Hi, Tanja here and welcome to TMJ TV, a weekly video series aimed at real estate leaders that would love more time to grow their people and their business. Did you know that leaders spend up to 80% of their time navigating the people, performance, and productivity issues within the business. Now this means their focus is off recruiting for results, delivering strategies for success, and gaining the market share that they desire . I would love to help. Every single week, I’m going to share insights and free downloadable tools to help you and your people achieve your success in the least amount of time. I hope you enjoy this next episode of TMJ TV.
Tanja: Hi, Tanja here and welcome to TMJ TV, a weekly video series for real estate leaders and teams that want to grow themselves and the business in the least amount of time. And my next guest has been in the industry for 17 years. He has been nominated and won the REB Thought Leader of the Year for 2016, and Starr Partners who he is the CEO of, also won the Innovator of the Year for 2013, 2014, and 2015. It is my absolute pleasure to sit with Douglas Driscoll who I now can call Doug.
Tanja: We go way back.
Douglas: We do all about half an hour ago. We’re good friends now.
Tanja: We are. So, Doug thank you so much for joining me here at this beautiful venue because we’ve just done our training for about 120 of your team being all about each rapport that opens more doors. That was fun. Thanks.
Douglas: No, thank you. It was fantastic.
Tanja: My pleasure. So we’re here to talk about all things leadership. And I want to start by, you know because you’re the CEO of Starr Partners. You have 250 people in your business, 30 officers. How many principals?
Douglas: If you include multiple principals, it’s about 48.
Tanja: Forty-eight. Okay, great. So a significant team and a lot of leaders. First of all, I want to hear from you what is your definition of leadership?
Douglas: Well, there’s many definitions of leadership, but I suppose the simplistic form for me is when you have a vision and you execute that vision. And I think also it’s about leading by example quite frankly. But certainly, it’s about having a plan and obviously, bringing other people along with you on that journey to execute that plan.
Tanja: So how do you do that? You have a team of 250 people, 40 odd leaders because there’s different opinions, different perceptions, different styles. If you’ve got one vision to achieve, how do you as the CEO, which I like to call the chief energy officer not just chief executive officer, how do you have everyone kind of focus on the same vision and executing that?
Douglas: I think firstly, it’s a matter of clarity. You’re going to be very, very clear in terms of what you want to achieve. I think secondary to that is around buy in. It’s very important to consult with people. And ensure there’s a collaborative process because otherwise it just becomes very sort of draconian. People don’t like being told what to do. So if you could involve them from that process, its very infancy, then you’re going to get that buy in that much greater from day one.
Tanja: And then they own it themselves.
Douglas: Absolutely, it’s ownership. Absolutely, it’s not buy in, it’s ownership . I couldn’t agree more.
Tanja: So you’ve had 17 years in the industry, mostly in the U. K. , and then you decided to follow your heart to Australia. Why there? I’m keen to know what had you go from working in the industry in the U.K. to Australia? And what have you found be the key differences around leadership in the industry from different places?
Doug: It’s a good question. So starting the first part, the expression I always use is my ladder was leaned against the wall, and I’m climbing that ladder , but it was leaned against the wrong wall. And I just kind of…
Tanja: What does that mean? What’s the wrong wall?
Douglas: The wrong wall for me is that I was good in what I did in U.K. I was exceeding, I was excelling, I was climbing the ladder so to speak, but I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing. I was kind of going through the motions. I was on autopilot, and it’s very difficult to shake that up, and I know I needed a change, and I don’t think you’re going to get greater change than moving to other side of the world.
Tanja: Yeah, but that’s out there. So what did…I want to know what inspired that? How do you go from “I feel like I’m climbing a ladder that’s leaning against the wall. I now have a fire in my belly.” as we were talking before we were recording but why Australia? Was it just intuitive or did you hear good things or you just kind of closed your eyes, and spun a globe, and went there?
