How does a team’s culture impact its success? || Interview with Realtor Debbie Sharp
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How does a team’s culture impact its success? || Interview with Realtor Debbie Sharp


– [Vanessa] When I think
of a real estate team with a strong sense of
shared values and mission, Debbie Sharp’s team in
Burlingame, California is one of the first teams to come to mind. I have had the pleasure of
helping Debbie and her team hire talent for several years
and this has given me a chance to observe them through
several phases of their growth. Since starting in real
estate 17 years ago, Debbie has sold over $600
million in real estate, and she is ranked among
the top 1% of realtors in San Mateo County California. I asked her to sit down for an interview so that I could explore
how her team’s culture has contributed to her success, including her ability to retain talent. Most of the people on her
team have been with her for five years or more. In this interview you’ll
hear Debbie talk about her team’s commitment to diversity, and how that contributes to her success. She’ll also talk about serving her clients but not being a servant to her clients, and most endearing of all, her commitment to having
fun in the process. As with every real estate team, this team’s culture is defined at the top and Debbie embraces her role
as culture keeper for her team. During this interview
you’ll hear Debbie say one of my favorite lines that
I’ve ever heard from a client, she says, “We are looking
forward to making new mistakes.” I absolutely love that
perspective about learning, growth and as we all do, making mistakes. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording it. And by the way if you are
new to this YouTube channel, hello and welcome! I’m Vanessa Rosenblum I’m the
president of Pro REA Staffing. We’re a nationwide
search and placement firm for real estate teams. On this channel we focus on
fostering careers in real estate and growing real estate teams. So consider hitting that
subscribe button and ring the bell if this is content that interests you. I post new content weekly. All right let’s get into our interview. (upbeat music) Hi Debbie thanks for joining
me today, how are you? – [Debbie] I’m well,
of course, my pleasure. – [Vanessa] Great. So I would love for you
to just give everyone a little bit of a background, tell us about your career in real estate and tell me about your team today. – [Debbie] Okay you got it. So let’s see, I began in real estate in 2003, and it was the beginning of 2003. So a 17 year career thus far and we plan on many more decades. And I started with a boutique firm called McGuire Real Estate and
then made a transition to a larger firm to benefit our clients and opportunities for myself and my business partner at the time Lisa, who’s still with us, and
moved to Alain Pinel. And then after being there for about five years to my memory, five to seven years I guess I’ve been at, now at Keller Williams
for just over six years. Where our team is now
versus when we started, so I started as a solo agent, interviewed several brokerages
and just picked the one that I most resonated
with as it relates to the look and feel of the
marketing, the location, the leadership and then
opportunities to get referrals from San Francisco, because that’s a big moving
transition to the peninsula, are folks from San Francisco. It’s our number one clientele. Then now of course going into
Keller Williams I actually was able to build a team. I just followed the red book again, started out in 2003 just on my own, and I’ll backtrack a little bit, added a strategic partner
in Lisa joining me, we had a relationship at Nordstrom. And I think that began closer
to 2005 if I’m not mistaken, I could be off about a year or so. Then kind of kept it at that
level all the way through until I came to Keller Williams. I layered in a business partner in sales right before I started my
career at Keller Williams and then I just followed the red book. The millionaire real
estate book that Gary wrote several years ago and now
there’s a new iteration. And we’re not perfect, we’re
not like textbook on it, but we really just looked like
who would be my next hire, and kind of grew it a bit organically and slow mainly from our
relationships at Nordstrom about probably five years ago, it was only Nordstrom folks on our team and now we have other than
Nordy people joining our team. So I think there’s a total of seven of us, three in sales and then
four in operations. Then let’s see, there’s three
people that we didn’t have a business relationship
from Nordstrom total. – [Vanessa] Great, okay, fantastic. So you came from Nordstrom
where culture is very important, everybody knows that
Nordstrom has a very strong company culture and set of core values. When you made your leap into real estate, did you consciously develop
your own set of core values from the beginning? Did you bring those values with you? How did that evolve? Because as I’ve told you before, I think you guys really walk the talk and have a very clear sense of who you are and what you stand for, which is why I wanted
