Commercial Real Estate Sales, Leasing and Strategy

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Dennis Aubin, February 22, 2021

According to some experts, 70% of competencies develop on the job.  Another 20% comes from networking, with only 10% coming from actual programmed training.

So, the vast majority of what you need to be good at to do your job likely isn’t covered by your training.

This seems to present a big opportunity for structured competency development, and in fact, many industries and organizations have done this through competency-based learning.

But to take advantage of this opportunity, you have to create a framework that builds a complete set of competency models for each role and sets out your performance objectives. 

I decided to build that.

Competency vs. Skill in Commercial Real Estate Brokerage

Skills are specific abilities that you need to do your job. They are the “what” that needs to be done.  They can be hard skills, like using a spreadsheet, or soft skills, like planning or time management. Many training programs focus exclusively on skills development.

Competencies, however, are the “how” of what needs to be done.  They do this by taking skills and linking them to the knowledge required to apply them, and incorporating that into demonstrated behaviors that lead to a successful ability to perform specific functions.

Thus:  Competency = Skill + Knowledge + Ability

Several programs, such as the SOIR and CCIM programs, offer extensive and detailed knowledge-based training.  Other private programs are on offer to augment broker training and deliver best practice advice.  I can attest that completing programs such a those offered by Lipsey and Massimo has been well worth the investment in developing an approach to the business.

However, in examining various training programs in the brokerage industry, it appears that much of the focus is on skills training or knowledge development independent of each other, or are focused on “skills” that are actually a set of processes involving several core competencies.

A skill in “Tenant Representation”, for instance, is not a specific skill but rather a series of processes that involve several core competencies, such as communication, attentive listening, negotiation, and others.

Competency development is training specifically designed to build these core competencies so that they can be applied on the job.

Benefits and limitations of Competency-Based Learning Models

With its focus on demonstrated behaviors, competency-based training is particularly well-suited to on-the-job learning. The focus on specific core competencies means that training can be broken down into smaller segments more easily fit into a workday, and apply to day-to-day activities. This model is then adaptable for people to learn at their own pace.

Keying on specific core competencies also allows learning to be tailored for people with strengths in different areas while addressing the complete set of requirements to do the job. Also, certain core competencies, particularly those related to soft skills, appear linked to the more fundamental characteristics of individuals, and so assessing learning needs in these areas and targeting specific competency development can create a better foundation for future performance.

One of the criticisms of competency-based training is a perceived limitation in its effectiveness for developing specific knowledgeable skills. In other words, weaker in the skills training delivered by more traditional training systems.  As such, it seems that competency-based programs can and should be augmented with additional subject matter skills training and knowledge.

Competency Focus to Improve Client Service

The commercial real estate brokerage industry has relatively low barriers to entry, and a wide divergence of experience and education when compared to other professions that regularly deal with high stakes and large sums of money.  Because of this, there can be great variability in the quality and levels of client service delivery. The best in the industry deliver high levels of professional client-centric service, however, this is not consistent across the industry or even within individual brokerages.

By focusing attention on core “foundational” competencies, those more closely tied to basic personality traits, you can build a more solid base for what comes next.  By then delivering training based on core “functional” competencies, those more tied to core job tasks, you can build on this foundation to develop a comprehensive suite of competencies.  A focus on developing a full spectrum of core competencies will elevate capabilities and allow more industry members to perform at the high service levels that clients deserve.

Competency Focus to Improve Inclusiveness

Individuals with pre-existing core competencies are typically the ones delivering the highest levels of service.  It follows that those weaker or lacking in those competencies may not be performing at those levels, either to the detriment of their clients or with the simple result of them leaving the industry altogether.  This attrition could be seen as necessary, but also has the effect of narrowing the scope of the type of individual working in the industry.

But what if you could work on developing these core competencies?  With this attention to the often-ignored fundamentals, we can increase the chance of success to a much wider range of people. A focus on competencies will have the effect of broadening the scope of individuals who can perform at the highest levels, bring much-needed diversity to the industry, and allow it to accurately reflect its broader community.

A Competency Framework for Commercial Real Estate Brokers

So it seemed that developing a competency model for commercial real estate brokerage was a good idea, but where to begin?

The first step had to be determining a complete set of competencies required and modeling each competency.  The next would be an assessment model of learning needs and configuring the learning program.

My first attempt definitely hit a wall.  I had thought to reconfigure years worth of training materials I had collected into a competency model, but very little of what I had could be described as dealing with core competencies. 

Instead, I turned to other industries that had successfully deployed extensive competency models and extracted all of those that applied to the brokerage industry.  I then surveyed industry members to ensure completeness and to fill in any gaps.

Next, it was critical to include competencies directly tied to expressing the values of our organization.

The whole process took longer than I had planned, but I’m quite happy with the result.

What I came up with is a collection of 36 core competencies, organized into 8 competency groups which are further grouped into categories of “Foundational Competencies” and “Functional Competencies”.

Each competency model is made up of the following components:

  1. Competency Definition
  2. Skill/Task Statements
  3. Knowledge Statements
  4. Demonstrated Ability Statements at 3 Career Levels:
    1. Developmental
    1. Full Performance
    1. Expert

Before starting any training, a competency self-assessment will be completed with ratings of existing competencies from low or no competency to high or expert levels.

This ranking is validated by a feedback process and other assessments that, while ensuring completeness, will also allow for customized learning priorities for each individual.

The final and most time-consuming process was sourcing or developing the learning modules and structuring them into a program. While there are plentiful materials in the industry for a competency such as “Negotiating”, there was very little for a competency like “Authenticity”.

Ultimately what I arrive at was a competency-based learning framework comprised of 36 modules that could be delivered over 12 weeks.  Each module will be delivered with a variety of learning materials and hands-on dialogue and follow up, concurrent with a more traditional knowledge-based program, as well as a formalized mentorship program.

Obviously, this program will need to evolve as it is field-tested and put through its paces. Gaps will become apparent and practical application will need to be constantly validated to make sure that intended results are being achieved.  Though with this robust structure, I’m hopeful that this can happen in a meaningful way.

To my great surprise, what started as a thought-exercise actually became something.

Time to put it to the test.