Douglas: It wasn’t far from that to be honest. Look, I’m, by nature, a risk taker, okay. I believe that you have to roll the dice. If you want to achieve anything in life, you do have to take the odd risk. It doesn’t mean I go to the casino and set in line, and put my life savings in black by the way. They are calculated risks. But for me I kind of thought “Well, what’s the worst that can happen?” I assessed that quite analytically. I look at it, “Well, when it doesn’t work out, then I can always move back again.” So I really wanted to give it a go. I really want to challenge myself first and foremost because again I could have move to a different company. I could have to moved to another city within the UK but I probably wouldn’t have that sense of challenge and when you give up and perhaps abandon everything you know, and all those kind of habits and all those creature comforts, and you go out on your own to a place where you don’t anybody or you don’t know anything, and they don’t know you by the way I don’t think you’re going to find a bigger challenge than that.
Tanja: And so you came here to Australia, you didn’t know anybody.
Douglas: I knew one person, one person, it wasn’t anything to do with real estate, it was you know a friend from school, and that was about it.
Tanja: That’s amazing. And do you think those qualities of taking a risk and backing yourself and putting yourself in a foreign environment where you’re either going to sink or swim good attributes for effective leadership?
Douglas: I think so.
Tanja: And what does that taught you going along the way?
Doug: Well, I think the first thing is in terms of taking a risk, you’ve almost got to take a risk to step up to becoming a leader, because that in itself is a big responsibility, and if you actually understand the size and scale of that responsibility you realise that other people will look up to you. Other people are under your auspices and you could make or break people’s careers and/or lives. So it’s a massive responsibility. So that itself is a big, big risk. So for me, I had to get it right, really had to get it right and the term you use is back yourself. More often than always I back myself because it’s self-belief. It’s not arrogance, it’s self-belief.
Tanja: There is a difference, isn’t theree?
Douglas: Massive difference.
Tanja: What would you say the difference is between and you’re a leader of leaders, right. Forty odd leaders because I think this is a very important thing. What is the difference for you Doug between backing yourself and, Terry one of your team members today in the training said, “You gotta own it.” And we talked about the difference between owning and being arrogant. What is the difference for you inside of leadership and what are the impacts of both?
Douglas: I think it probably starts with self-awareness. You got to know what you can do, and perhaps what you can’t do. You got to really recognise where you excel and where your limitations are. So I’m not someone who proffeces to know it all. I mean, you said chief energy officer, so I think it’s chief everything officer to some extent, but that doesn’t mean that I need to know everything as such, but I have kind of basic grasp and understanding. So I think there’s a massive chasm if you like between self-belief and arrogance. As somebody who’s arrogant thinks they can walk on water. Somebody who has belief in themselves, and that sense of self-awareness is someone that does know their limitations. And will continue to work through them and look to improve themselves to become a more rounded professional.
Tanja: And in your career, Doug, working under leaders, have you had the experience of working for leaders who were arrogant and then leaders who have self-belief, and what was your experience like?
Douglas: I’ve been lucky or I’m lucky enough to work with a number of leaders, and again I’ve always studied them. I’m quite an analytical person bordering to a morphological in that respect. So I’ve always kind of had bold ambition, aspirations to become a leader myself. So literally from day dock I was always looking at the people above me, and garnering information and looking to learn. So yes, I’ve had had arrogant leaders who are very much about themselves. And again, I use that term leader very loosely because they are not really leaders. Really, they’re about looking after, number one, themselves. And then I have had other people who’ve imparted such wisdom on me, and I’ve learned oodles from. So I’ve kind of seen both sides, and everything in between.
Tanja: Yeah. So that’s good because you’ve had two different experiences, and you’ve been able to decipher and decide which flavour you prefer, and what feels more innate to you. So you’ve not only been a leader of people, but you’ve been a leader of innovation, and that’s been recognised from an industry perspective with the real estate business awards for, you won innovator of the year of ’13, ’14, and ’15 and I know that this is something very dear to your heart, tell us about what innovation in leadership means for you, and why it’s important in real estate? Because it is an industry that’s facing disruption. We hear that word being thrown around like Uber and AirBnB. Why is innovation important in real estate?
Douglas: I guess one of my fears for our industry is that you know we have a reluctance to change, and I think for me the analogy I always use is that of the boiling frog. Now for those people who don’t know the background or the science there. If you have a boiling pot of water and you drop a frog into it, a frog will jump out pretty damn quickly. Whereas if you sit that frog in the water, and then turn up the heat and then obviously, you gradually boil the water, it will sit there and it will basically die. And I look at our industry as just that. We are kind of the boiling frog at the moment, and I have a fear around that and I think we worry about disruption, but disruption is inevitable. It’s going to happen whether we care to accept it or not. So we might as well be at the forefront of that, and actually as you said earlier, disrupt ourselves opposed to waiting for someone else to come and then do it. My sincerest fear however is the disintermediation because disruption is one thing, disintermediation is something altogether.
