Sunday, February 18, 2007

What happens in Vegas . ..

What happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, or so the current wildly successful ad campaign asserts. Supposedly, this gives permission to otherwise straitlaced folks to go wild in Las Vegas and feel like their old comfortable self-righteous lives will be waiting for them when they return home. But my trip to Las Vegas last week was so momentous, what happened to me in Vegas just can't stay in Vegas. What happened was too big. It was all about culture.

Our firm, OBC Real Estate, is actively pursuing a Keller Williams national franchise for North Carolina's Outer Banks. So, my associate and I attended the Keller Williams Family Reunion as guests. It seemed like a great way to get up close and personal and learn about the business model as well as what makes this organization so energized. It was indeed. I had an opportunity to network with fellow Team Leaders from all over the country. The annual convention drew nearly 10,000 Keller Williams family members, walking down the same hallways as the NBA Superstars at the All-Star Game are walking as I write this. These real estate superstars are part of a unique selling proposition for the real estate business. This proposition rests on three legs: first, low risk coupled with high reward; second, the firm is agent-centered and relies on an agent council to contribute to policy-making decisions, and gives back just under 50% in profit sharing; and third, the mission, vision, values, and perspectives are all in alignment.

The mission is: work worth doing, businesses worth owning, lives worth living. The vision is God, Family, Business, in that order. The values are WI4C2TS, or: Win-Win or no deal; Integrity, Customer first, Commitment, Creativity, and Communication; Trust and Teamwork; and finally Success through sharing. Keynote speaker Ken Blanchard noted that Vegas was not his favorite destination, and speaking to a real estate firm in Vegas about clinched his low expectations. Until he read Gary Keller's "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" and researched the company. "It's remarkable," he commented, "our values are so, so close." Dr. Blanchard calls it servant leadership. It's specializing in getting others what they want without regard for what you want. And yet, amazingly, every time you engage in servant leadership behavior, you get more than you bargained for.

Dr. Blanchard related an anecdote about fame. He's published over 13 million books, including The One-Minute Manager and Raving Fans, so he could be allowed to think himself famous. He found himself at the airport just in time to catch his plane but with his identification at home. No time to return, he thought, and then he passed the airline bookstore. Sure enough, one of the very few books where his photo was on the back cover was available. It was the book he co-wrote with the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, Don Shula. So he picks up the book and walks over to the ticket counter. He explains his picture id dilemma and shows the back cover of the book to the agent. The agent's voice boomed across the terminal, "Hey, Mickey, this guy knows Don Shula!" He got his ticket smoothly and was personally escorted through security. Of course the airline was Southwest. His destination required switching airlines so he connected with another airline, you know the one, always talking about imminent bankruptcy. Once again, he sheepishly admitted to the ticket agent that he didn't have picture identification, but had his photo on the book he co-wrote with Coach Shula. This time, it wasn't Southwest. Blanchard equates Southwest Airlines with the Eagles in business, always in flight. His connecting airline reminded him more of a duck. "Quack, quack, quack, we can't possibly make an exception in your case. Quack, quack, quack, our policy and procedures manual fails to address this issue, we'll need to get it before the Committee. Quack, quack, quack," and so on and on. Eventually Dr. Blanchard got on the plane but it took a supervisor to make it happen. What makes the employees at Southwest empowered at work and those at Droopy Airlines so ineffective and just plain glum? It's passion.

To create passion in the workplace must be our goal. That means three elements must be present at all times, otherwise passion in the workplace will never materialize. The first element is meaningful work. What you do must make sense to you as well as matter to the business. Real estate practiced according to the WI4C2TSs value system unites vision and action. This powerful combination can make dreams come true and create memories that last lifetimes. The second element is a nurturing environment in which to perform that work. This translates as education, training, mentoring, and coaching, to each according to their need. The third element is fun. When we defer living our lives over and over again, eventually we run out of life to live. We don't get any do-overs in life. Therefore, making the work and the work environment fun is critical for passion to bubble up. When it does, it's like a miracle. But it takes a commitment to experience this miracle. In order to walk on water, you have got to be willing to get out of the boat.

Real estate has a reputation as a dog-eat-dog world, and so it might take some getting used to before fully embracing a business model where everyone helps everyone else. But before you start painting a nostalgic picture in a warm '70s encounter group glow, keep in mind that being dedicated to a balanced life includes equal time and energy on learning, working, and living, all the time. The model emphasizes adopting a structured process as the skeleton of the business. Then one's creativity can take over and customize the model, fleshing out the skeleton. Simply put, it couldn't be simpler. But it must be strictly adhered to. Creativity before understanding and implementing the structured process will burn out. Process without creativity is lifeless.

I've always thought of myself as a paid optimist. And in fact, that has been my public persona in real estate. "How's the market?" someone might ask. "Incredible!" I'd respond, knowing that the interpretation was up to the listener. But inside there's a voice I hear that's neither overly optimistic nor negative. It is the matter-of-fact voice of reality. That voice mirrors my realization that a real estate business model that is focused on the agents so that the agents can focus on their clients and customers has positive market differentiation. That may explain why Keller Williams agent growth is five times higher than its long-time competition. An idea whose time has come is like a blaze on the prairie. It is upon the crucible of this blaze that the culture is forged. God, Family, Business. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

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