Fran Broude looked at the business of buying and selling homes in 2008 and saw nothing but change ahead.
The economy and the real estate market were both in steep decline. Consumers were left in a state of great uncertainty trying to figure out how to move forward with their plans or determine if those plans were still even feasible.
“We had to take a step back,” says Broude, president and COO for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Chicago/Milwaukee. “We had to go through some of the same hard decisions and thought processes that our consumers were going through.”
As a leader in the real estate game, Broude had two levels of customers. There were the consumers who looked to buy and sell homes, and then there were the agents who help those consumers get their homes bought and sold.
In order to achieve success for both groups, Broude felt it was time to take a deeper look at how her Coldwell Banker division worked and how it could better meet customer needs.
“We had to realize and effect some efficiency in our own organization,” Broude says. “But at the same time, and more critically, we had to be able to redirect our resources to providing marketing platforms, tools and programs that would best enhance our agents’ ability to support and provide exemplary service to the consumers, the home buyers and sellers.”
One of the advantages that Broude believed was in her team’s favor was brand recognition.
“People were feeling much more attracted to companies with a strong brand recognition who were considered a trusted resource,” Broude says. “Coldwell Banker has been helping people buy and sell homes for more than 100 years. Consumers and agents wanted to be with companies that would be there during the challenge and in the future.”
It was certainly a positive message from which to draw strength, but it wasn’t enough to solve every concern facing her team. Processes still needed to be modified or changed and 3,300 agents and 250 employees needed to feel good about those changes.
“It’s always a little unsettling to find out your office structure is changing, your facility is changing, where it’s going to be located is changing or what combination of sales associates there will be is changing,” Broude says. “We didn’t just make those decisions and say, ‘Let’s do it.’ We made those decisions with a lot of careful evaluation of what would be the most positive.”
Broude was confident that with the right approach, her team would see the challenges as an opportunity to do their jobs better than they ever had.
Engage people in the process
One of the key things that needed to change was the company’s marketing platform and the tools that were rapidly becoming commonplace in the way people went about buying and selling their homes.
“The leadership team and I really had to make sure that the programs and tools we were focusing on were prioritized and meeting the needs of our agents in their attempt to provide good service,” Broude says. “It was a really big undertaking.”
In addition, the composition of offices needed to be analyzed and the company’s website needed to provide a better consumer experience.
“The driving force behind why someone was selling a home starting in 2008 was very different,” Broude says. “So we had to step back and say, ‘Is this superior agent value proposition, does it really fit the needs of our sales associates in providing superior service or do we need to refine it?’”
As tough as all those changes were to confront, the challenge of composing a response was equally daunting. How do you approach your people who have been trained to do something one way and now need to completely change course?
“You almost have to over-communicate in a very reassuring way,” Broude says. “All good leaders, it mandates that you get people to feel good about change. You present the change that is needed and you get them to feel good about it. It doesn’t always work, but it never works when you don’t articulate it or communicate it clearly and with passion about why it’s the right decision.”
Broude didn’t want to push through changes without discussing it with as many people in the organization as she could and explaining why the changes needed to be made. So she and her leadership team embarked on a mission to do just that.
“I’m a big believer in listening to the field, listening to what they have to say and making sure they know you are listening to what they have to say,” Broude says. “Then we’ll reconvene and talk about common threads. So we divided up the list and reached out and asked, ‘What are your biggest challenges? How are you dealing with them? What do you need from us?’”
Broude and her leadership team committed to take what they heard to heart and promptly respond to what they had learned. They enlisted people with expertise in certain areas of real estate to talk more deeply about changes that were being made. And they worked hard to provide statistics and data that would give their teams the latest on what was happening in the housing market.
“The whole team embarked on a lot of coaching to provide more dialogue about pricing and positioning their home the right way for sale,” Broude says. “It was almost a back-to-the-basics, but the basics had changed a bit. We instilled a lot of confidence in the sales associates and employees.
“We were aware of what was happening, we understood what they were dealing with and we were supporting their efforts by bringing everything we could to them to have those conversations.”
Explain the why
When you’re talking about changes and disrupting the routines of your employees, you need to demonstrate why you’re doing it. It’s one thing to talk about why these changes are going to help your business and your customers, but you also need to recognize that it’s going to affect your employees.
“We made decisions with a lot of careful evaluation of what would be the positive,” Broude says. “For example, if we were going to move an office and reduce the size or merge two offices together, it wasn’t with the intention that the overall goal be a smaller office. There was always a component that provided more resources and support for the agents.
“So by reducing the size of an office or merging two offices, we could provide a much higher level of staff support in an office for everybody.”
When you take the time to get into the thought processes and the reasons behind a change, you stand a better chance of getting support.
“Most people — if you have a trusting relationship — they’ll at least give you the opportunity to get through it,” Broude says.
It gets back to the idea that as a leader, you can’t just think about making your company attractive to your external customers. You’ve got to work just as hard at selling it to your internal customers, the employees who you hire to work for you.
“We have one common goal and that is to create raving fans within our organization,” Broude says. “We want them to experience an excellent customer experience as often as possible so that they can feel good about the experience they provide for people who buy and sell homes. It was just a lot of team effort and communication and execution of plans that continually had to be evolving.”
Broude feels the responsibility of being the leader of her team and demonstrates it through her availability to that team anytime, anywhere.
“To a fault, I’m probably the most accessible person,” Broude says. “I get a lot of crazy communication through emails all days of the week and at all times and I always respond very promptly.
“I’m a member of this company in many of the same ways everybody else is. I provide leadership, vision and a platform that people want to believe in and follow. Whenever you get far away from what people are dealing with in your organization and how what you’re driving is affecting them, you’re really not very effective as a leader.”
The numbers show Broude’s team is adapting well to the changes. Her regions saw an increase in volume of 25.6 percent to $7.2 billion in 2012.
“The bar rose for everybody,” Broude says. “We set a much higher standard of service within the organization and a much higher acceptable limit of production for our agents and everybody rose to the occasion. The aftermath of that now that the market is performing even more differently has helped position us to deal with that change to a much greater degree of success.”
How to reach: Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Chicago/Milwaukee, (847) 313-6500
The Broude File
President and COO
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Chicago/Milwaukee
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.
What was your first job? When I was in sixth grade, I partnered with a young girlfriend and we ran a small children’s day care center. We took all the neighborhood kids for three or four hours a day, five days a week. We collaborated with the kids to sings songs, do artwork out of twigs and leaves, and teach some interpersonal skills.
We had a lot of fun. At the end of the summer, we would take the pot of money and decide what portion of that money would go to materials for the following year and what portion of the money was our pay.
One of my little students, now a CPA, recently sent me a copy of their “Play Skool Degree” and wanted to see how I was doing. It was a great experience. We needed to have a plan, and we needed to be able to manage the personalities of close to 40 children that were anywhere from 2½ to 7 years old. It was very rewarding.
Who do you admire most? I aspire to live every day in my business life and to some degree in my personal life by the words of Maya Angelou who always says it’s not what you say or what you do, but it’s how you make people feel. That’s a huge, strong core value of mine.
Get your facts straight.
Explain why you’re changing.
Treat employees as customers.