Tanja: And what do you mean by disintermediation?
Douglas: Disintermediation is where essentially you cut out the middle man. So unless we improve what we do, okay.
Tanja: You’re not going to irrelevant anymore.
Doug: And demonstrate value because everyone knows that in the absence of value, price becomes a consideration . So I think we really need to heap on that value. Have a very basic grasp of understanding of what we do and how we do it. Then we need to be able to articulate it to people because that’s issue at the moment, you know feeds are tumbling across the country that’s because actually we don’t demonstrate to consumers, and we got a number of these new players coming into our marketplace. I quite welcome these guys because they actually give us a bit of shake up. –
Tanja:Yeah. Keeps us honest, honest frogs in the water.
Douglas: It does, but you know what we can do? We can do one of two things. We can sit there where you sling mud in their direction, or we can go, “Geez, this is kick up the backside that we need as an industry.” I would rather take the second approach.
Tanja: So what I can here there is something that I like to share which is that we can play in two circles. Our circle of concern talking about all the things outside of our control which gives us access to making excuses or our circle of influence which is, “Okay, that’s happening, and cool. How can we make a difference increase our value and articulate that value?” which is what you are alluding to. Like acknowledge it’s happening, but don’t lose sight of your own backyard and who’s playing in your backyard and get our focus here. So you talked about we need to increase our value, and increase our ability to articulate our value so we’re not having price reduction kind of conversations. What are three ways that you would say Doug that we, as an industry especially in the sales component could increase our value to be more relevant to the consumer?
Douglas: Well, I think the first one is demonstrable proof. Okay, so they say that our people lie, but numbers don’t, and I think that if you have the ability to demonstrate to a potential vendor that you will extract or extrapolate a higher price than the next agency or the disruptor maybe I think that’s pretty powerful stuff. I think the second is around customer experience. In fact, only an hour ago you were doing training, you know, obviously, I was listening attentively to the whole thing, but in particular, it was one thing you said about having your ears pricking out and that was around designing the customer experience around the customer themselves. And when I say it seems pretty obvious, but probably 8 or 10 agents don’t actually do that. There’s an old saying in business ask a customer what they want, and actually then give it to them. So again, designing a custom made experience is everything. It’s very much dialogue, not monologue. It’s kind of, the term you used earlier not saying, but it’s actually a listing presentation, listing consultation, and that’s what it is. It’s a collaborative effort. And I think the third most important thing is around actually so it’s not just walking your walk, but talking your talk as well, and showing that you actually back it up. And obviously when you’ve done, clearly you’re going to have raving fans. You’re going to have advocates who are going to do your job for you. So one of the metrics I always look at within any real estate business is what percentage of inbound enquiries coming for as a result of repeat business and referral business. So I think if you can do those three things, I think you’re well in the way to success.
Tanja: I agree and I think inside of leadership, if you’re not walking your talk, it’s very hard to inspire your people to be congruent and do the same,
Douglas: Absolutely. and we were talking off air before about, and something that I’m really passionate about is you don’t believe the message unless you believe the messenger.
Tanja: So what is your message, you know as a key leader of influence who’s a thought leader for three years, has been acknowledged for the innovation you’ve been bringing to the industry. I know, again, we talked off air about some things that you’re really passionate about and the gender equality and 53% of your employees are women, and you’re keen to explore more women in leadership roles. If we don’t believe the message unless we believe the messenger, as a leader what is one of your biggest messages around leadership for our industry? Where like if this were your soap box, what would you say is something that you feel is really important to either elevating the consumers’ experience or elevating the state of leadership in our industry that’s facing disruption.
Douglas: I believe that we need to get to know the consumer better, it really is as simple as that. You know, we’ve talked about innovation today. Normally, innovation is around sort of technology and IT in the digital space, but actually I think it’s as simple as getting back to basics.
Tanja: Yeah, music to my ears.
Doug: You know, and I look at the customer experience. Now, I’m somebody who understands difference in customer experience and customer service.