to talk to you today. So how did that come to be for you and your real estate team? – [Debbie] Sure. Good question, I think what
I did on the transition, first I always thought I’d
be at Nordstrom forever. Then when that became something
that I felt that I needed to make a change for
myself I kind of expired and I didn’t want to
move out of the Bay Area, and had several
opportunities to make a move mainly to Seattle, because that’s where the headquarters were and after you turn down
several opportunities you get a little stuck and
I just felt like I had seen my career out at Nordstrom and my last role was the store manager at the Stanford store in Palo Alto. And that was always my dream
job and then when I got it, I’m like, “Oh my God, do
I really want this job?” So that transition period
for me I think subconsciously I just really ran it like I ran my store. So I think I just kind
of transitioned over and just put the client first, you know, focus on having a great environment not only within my brokerage, my office, but also for my client. What was important to them, really putting their
needs and wants first, figuring out how we can make
things easier or better. Certainly not yes folks or
soft or anything like that, it was really focused on business
but really taking the time to let them know that they were heard and that we were flexing
to do anything we could A, to have results and B, to allow them to feel like
they were in perfect hands with their number one
business transaction. So I just, unfortunately or
fortunately I just kind of transitioned over and didn’t
make any real cultural changes I just treated it like I was
still at Nordstrom but was not. And then as I proceeded and
got to learn a little bit more, even on the back end, like how we coach people
and how we hired people, and even how we coach people out, we were really using the Nordstrom
platform like one-on-one, and even using reviews
how we did at Nordstrom. And then as I got mainly to
Keller Williams with the tools that we had available to us
that weren’t available to us at other brokerages, I more
so in the last five years, have made a bigger transition
but for the first decade plus I kind of just ran my real estate business like a little Nordstrom. – [Vanessa] So what is it
like to work in your office? How would you describe
your office culture? – [Debbie] I’m in my office, there’s a handful of people here. It’s fun, it’s crazy,
it’s hard, it’s not hard. It’s a combination of everything. I think thank God we have a
balance of people and gender and age and experience and newness. So it’s a very, I think
it’s very, it’s vivacious. It offers our clients different
things for different clients so that we are able to really
represent our client pool, not just with me. So it’s in my opinion
it casts a wider web. And although there’s stressful times and things that don’t go
perfect of course, but we just, we have fun, we celebrate,
we make new mistakes, we try not to make the same ones. Just really just move forward and not take it so so seriously. But we definitely take
our business seriously and know that we’re a strategic partner for our clients number investment. We’re in the Bay Area, our average price point last year for our team was just under three million. We think that’s very high. We take it very seriously, but again, it’s not brain surgery,
it’s not life or death, so we understand that
there is some flexing as, it doesn’t have to be all
black and white or all serious. And I think we have a really
good balance of personalities based on the KPA and or the
disk and really looking at how everybody performs and
what their strengths are and what their personality is
so that we have a combination of folks, not just one type of person. So it’s pretty dynamic. – [Vanessa] Yeah, I think that’s
such a good point to make. You actually put a focus on
finding diversity for your team and that is, you find strength in that. And I think that’s such a great point because not everybody’s
comfortable with that or they don’t focus on
that and I agree with you. That diversity adds creativity
and it can challenge you and attract different types of
people so that’s really cool. The other thing that I
think is so interesting about your team is that, you guys have a lot of fun and the way I would describe
your team is fun and fabulous. And I think you probably
bring that to your clients too because I know that you do
some really like over the top amazing things for your clients to make it a really standout experience. And I can imagine that for your
team that’s not always easy because like if you’re
really going to go above and beyond for your clients, someone has to do that work. And I think because you
create a fun team environment, they’re all in. They want that with you. And I think that kind of goes
to my next question which is, you make culture fit a central part of your recruiting process. So what are some of the things
that you ask or look for or do to make sure that you
find people who really want to create those kinds of
experiences for your clients. – [Debbie] Yeah, thank you. You know, that’s a hard thing to do. It’s somewhat intangible because
