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Op/Ed

Isn’t it time to make these Code of Ethics violation reporting theories a reality?

Code of Ethics violation reporting has long lacked transparency, so can this old theory mixed with some new theories improve public perception of Realtors?

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transparency

This editorial was originally featured here in July 2014, yet rings just as true today.

In 2009, Virginia real estate broker, Jim Duncan opined that the level of transparency in the industry could be improved and suggested that in order for the public to trust real estate professionals, perhaps ethics conversations should be held in public, given the public nature of the profession.

Duncan wrote years ago, asking, “How about a badge on local associations’ pages, “no ethics complaints in the past 123 days”? To be credible our system has to be credible.”

He noted, “It is incumbent upon us to discuss our collective ethical successes and shortcomings,” and asks how much transparency is too much.

Fast forward to the Code of Ethics today

In my opinion, the industry has done very little to improve transparency surrounding ethics, and reporting continues to be a burden for all involved. Recently, the California Association of Realtors® issued a report which called for “significantly more robust enforcement of the Code of Ethics.”

The proposal calls for violations to be punished more swiftly, and for unethical behavior to be published and “significant enough to deter future unethical behavior,” as they plan to develop a database all local associations will be required to post disciplinary actions to.

This is a step in the right direction, but more can be done. Why do this at a state level? Why not a national database with standards? Why put some Realtors under the microscope and others out of the public light?

But wait, more can be done!

If not a database, why not continue to improve the reporting process? I’ve long argued against the process being misaligned with the American standards for justice, as most associations do not allow anonymous complaints. But why would they? That would mean a lot more work for the committees and staff, and of course it would lead to some vicious competitors lodging false complaints against each other.

But when I ask a room of Realtors to raise their hands if they’ve witnessed a Code of Ethics violation, hands fly up unanimously. Then, if I ask how many reported the violation, the hands are sparse. When asked why, the answer is consistently twofold – first, it’s too much of a time consuming hassle, and second, the lack of anonymity leaves the do-gooder vulnerable to retribution. Again, how misaligned with our own nation’s justice system can we be? Imagine if you couldn’t call 911 anonymously?!

The Code of Ethics is a valuable asset Realtors have, and a Code that is respectable. But without improvement in the reporting process, the rest is all hot air. Is Duncan’s idea one that should be revisited, or should we change the very structure of reporting?

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

You lost a rockstar employee – don’t lose the band too

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Bands lose lead singers all the time, and sometimes are the better for it. Your business can rally too in the wake of losing a star employee.

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Smiling rockstar employee accepting paper from off screen.

Turnover is one of the largest expenses a business may have to prepare for; a study by Employee Benefits News estimates that the dollar amount is equivalent to a third of an employee’s annual salary. Indirect costs arrive alongside this, which can include the loss of employee knowledge and added expenses to invest in searching for a replacement. The recruitment process can be lengthy and has many steps and phases, and hiring may require paying bonuses, higher salaries, or providing additional benefits.

As many as 40% of employees quit in their first year, and when all is said and done, it might be 50-70% of that employee’s salary might suddenly be lost.

This can present a large problem if a top performing and well liked employee – what some recruiters might call a rockstar employee – leaves. Under the worst scenarios, it can cause a domino effect; remaining employees might begin to question why that person chose to make their exit, and this may manifest as a series of departures. From a management standpoint, this is catastrophic, and can lead to missed deadlines, an increased burden on the remaining staff, and generally result in less quality output.

Contingency plans should be in place to help mitigate this situation, and all companies should – at some point – consider what their best options are to stop a destructive downward spiral. Jokingly – if a little morbid – this is sometimes referred to as the bus factor, which literally confronts this question by asking what happens if ____ were hit by a bus tomorrow? After all, if your critically vital employee suddenly could not show up again – literally never again – what can you do to prevent cascading effects?

Let’s consider the best things to do in this situation in order to prevent insert-your-favorite-natural-disaster-term-here when you suddenly learn your unicorn is on their way out.

Ask Questions and Listen

First and foremost, it’s best to ask the rockstar employee why they are leaving and make a sincere effort to understand their decision. The benefits of exit interviewing are known and can help immensely in this area. Even under the best circumstances and with an employee leaving without any negative reasons, there is likely still something they’d like to see improved, and this can be applied to those who remain.