Tanja: And what is the difference?
Douglas: Good example, we sat in a restaurant, okay? so, customer service would be maybe the waiter coming up in a timely manner, asking what we like to drink, being polite, friendly, making a couple of recommendations on the menu, and such. Customer experience, however, goes that much deeper. So it’s about the ambiance of the restaurant. What’s the background music like? Is it the right volume? And maybe they recommending a wine to go with the meat or the fish.
Tanja: So it’s full sensory rather than…
Douglas: Full sensory.
Tanja: …one direction.
Douglas: Absolutely. And I guess what we do is we kind of deliver customer service based on what we think it should look like, and going back to what I said earlier, it should be delivered based on what they want it to look like.
Tanja: So we’re talking about, so you’re saying, Doug, one of the things you think is really important for us to focus on not only as leaders, but as an industry is elevating the client experience. We get a bit distracted around this thing of innovation and technology and you know making things more instant than instant coffee, yet you’re saying, “I think we need to get back to basics, I think we need to elevate the customer or client experience.” I couldn’t agree with you more, and our friends our CoreLogic who we’ve partnered around the whole real estate of leadership have demonstrated through perception of buyer and vendors experience that from the moment they engage with a real estate agent through the transaction, their confidence drops by 47%, and I believe we’re missing those moments of matching our behaviour and our interaction with the consumer at those peak emotional times of signing the authority, the first OFI, the contract, and then coming into the home. What do you want to say about that? Because I think we’re on the same page here as far as elevating the client experience as being the number one message you want to get to the industry, what do you believe we need to do?
Douglas: The first thing we’re doing actually, and you touched upon this is actually utilising the research because I think again I use the word or term awareness a few times today, but if we’re not aware or conscious that actually what we’re delivering is not up to par or up to standards then that’s the first place we’re going to fall. So actually having kind of education around that. So we ourselves have utilised some of the CoreLogic data, and we’ll continue to do so. And then conduct our own research of course to really highlight and emphasise the level and scale of the issue or the problem. And then obviously ensuring that people will do stick to what they’re supposed to do.
Tanja: How do you do that as a leader? When you’ve got a team of 250 people, how do you ensure that your people do what you say is important for the client experience?
Douglas: There’s KPIs, and there’s accountability built around that. So there’s the obvious stuff around Net promoters score but here are various nuances, below that. One thing that we do above and beyond that which is quite extreme and I don’t think enough groups do this is we actually do mystery shopping.
Tanja: Okay. Yeah, yeah.
Douglas: And I love mystery shopping I’m an advocate of it. My whole working life I’ve been both sides of it but it teaches you absolutely everything. And you know I’ll give you the warts and all version of what you do now. One of my biggest bugbears in our industry is that we are like ostriches. Our heads are buried in the sand. And let me qualify that without insulting too many people. We have this propensity to want to hear good feedback.
Douglas: …and what we should be doing is just asking for feedback, okay
Douglas: There’s a massive massive difference between the two. So you know we got to stop fishing for compliments and we’ve got to really start asking the halting questions and when someone gives us negative feedback or constructive criticism we’ve got to step up and react to it in an appropriate manner. And I cannot stand receiving negative feedback. I don’t know too many people who can.
Tanja: You are human.
Douglas: I am human. Yes. Just about some people say I’m not though, but the reality there is that you know if I look at myself, I don’t like it but when I get over myself and I get my own ego and I’ve licked my wounds. I kind of look at that, take it on board and then reconstruct you know what it is I do and how I do it and I think as an industry we’ve got to do that a lot better because you got sites like Rate My Agent, all the rest of it, all of which have a place but you know again it’s really just fishing for compliments and they have a place they have a place in marketing and that’s what that’s about. So things like Rate My Agent are great but they’re there to essentially emphasise the agent and their ego and it’s marketing. If you really want to improve you’ve got to just ask for feedback and you’ve got to be digging deeper and asking some of those uncomfortable questions and actually perhaps you shouldn’t be asking that yourself. Because if I ask you now your feedback on me and how I perform this interview. You may or may decide to be kind. But if somebody else was to ask then the reality is that third party has a sense of arm’s length, that impartiality and actually you’re going to get the honest version of events as opposed to “I’m going to sugarcoat it because I don’t really want to hurt your feelings”. So there is a massive difference.