when folks are interviewing they’re putting their best foot forward that we’re all human, it’s human nature, not that folks are lying or fibbing or trying to be somebody they’re not, it’s just when you’re
getting to know folks via interviewing or dating,
you’re not married yet, so it’s a new touch, a new relationship. So what I have learned from Nordstrom and that I apply to my business today, is that I do believe
that a lot of coaching and training into certainly
individuals that are open to it is a big asset. And you can certainly,
definitely coach up folks, but I don’t believe and
I never have believed that you can change people. So when I was, got into store
management from Nordstrom, away from merchandising and buying, everybody used to do these
type of interviews with us. Be it with us or the
Nordstrom family it’s like, what’s your training program? How come all these folks are
willing to go the extra mile? And you know what it comes down to is that you actually have
to pick the right person. You have to do a better job, that’s why we utilize your team because we’re not experts at hiring
and recruiting, you are. We have expertise, we
know what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, where we’ve made our mistakes and just go back to my training at Nordstrom and mainly, my number one individual
influence at Nordstrom as it relates to hiring was Blake Nordstrom and
unfortunately he passed away most recently at 58 years old. And he was the toughest on me for sure, but taught me the most
as it relates to people. He’s like, “You cannot change people.” You have to attract the right individual and really have a savvy interview process to not have them be yes people. You need to make sure that
you’re resonating with them, looking them in the eye, having several different visits with them in a different venue to
understand who they are. You’re not going to hire a person and have them be naturally
want to please people or naturally want to have results. So how we approach it
here is that philosophy, is just we’re not looking
for any one person of course we don’t discriminate, you don’t have to be blonde hair or short or tall or whatever, but what is the natural
ability for an individual that is interested to join our team. How they naturally
approach a client request, a client question, an out
of the box, like a 9:00 p.m phone call or an alarm
going off at a odd hour. Like how would you approach that. And that doesn’t mean
the answer’s always yes, but how do we make sure that we’re giving the best opportunity and best culture and best results to all of our clients. And it really happens, in my opinion, it starts from who that
person is at the core. And that doesn’t mean that
just because you have that innate ability to be
available and problem solving and aware of what’s
going on right or wrong, and we don’t just have all
pleasers or yes people, but we attract and really
attempt to retain and hire folks that want to have results. Want to make things
happen for our clients. Not that they’re doing
it because Debbie says so or Lisa says so. But it’s hard to find. It’s hard to find out that. As you get to know folks you even, like the people on our
team as I get to know folks that weren’t at Nordstrom, like Zack, he’s here in the office now. It’s like the more I get to
know him the more I think he’s like a perfect fit
and the more I like him and the more I want him to
be involved with clients and he just continues to grow and exceed based on our original gut, having him be a fit on our team. And we’re not creating Zack,
he was created 21 years ago. He knows his stuff. You know? But of course we’re giving him information and training him and he’s training us too. He’s like, “What about
this, what about that?” But you really you have to remember when you’re recruiting people, or hiring people you can’t change them. You can’t change their person. – [Vanessa] Yup, absolutely. And how involved are
your other team members in each hiring decision? – [Debbie] Well Lisa’s our number one, she’s our director of operations. You know her and Temily,
she leads the pack. Of course she is very good
at connecting with people, being very present, understanding right away
maybe some of their strengths and some of the things that
possibly would give them anxiety or their opportunities. And she definitely by no means is negative but she’s the devil’s advocate. She’s like, “This is where I think
they would be really happy in our team, this is where I
think we would frustrate them. This is where I think they’d be good here, this is where I think maybe they would have some stumbling blocks.” So she’s the number one. And then at this point I’m number two. Then we always wait and the best we can. Like Ellie has been a strategic partner in our most recent offering
that we did make an offer to add to our sales
team as a buyer’s agent. It didn’t work out as, they had an opportunity to
be in their own neighborhood, not having an hour commute. But I try to involve our whole team. Because we try to make it
as much of a community, and most things are a democracy here. It’s not like you have to
do it this way or you die, you know? So we want our input, because Ellie knows that this