Speaking of those remaining employees, it’s best to talk with them as well. Be transparent and genuine – ask about current moods and morale, get their perspective on the situation, and how they think it might affect their work moving forward. If the exiting employee did give any advice about improving the work environment, you can inject this into these follow-on conversations to see if others share that opinion, and then use those overlapping patterns to understand what to do immediately.

Surveys can be sent out as well, and this might provide a quick response and some metrics to go on. This should be used in conjunction with interviews and one-on-one conversations. During these engagements, listen intently, acknowledge any issues that may have been uncovered, and explain that you are committed to ensuring a smooth transition and will proactively address any problems that have been revealed.

Futureproofing

Reassure employees that their work is meaningful and recognized as vital and important, and commit to finding a replacement in order to prevent concerns that an increased workload will remain in place for an extended period of time. This will require taking introspective looks into the current workplace and its metrics, and then channeling these into efforts outwardly. In other words, the future is still bright, and all the brighter with their contributions.

It’s likely that employees may start to look at their work pessimistically – “Why should I stay if what we’re doing couldn’t keep ___ here?” This is why management must act quickly to assess the situation and provide direct answers. Explain that goals are still attainable and emphasize each employee’s importance.

Happiness

Perhaps the most abstract – yet arguably most significant – thing to worry about is the overall happiness of employees, and how to best continue this in an upward trajectory. There are plenty of ways to do this, with many revolving around frequent check-ins, seeking out ways to improve skillsets through education, and providing – if possible – promotions now that voids exist. After all, if there is an open opportunity within the organization, it will likely bolster the entire team to see someone move into a new position (and provide inspiration).

Engagement is key. There is no substitute for this – employees want to be heard, want to know they matter, and will respond to such efforts positively. In addition to the strategies above, it might be a good time to consider morale boosting events while redoubling efforts to improve the workplace.

Conclusion

Focusing on what to do now with plans in place will help provide a solid head start. Engage and speak with (not just to) employees, understand their concerns, and actively respond to anything that repeatedly emerges from such conversations. Reassure by shifting focus toward the future of the company, and maintain employee happiness by being transparent and considering ways to reorganize hierarchy through promotions.

When a favorite employee leaves, there’s always going to be a rippling effect throughout the office. Turnover cannot be fully avoided, but there are several ways to cushion the blow and continue to move forward in an efficient, agile manner.

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Op/Ed

How anyone can be a more assertive real estate pro

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Being assertive is not the same as being bossy and while most people tell women to be more assertive, lack of assertiveness isn’t gender exclusive. Here are a few tips how to make your presence known.

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assertive broker meeting negotiation team

Merriam-Webster defines assertive as “disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.” I believe assertive behavior is the balance between being passive or aggressive.

You aren’t demanding, but you’re not dismissing your needs either.

Women are often told that they need to be more assertive, rather than passive, and men need to be less aggressive. I’m more of the opinion that assertiveness isn’t gender-specific. I believe every person needs some assertiveness training.

While I may not be an expert in assertiveness, as a freelancer, I have learned to be more assertive. Here are a few of my observations:

  • To be assertive, I had to stop feeling as if my work was unimportant. Call it confidence or self-esteem, but it was a definite turning point for me. I stopped using the word, “just.” I didn’t apologize for bothering people. I simply began stating what I needed to get the job done.
  • I defined what assertive meant to me. For me, it was the ability to stand up for my opinions and needs. This didn’t happen overnight, but it took practice. One of the key things I did was to try and be more assertive in other places, like when I volunteered. That gave me the confidence to stand up for myself in my work.
  • I use “I” statements. “I need to take next Monday off.” “I need more information about this project.” “I cannot do that this week.”
  • I’ve found that part of being assertive is taking the other person at their word and not holding a grudge. Don’t read more into their emotions than what is being discussed. Just because my co-worker hated the last idea I had shouldn’t stop me from exploring new ideas with the team.
  • It is very difficult to change old behaviors. I have mentors and coaches that I talk to about my successes and failures. This has helped me figure out what I’d do differently if I had the chance. Trust me, it isn’t easy to be introspective about the time you blew it, but it’s been very beneficial in all the areas of my life.
  • I’ve apologized when it was appropriate, but I don’t beat myself up, either. The other day, I missed one part of an assignment. In the past, I would have not taken any more assignments as punishment. Instead, I apologized that I missed it and fixed the assignment. Then, I took another block of work and moved on. It was freeing.

Being assertive isn’t easy. But it is very rewarding.

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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