Tanja: There is a massive difference. And what I can hear in what you’re saying Doug, is this is the difference between being liked and leading and I do believe that it is a fundamental skill set to effectively give feedback, positive and constructive feedback and this is something that not every leader has been taught how to do. Because we all work with the best intentions but sometimes we say something and it doesn’t land the way we want it to land. What’s the thing you’re focussing on educating your leadership team on at the moment.
Douglas: Again we’ve touched upon it you know an understanding of the client is the absolute front and centre of everything you do and the sooner you understand that the sooner you will have a better business.
Tanja: And one of the things we did also talk about today with your team was for a leader and I’m keen to get your opinion on this. If leaders treat their team like their clients first, do you think that increases their chance of the team treating the client with a higher level of respect and engagement.
Douglas: I couldn’t agree more.
Douglas: And you know there’s the old saying that you know you don’t build a business, you build people and those people build your business.
Douglas: So you’ve got to show people a lot of love. You know there’s a lot of choice out there. You know people can choose to work for any agency. Why you? And I think that starts with a sense of appreciation and appreciation again has different facets to it if you like but I think just giving them your time, your effort, your commitment and dedication and showing them the love and showing them the support. I mean today you know there was 120 people in that room, the fact that they got invited there and their principals are invested in them and their future. And I think there’s this kind of flippant attitude sometimes in our industry about that we spend too much time and what is the old saying about it what if I try and they leave and what if I try and they stay. But I think that this is an absolute unwavering commitment and they will they will repay that they will be loyal and they are far more inclined to stay with you through the good times and the bad.
Tanja: True. Because if as leaders we are just focussing on the end user and then bypassing this beautiful resource called our team then we kind of don’t feel valued or appreciated and the external groups can become attractive if they are showing appreciation. So I can hear one of the things you value as a CEO of Starr Partners is that your people feel appreciated genuinely and valued for the work that they do and the contribution that they are and you believe that if we do that it will have a ripple effect in our consumers end result.
Douglas: And you know I’m not under any miss illusions. I’m somebody sits in my ivory tower, you know I am not my business. Those people on the front line are my business. You know they are the ones that make or break our reputation. So for me they are far more valuable to the brand and active starr partners than the more I am. Yeah because you know I can sit here and do broadcast to the industry but, you know again I wouldn’t be sat here today it wasn’t for those people. So a genuine understanding and appreciation of them and just commitment to you know, their well-being and indeed their professional development and genuinely wanting to see them do well for them not necessarily for yourself.
Tanja: Sure and like we said before you don’t believe the message unless you believe the messenger. So we’re having a look at the key insights from the data that we’ve done with Core Logic around the real estate of leadership in the industry. And I asked you before we pressed the green light to pick which one do you think is the one that we as an industry really need to focus on the most and why.
Douglas: Around there’s a couple of standouts there but the one for me is the 82 percent of Principals feel qualified to lead their business.
Douglas: I would challenge them on that and say well what does qualification look like for you because there’s an old saying that you know a good chef doesn’t make good restaurateurs. So are you qualified, genuinely you know.
Tanja: And what does that mean?
Douglas: Well that’s right. But I think first and foremost you start with your own professional development. You know? Do you know how to manage teams do you know how to lead people. You know, what levels of empathy do you demonstrate? And if it is not enough what are you doing to work on improving and increasing that. I mean there are so many things involved in running a business. I mean there are a thousand and one and you can’t be expected to be experts in all. But are you constantly looking to improve in every way, every day? So I think in terms of what qualifies you, you know, I think you can’t kid yourself. I think you’ve got to be really raw and really honest and you got to look in the mirror and you’ve got to say I could or should be doing this different or could or should be doing this better. So there are some wonderful leaders across our industry fantastic, in fact. But, like myself, we can all really challenge each other to continue to get better.
Tanja: Yeah. So what do you do Doug, to continue to elevate your leadership.
Douglas: I get a guess. I mean I have an expression that a mind is like a parachute. it works much better when it is open and I remain open minded to anything and everything you know, and I also realise that learning is all around us. You know sometimes there’s this erroneous view or misconception that you learn from people who are maybe even more senior than you whether be in life or experience or business. Actually you can learn from absolutely everyone, you know. Leadership is top to bottom and back again. So just having an open mind, always being switched on as well.