person would have been great on our team and she was very
strategic in aligning visits or phone appointments or
meetings and just saying this is what she really is concerned
about, where she’s at now, this is what she’s looking for. So I think we really do, anybody that as a team leader
or that runs a team involve, I think it’s good to involve your team. Of course somebody has to
make the ultimate decision and own that, but every team member is
going to be contributing to their success. Right? – [Vanessa] Yeah. – [Debbie] Because if
we hire a buyer’s agent, Zack is going to be strategic
in their success to line up appointments and use the
website to get them more buyers and do all the digital marketing for them. And Ellie’s going to be
strategic in their success as it relates to listings
that she wants all of her buyer’s agents to know
about all of our listings. We have 33 million of listings
coming up this quarter. Like they need to, Ellie would
be meeting with everybody. Like don’t forget this,
we have this coming, here’s the dates. So everybody’s a part of
folks’ success or not. Right? Because if we’re not all
on board a new member be it new to real estate or not
is not going to be as healthy or successful if we’re not on board. – [Vanessa] Yeah absolutely. Let’s talk about that a little bit more. You really put a big focus
on coaching and training and mentoring the people on your team. Do you have like a formal process that you put people through? Or is it pretty organic with each person? How does that work? – [Debbie] We can do better at that. We definitely envelop
folks when they come in, and you know just like, we just ascend on them and make sure they have
every tool possible. And we do have a hundred days to greatness that we utilize from the
Keller Williams system. And then Carol, my sales business partner
who runs the buying team, she really has dug into that 100 days, that initial hundred days
and made it more like we’ve kind of Sharpized it. So to make it more like how
we approach the business. So a little bit nuanced, it’s not just like from the textbook. What does a day feel like, what additional items can
we provide to the buyer, how can we make it easier
for them to get this five million dollar home. What can we offer them, how
do they like to communicate. She really has developed
it to be more authentic and organic and not so black and white. So that I think we do
a pretty good job of. We now our goal on our 1-3-5, which is the Keller Williams
goal sheet that may not be utilized by everybody is on is
we really want to have buyer and seller mastery and
do some cross-training. And Carol came up with that as well. So she’s like yes I’m the buyers agent and yes you involve me
in all the listings, but if you were to go away
from us I want to make sure that I have a minimum
mastery on the listing side. And I want to make sure
that we’re cross-training and having a few more
systems as it relates to being a little bit horizontal,
why we have a vertical focus. So we’re working on that next
step of kind of like systems, checklists, and kind of
getting into that mastery level because now we have such
longevity with our team, but we’re not there yet. – [Vanessa] Yeah let’s
talk about your longevity because that’s another just
really impressive point of your team. Talk about how long
people have been with you. – [Debbie] So I probably
have this a little off, but Ellie can you help me out? Lisa’s 15 years? How long? So Lisa’s been with us
15 years, or is it 14? – [Ellie] 2004. – [Debbie] So Lisa’s been with
us a little over 15 years. Ellie’s how long have you been? – [Ellie] six. – [Debbie] So Ellie’s with us six. Carol’s six, a little over six. Seven. Zack’s just newly with us. Me, 17 years plus and then my personal assistant’s
been with us 12 years. – [Vanessa] Fantastic. – [Ellie] Brittany. – [Debbie] Brittany is new with us. She’s been with us a year almost. – [Ellie] Mm hmm. – [Debbie] She’s our showing specialist. We definitely have some opportunity into our kind of newer roles. Like kind of entry level
into The Sharp Group. We’ve had a lot of
changeover as it relates to like a showing specialist
role, as you know. And we’ve had some changeover
as you know with Vanessa as your team has been
helping us out currently with the executive assistant role too. And I can see now, hindsight
looking back kind of some of the mistakes we’ve made and so we’re looking
forward to make new mistakes on some of those offering and hiring. And a lot of it is the Bay
Area too is very dynamic, similar to other clients
you serve in Los Angeles and commuting’s very tough
and it’s very expensive. So not only are folks a lot, my recent executive
assistant who was excellent, we miss her, was commuting from the city. So at many times it was
taking her an hour to an hour and half to get here and
then get back, right? – [Vanessa] Wow. – [Debbie] So really looking at geography, not that we’d want to discriminate
or not have opportunity for geography, A, we want to be also more savvy
as it relates to a specific role to allow for working remotely
and just being current as we go into this big
