than 50 deals, as a Commercial Real Estate Rising Star. Other interns-turned-brokers have closed multimillion-dollar deals, made inroads with new clients, and produced research that made headlines in the local press.
And as in the military, teams that complete the training share a strong bond. We’ve had zero attrition in nearly two years, and are proud of the growing list of brokers who earned their stripes in our Transwestern program.