Tanja: What does that mean?
Douglas: So you know you’ve got to like a police officer- never off duty. You’re literally learning and trying to garner things from absolutely…
Tanja: So, Sergeant Sponge.
Douglas: Yeah. Just absolutely.
Tanja: There’s your new avatar.
Douglas: Yeah. That’s right. Well, if the hat fits.
But from my point of view as I said just being constantly switched on and wanting to learn. From the moment you stop learning… because education is not static..okay? It’s always evolving always changing there’s always something new we need to learn but the moment you think you know it all, well that’s the moment you start going backwards and I just cannot stress that enough and like I sometimes think I’m a know-it-all and then I kind of have a moment of quiet reflection and then I go “Actually, you know, I don’t know nothing”. You know, it could be another ten lifetimes and I still wouldn’t know enough.
Tanja: Yeah. So there’s that philosophy we haven’t arrived anywhere and if you do have the privilege of wearing the title of a leader don’t think you’ve arrived remain an eternal student and don’t underestimate what you can learn from your people no matter where they sit.
Tanja: You know in the chain of hierarchy in your business.
Douglas: And what’s interesting as well about education and this is something that you know better than anybody is the implementation schedule. So you know again we’ve had 120 people in a room. You delivered a fantastic presentation. Feedback was wonderful. But what happens now.
Tanja: So I want to ask you before we wrap up what does happen now because what tends to happen when we do training is our motivational pilot light is temporarily lit, we’ve filled our workbook with lots of notes with great intentions to action some or one of them and then we close the book, we go out and we get on our phone and life continues and we go “Ahh..what training. Ahh..Yeah.” We’ve had this conversation around okay what happens now. So as the CEO of a real estate group, who has invested in some training for a hundred and twenty people, what is your implementation strategy? And what would you recommend to other groups out there that are investing in training because this industry has no shortage of it. What will you do now to make sure that what was shared today will get implemented at least one step at a time?
Douglas: Well, I think firstly, your absolutely spot on, training needs landing gear .
Douglas: And I think the first thing that should happen is so in their individual silos or teams they should go away and they should have a debrief maybe be this afternoon if not you know maybe tomorrow morning and actually sit around as a group and actually talk about what it was they perhaps listened to or learned from today’s session then obviously take away maybe two or three things there that perhaps the most important that will have the biggest impact of difference in that business. And then look at how you implement that on a very practical level. And then all of you’ve got to buy in. You know, so even to the point where you may focus on those two or three things have a memorandum of understanding as a group, get everyone to sign off on it and then implement it. And then as a leader you got to ensure that implementation, as you said earlier is consistent and thorough
Tanja: And hold them to account.
Douglas: And hold them very much to account.
Tanja: hence those checklists and agreements and be your promise and be your word
Douglas: And then in the long run that’s only going to help them anyway because there is some absolute 24 karat gold I heard this morning. And even if I take two or three of them and implement it.
Tanja: It’s a little nugget.
Doug: Absolutely it’s a nugget of gold but it’s going to be again another step in the right direction and it is basically you know bite-sized chunks or baby steps we’re gonna call it. But you’ve got to start small and just gradual. It’s as simple as that.
Tanja: Yeah. So if you were to share a final message to the industry to take a step in the right direction of effective leadership and elevating client experience because I know that’s something you’re passionate about and high five, I share that with you Doug, what would it be?
Douglas: Introduce very firm and solid structure into your business. You know, focus on the process as the profits will follow and love the people that work for you. You know, love them to death. You know, you love your family and you spend less time with them you know, and friends or whoever it might be but really show your gratitude and appreciation to people that work with you and just spend as much time and effort in terms of trying to make their life and their profession that much easier and much better.
Tanja: Well that sounds like true servanthood leadership to me and you know Doug, you don’t get to be recognised as the thought leader of the year in your group doesn’t get to be acknowledged as the innovator of the year three years back-to-back unless you are walking your talk and being a true messenger. So, thanks for being a great example of what it looks like to be a great servant leader and it was just a real pleasure to be with you and your team today and also thanks for being part of TMJ TV.
Douglas: My pleasure. My pleasure.Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Tanja: Thanks, Doug Driscoll.
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