next decade of 2020. Certainly there’s, a lot of our assignments are
more focused like face to face and meeting with clients. But NEA could be something that we, maybe I don’t need tethered at my hip. And I’m not insecure about
that but a lot of the stuff is in the office and
having the office opened and lights on and music on and
water fountain on and mail. So we definitely need
a living organism here but maybe not 24/7. So we want to be open
to create opportunity for new talent that is an hour,
to an hour and a half away. Because that was our
big mistake with hiring our fabulous individual that just left, it just was too long and
I should’ve seen that. I just know better. – [Vanessa] Yeah I think it’s harder with some roles than others. But you’ve done that before and I think that’s something
worth talking about because I know that as people
on your team have gotten married and had kids and relocated, you’ve adapted so that
you could keep them. And I think that’s really important. So talk about that, tell us maybe, like how have you adapted your
expectations or your workflow to accommodate people that you
wanted to keep on the team? – [Debbie] Yes, so Lisa’s
our, we always say, “What would Lisa do?” We probably should make a bracelet. What would Mo do? Mo Anderson. So Lisa and I have definitely
been together at Nordstrom for several years and now
here for 15 polus years. And certainly we’ve
grown up together right? I have a daughter Ava who’s 11, she has two children, Joseph and Abby, and things change. And I love it and life gets more dynamic and sometimes with dynamics
is all the good stuff and then it’s crazy too, which isn’t bad. But commuting becomes a tough one. So Lisa at this point now
only comes to the office Mondays and Fridays, she’s remote otherwise. And she gets to choose. I’m like, “You know
what’s best for yourself, you know what’s best for the company. You get to choose. I want you to give the maximum support and output to The Sharp Group while making your family first.” So if that’s one day a
week at The Sharp Group or two days a week. And I said, “All’s I ask
is one day face-to-face just to spread your wealth and knowledge and love and expertise.” Because I think remote
100% for somebody like her would be a big void for our team. Then she offered, she was like, “No I think I’d like to sandwich it. I’d like to do Mondays
and Fridays and be here and have some fun and be very
strategic and have some lunch and coffee dates with
our team and do that.” And I’m like, “Great, as you wish.” So with growth and relationship
and trust and results, I am absolutely open. What I’m not as good at and
I’m open to possibly flexing or learning is the new talent
on our team right away. Because again, I want to get
to know those individuals, I want to invest in them. I want investment from them, I want a relationship and
that’s hard to do that when you are only virtual. And have folks have results and prove themselves to themselves, not even to me, the results are there. The client cared and
the results are there, then I’m absolutely open. Ellie has expressed,
who’s our listing manager, really, she has two little’s as well and she has a shorter
commute but still a commute. It’s tough here. It’s expensive and it’s trafficky. So we want to of course pair people well, but in addition to that, we don’t want to chase folks with
money we want to offer terms. And we want to offer
relationships and longevity and healthcare and 401K and profit sharing and virtual working as
earned or as desired. So it’s really helped us with Lisa, especially being in operations
because a lot of that work is focused and our office gets very noisy. Everyone likes to talk loud. And some of that work is confidential. We have an open policy, we don’t hide things from each other. There’s no like, oh don’t
tell that person that and confidentiality as it
relates to clients or socials or all the insurance
work that she organizes on my S corporation, all that stuff, it’s just something that I
think it’s so much better in a quiet environment
than in a bustling office. So I think we’ve done a good job because I don’t know we
would’ve been able to benefit from Lisa for the following
or as we go forward with her commuting five days a week with her family being first of course. – [Vanessa] And I love that you say that. You have a clear set of values
that you’re working from, like family first. Where we care about people,
we want to develop them. I think that most
definitely has contributed to the longevity of the
people on your team. I don’t know if I’ve
shared this with you before but I recently did a survey
to see what is the average turnover rate for these
types of roles in real estate and it’s about 50%. 50% annual turnover. – [Debbie] Oh my God. – [Vanessa] I know right? – [Debbie] How is that? – [Vanessa] Yeah, right? Think of how disruptive that is. So, you must be like, “Oh my gosh.” So I think when you do invest in people and you do care and you do all of that it serves you in so many ways. So let’s get down into
the weeds a little bit. If an agent is listening and
they don’t feel like they have a clear idea of what
