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Best Practices: Strategies To Keep Talented Employees In A Tight Job Market

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The Best Practices series asks CRE leaders around the country about how to best execute a single aspect of their business. 

Commercial real estate is a profession marked by job-hopping, and the current climate of low unemployment and high deal volume makes the trend even more pronounced.

What, besides more money (always an important consideration), are the best ways for a company to retain talent in such a tight market?

We asked eight CRE executives in various sectors of the profession — investors, developers, brokers — and in various parts of the country for their answers. This is the first of an occasional series on best practices in commercial real estate that will ask CRE pros to focus on a single aspect of their business and how to make it better.

Stan Johnson Co. Executive Managing Director Harold Briggs

Harold Briggs
Stan Johnson Co. Executive Managing Director Harold Briggs

The market for talent today is highly competitive. With the labor market tight, competitors are aggressively pursuing top candidates, and in real estate, that's true on both the production side, as well as our corporate support team.

There’s no one answer to address retention. Our greatest asset is our company culture, since it’s the most critical element in our retention strategy. We’ve worked to build a culture that makes people want to join, and then stay with [us]. We have a volunteer committee of 12 to 15 professionals spanning all parts of the organization, called the SJC Culture Club, that continues to look for ways to promote our culture.

Another critical component is our overall platform for net lease professionals, and it’s a great retention tool. The platform includes elements too numerous to name here, but I’d call out our shared services staffing model, single shared customer database, and comps/data analytics models as features that aren’t offered anywhere else. 

Finally, we believe that one of the best paths to retain people is to give them opportunities to connect with one another and grow in their professional careers. As such, we have several events each year to bring company departments from across the country together for training and team building.

Tulsa-based Stan Johnson Co. specializes in net lease investment sales.

Skilken Gold Real Estate Development President Tobi Skilken Gold

Skilken Gold Real Estate Development President Tobi Skilken Gold
Skilken Gold Real Estate Development President Tobi Skilken Gold

The first step in retaining talent is recruiting the right talent. Hiring smart is not just about matching skills and experience with job demands. For us, it’s also about aligning a candidate’s traits and values with those of our company culture. Are they smart yet humble? Are they independent self-starters but also team players? Are they committed and passionate?

We want our employees to feel a part of something bigger — not only understanding how to be successful in their roles, but how their individual successes impact the larger success of the business. 

When employees feel significant, they become significant. When they’re given the room to grow — and a path they’re passionate about following — they not only accelerate company growth, they remain engaged and loyal.

Skilken Gold is a Columbus, Ohio-based developer.

Case Real Estate Capital Managing Director, principal and Chief Financial Officer Chris Mavros

Chris Mavros
Case Real Estate Capital Managing Director, principal and Chief Financial Officer Chris Mavros

At the initial interview, we get to know the candidate as an individual — what are their abilities and aspirations and do they fit with the company? If there’s a match and they come on board, we maintain the positive momentum by ensuring they have an appropriate level of autonomy, so they know we trust them.

At the same time, we give employees plenty of educational and other developmental opportunities, so they can take on more responsibility. Also, we've created a casual, productive work environment with open lines of communication. 

We keep things personal and have a genuine interest in everyone’s family. There are a lot of steps you can take to keep people happy without making it all about the money, since business is about people and relationships.

Case Real Estate Capital is an investment firm based in New Jersey.

Morgan Holdings principal Ronnie Morgan

Ronnie Morgan
Morgan Holdings principal Ronnie Morgan

Our company [is] built upon our family foundation, which means everyone is treated with respect and like a member of the family, including our employees. My personal philosophy is of servant leadership, empowering our team to excel at their jobs. 

We have employees who were hired over 30 years ago still with our company.  When you serve your employees and really listen, everyone wins. Once you get out of the way, your team will take ownership. Everyone wants to be heard and respected, and [that] builds loyalty and longevity.

Morgan Holdings is a multifamily developer based in San Diego County.

Cawley Partners President Brian Neitzel

Brian Neitzel
Cawley Partners President Brian Neitzel

We all need to make a living, so compensation will always be a key part of what guides employment decisions. Even so, I’ve spoken with a number of people across a variety of industries who are looking to change jobs. In not a single instance was money the reason. Instead of running toward more money, people are often running away from jobs where there’s a lack of opportunity.  

There’s probably a strong correlation between how well a company does at creating opportunity for its team and how high its employee retention is.

As employers, it’s our job to create opportunity. We have to create an environment where the company is financially healthy and people have an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, but we all want more than that. We’re all looking for the opportunity to grow as professionals. We want to learn more, to expand our skill set, to build our network and to advance in our career.  

We also want the opportunity to grow personally, which oftentimes means having the flexibility to pursue things outside of work. And we want the opportunity to be a part of something that we’re proud of. Many times I've heard well-compensated people ask the question, 'What’s the point?'

Cawley Partners is a Dallas-based real estate investor.

Alfred Sanzari Enterprises Chief Operating Officer Ryan Sanzari  

Ryan Sanzari
Alfred Sanzari Enterprises Chief Operating Officer Ryan Sanzari

The tremendous volume of commercial real estate development nationwide has created challenges within the industry, as labor becomes scarcer and employers grapple with a limited yet highly fluid workforce. Widespread ground-up development has had a rippling effect impacting the availability of project managers, engineers, mechanical technicians and other management professionals.

In my experience, employees do not walk out on you simply because they’re not making enough money, but rather because there is a clear void in trust, confidence, value or all of the above.  

With such a tight and competitive market, we've placed a renewed focus on fostering a positive culture. The market will do what the market does, but it's imperative that we adhere to our core values and treat our team members with the respect and recognition they deserve. This means hiring the right leaders that can unify teams and promote mutual respect.

Alfred Sanzari Enterprises is a New Jersey-based developer.

Mag Mile Capital principal Rushi Shah 

 

Shah, Rushi
Mag Mile Capital principal Rushi Shah

Millennials and new-generation employees are looking for purpose more than cash incentives. To retain talent, we try to get employees involved in major projects and complex transactions, giving them exposure to deals and issues that they won’t otherwise get. 

We've also created a culture of openness where everyone can demonstrate leadership and we value a workplace environment that’s safe for people to make mistakes and learn from them. That develops a learning environment. We let junior employees make day-to-day decisions, which is important because it makes them feel involved. 

Employees are also incentivized with the company’s performance, so if the company does better, everyone gets rewarded. I want every employee to feel like a little principal in the company and have as much upside and downside as any principal would. This aligns interests, keeping everyone on the edge, but not afraid of pulling their weight, and makes it so that no one is afraid of sharing new ideas for growth.

Mag Mile Capital is a Chicago-based CRE mortgage and investment banking firm.

Shopoff Realty Investments President and CEO Bill Shopoff

Bill Shopoff
Shopoff Realty Investments President and CEO Bill Shopoff

While money will always be a factor, in today’s competitive job market, it’s often the factors outside of salary that will ultimately attract and retain talent. First, it’s important that employees have an opportunity for growth within the firm, not only with position advancement, but also by supporting continuing education. 

It’s also important to keep employees engaged by ensuring that there is plenty of diversity in the projects they are working on. We're always working on a great variety of challenging and interesting projects, which allows a great diversity of learning as well as experience-building.

Finally, it’s essential to create a strong social fabric and sense of community with your employees. People spend the majority of their waking hours each week at work, so it’s imperative that they feel supported and connect to their colleagues. Group gatherings that allow employees to create bonds are vitally important, as well as an overall transparency with employees about the future of the company.

Irvine, California-based Shopoff Realty Investments is a value-add and opportunistic investor.