How to be the best manager for your agency

Written by James Stone

If you’re a manager growing your independent agency, you may not be ready to hire a full-time HR professional.

That puts you in the same boat as about 97.4% of other Australian businesses.

So what is the secret to being the best manager you can be, without the support of an HR professional? Besides handling the administrative stuff, HR professionals can lead organisational development, and build workplace environments that encourage excellence. Console’s own HR Manager James Stone explains what managers of smaller agencies can do to be their own HR professional, and foster that culture of excellence themselves.

On your marks, get set… go!

Assuming you’ve hired the right person, your next step is to help them start work and be productive early in the game. How well you on-board can set the tone for a new starter’s entire time at your workplace, so it’s worth it to get this one right. Do what you can to set up accounts, training, and access ahead of time so it’s ready before they walk in the office.

Cloud-based HR software like Employment Hero can make this process a bit easier. Besides streamlining contract-signing and employee paperwork, Employment Hero allows new hires to complete inductions ahead of their first day. Getting all the operational HR business out of the way as early as you can will help new starters become productive sooner.

A home away from home

The office environment affects everyone’s mood, efficiency, and performance. And since the average worker of today spends about 13 straight years of their life at work, it seems reasonable to prefer spending as much of that time as possible in nice digs.

This isn’t necessarily a directive to go buy everyone $1,500 Aeron chairs. In many cases, improving the office ambience is as simple as investing in office greenery and encouraging employees to personalise workspaces. In fact, according to a study by Steelcase Inc of over 700 office workers, staff who were allowed to personalise their workspace were consistently around 38% more productive and 45% more creative.

Work where (and when) it works best

Regardless of the numerous studies proving the benefits of workplace flexibility to businesses, embedding it meaningfully also correlates strongly with employees’ positive feelings about their workplace. This last fact alone offers a good reason for its existence: it keeps employees loyal and engaged.

Your staff probably already spend a significant amount of time out of the office attending property inspections, meeting sellers and buyers and so on. Implementing workplace flexibility in these circumstances might simply be a matter of letting your people work around these appointments to do school pick-ups and work from home. Whatever you do, make sure you make work flexibility a real option for everyone, not just the few that negotiate it.

Use trust as a verb, not a noun

Contrary to the popular adage, trust isn’t something anyone can earn or have: it’s something you do. Importantly, trust begets trust, whereas a lack of trust begets—you guessed it—a reciprocal lack of trust. Behaviour scientist Ernest Fehr writes, ‘If you trust people, you make them more trustworthy and, conversely, sanctions designed to deter people from cheating actually make them cheat.’

While it’s natural to worry that telling unpleasant truths to your staff may result in information in the wrong hands, research shows it’s worth the risk. If staff loyalty and trust matters to you, then tell them the truth, and tell it often.

Reward excellence

It seems like an obvious one, but being your own best manager means regularly making a point of telling your employees when they do well. According to a recent survey, the number one reason employees mentally check-out of the workplace is a lack of recognition. And overwhelmingly, the type of recognition that is desired is the type that is free and easy to give: honest, kind words. Besides praising your staff, showcase employees’ exceptional work whenever you can, and spread it around. Recognition not only encourages staff to continue doing their best work, it models to others how they can do the same.

The best managers manage performance and disengagement early

Employee disengagement is contagious, but it can be stopped in its tracks with early, head-on intervention. In fact, tiptoeing around a problem of disengagement can perpetuate negativity. Prepare yourself to hear opinions you may not like or agree with, and then sit down and listen to your employee’s concerns—without interrupting. If your goal is to bring an unhappy agent back into the fold, try to engage in active listening, and make sure they feel their concerns have been heard and understood. Only then should you be attempting any discussion of solutions or alternative opinions.

By making candid discussion and feedback a part of your agency’s culture, you can give yourself the best chance of dealing with problems before they spread. That means more engaged property managers and agents, more of the time.

Small cost, big rewards

Little perks and extras show how much you value your employees. Moreover, providing extras that go beyond standard office supplies can pay big dividends by turning your employees into your brand ambassadors. At Console, we provide staff with unlimited Nespresso, boxes of fruit, fresh bread and spreads, and nibbles and drinks on Fridays. The result is a group of highly engaged employees who tell people about how great it is to work here.

If your staff spend a decent amount of time travelling, provide them with vouchers for free or discounted car washes, and stock the office with supplies to keep them happy and comfortable on the road. Bottled water, muesli bars, Mentos, coffee—find what little extras will make them valued, and provide it.

The best managers know that going that little bit above and beyond helps employees feel especially looked after. That makes them far more likely to stick with your agency and work hard. It also makes them more likely to recommend you to their friends. And that means you’re more likely to get talented referrals, and better new hires, too.

Ultimately, these are the fundamental elements of great management: hiring good people, helping them perform, and keeping them longer.