their office culture is or what values they’re operating from and they want to do a better job at that, where can they start with? How do they figure that stuff out? – [Debbie] Yeah. Well, I think working with
your company is number one and you didn’t tell me
to say that of course. – [Vanessa] Thank you. – [Debbie] But first off
I think it’s important to, I think most people as entrepreneurials, this is an entrepreneurial business, and a lot of people tend to
on purpose or on accident don’t treat it like a business. So first off I would make sure that utilizing outside
advisors or services such as recruiting like you
or payroll companies or CPA’s or financial advisors,
tax advisors, accountants. Anything you can get an expert because when you treat your
business like a business and run it like a business, that number one is the
culture that is portrayed. Like this is a business
but it doesn’t have to be a stoic business or a serious business and it doesn’t have to
be all fun and games, but I think the number one thing is treat it like a business,
this is a big business. Come to the office and maybe later on as you get more experienced, you don’t have to be in the office. But I tell new agents
starting out as a sole agent you do have a team. No matter where you’re at Keller Williams otherwise, you have a team. You have the whole brokerage. So come to the office, be businesslike, get your clients to the office,
be at the office yourself, create a schedule, create
your goals, create a budget. Like I think the bottom
line run it like a business and you don’t have to be
super perfectionist, anal, you don’t have to be perfect. It could be a bit backs of napkin, but anything you can do
to start off the culture to set it up, treat it,
and run it like a business. Be it, a 150 million dollar business, or a 10 million business. It doesn’t matter. Because when I started in 2003, I mean I wasn’t running
a 150 million business. But in 2004 I did do
just under 25 million, which is a big first goal year. And I wasn’t ready for that so then the next year I
actually went backwards because I was so burnt out and
I needed to hire my strategic first hire which was Lisa, thank God. So I think number one
culture is set it up, run it like a business and be present. And then from there on, I think depending on
what attracts that agent or individual who attracts, I think connecting, the first thing I did was just connect with agents and brokers. I just observed them, I
called them, I emailed them, I met with them. Many people did not call me back, right? I had a lot of time, I was brand new and I
just wanted to understand who am I working with,
who are my counterparts? Who is doing the right thing in my opinion and who do I want to learn from not to do? You know? It’s not that they’re bad and you’re good, you just have a different opinion. And then thirdly I think it’s
very good to entrench yourself in the right company with
opportunities and training. Immediately when I got to Keller Williams I went to family reunion, Mega Camp, I listened, I
observed, and then reading. Like if you think Nordstrom
was a good company, read The Nordstrom Way. Read it 50 times. If you think Keller Williams
is where you want to be, I read their one thing like
I don’t know, 60 times? Like just kind of, you know you don’t read it back to back like in a classroom setting, you’re on the bike or
treadmill you’re at home, glass of wine, at the office. You’re underlining you’re
learning new things every time you pick up the book. So I think it could be a
bit authentic and organic. And I, right off the bat I attached myself with a person that I
thought I felt emulated what I wanted to be. And his name is Mike Herner he’s still one of my very best friends
in the whole wide world, he taught me everything
I know in real estate. And even the things I
didn’t want to do he’s like, “This that I do, don’t do that.” He goes “This, do this.” You know we’re the dearest friends, I’ll be taking over his
business when he lends the kind of golden hand over and I can’t wait for somebody
to take over my business in two decades, when I’m going to not
be working every day. So I think really aligning
yourself with good information, good company, good people
and just being a sponge. And then it will allow you to
when you are having results, be it volume or otherwise, you’ll then be able to
offer that to other folks and it will keep on going, right? Because if you’re getting the support and help you need you’ll
be more apt to share. – [Vanessa] Absolutely. And I think that’s such a perfect, perfect way to wrap up this conversation with those resources and that idea of finding mentors, treating your business like a business, and passing it forward. – [Debbie] Yup. – [Vanessa] Isn’t that
what it’s all about? To grow and to contribute and give back and that’s how we get better. Wonderful, well thank you so much Debbie, it was so great to talk with you and I appreciate you sharing, sharing a little bit about your team and how you got where you are today. – [Debbie] Oh my pleasure. Have a great weekend! – [Vanessa] Thank you. – [Debbie] Tell your team hi. – [Vanessa] I will, bye.

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