At two recent MBL training courses on “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors practice” https://www.mblseminars.com/Outline/Managing-_-Marketing-a-Profitable-Surveyors-Practice/5865/ – one in London and the other in Birmingham – there was much discussion about human resources management (HRM) issues. Recruitment and succession of surveyors appears to be a common challenge when it comes to growing a profitable practice.
Recruitment of good quality surveyors continues to be the main constraint on the growth of property partnerships. There are a number of sub-issues – how to attract, assess, train, retain and reward the right people.
Attracting the right people requires a number of elements. The first is brand. The firm’s brand will be important – its reputation in the market will drive its ability to attract the right sort of clients and work. The employer brand needs to be distinct too. The owners of a partnership need to have a clear and compelling vision for the future of their practice so recruits are attracted to the firm and the opportunities it may present for them. There needs to be a fit between the firm’s culture and values and those of the people it recruits.
While some recruits may be seeking the best financial deal, others may focus on the importance of promotion prospects (and early responsibility) or work-life balance. Millennials often have different expectations to older surveyors. Motivation issues are addressed here: http://kimtasso.com/top-tips-for-motivating-people/
Many firms have developed incentive and bonus systems to enable those outside the partnership to achieve significant financial rewards based on their performance and/or the performance of their team.
Some firms who cannot compete on the financial stakes have attracted people by other incentives such as support for further education and training (whether in a technical surveying field or in management – such as an MBA). Others focus on the training, development and progression opportunities. That’s particularly relevant where the practice is well known for a particular specialism or is a dominant niche player. This relates back to the employer brand issues above.
Clarity on career progression
Ambitious recruits will want to see clarity on what they must achieve – and when – to be promoted and progress to the next levels of their career. However, not all recruits may be “stars” and you may need a separate process to show that those who are technically brilliant – but with no aspirations to become managers and/or enter the partnership – can also be promoted and receive the recognition and rewards they seek.
Part of the employer brand will be the possession of a series of human resource policies which show the firm’s commitment to rewarding, training and promoting surveyors. For example, where graduate surveyors are recruited, there needs to be clarity on what the employer will do for the trainees and what the trainees are expected to deliver in return. Another example might be the firm’s approach to developing a more diverse workforce and its commitment to and track record in flexible working.
An important policy and process will focus on the induction process – how new junior and senior recruits are introduced to the firm and its strategies, plans, systems and processes. And how they are integrated into their teams and client relationships so that they are up and running as quickly as possible..
Alternative routes to surveying
Where competition for qualified surveyors is fierce, an alternative strategy is to “grow your own”. As well as becoming known as being a training firm – where young surveyors get the support necessary to complete their APC – others are recruiting apprentices.
Whilst apprentices may appear a cost-effective solution, firms must consider the time invested by the management team and experienced surveyors in developing these people, providing the required training opportunities and building their experience profile.
Recruiting process for surveyors
Recruitment agencies can be expensive. However, head hunters may be able to quickly identify people with rare skills sets and initiate a productive conversation. Some firms have slashed their recruitment agency costs by developing LinkedIn recruitment campaigns. Other firms have increased the incentives to existing staff who manage to recruit high calibre staff from their contact base – perhaps former college friends (alumni) or former colleagues.
Assessment process for surveyors
Too often, recruitment relies purely on the interview process. It is a good idea to have two phases of assessment – one interview to focus on the personality and values of the individual, to see if they are a good cultural fit with the firm. And perhaps a separate interview to assess technical skills. Some firms have started to introduce task-based assessments to see how potential recruits apply their skills in practice.
Some firms are using psychometric tests to gain a deeper understanding of the personalities, competencies and preferences of potential recruits. This is particularly valuable when there is an understanding of the individual, relationship and team styles of the existing staff. See, for example: http://kimtasso.com/personality-assessment-as-part-of-the-coaching-and-development-process/
Many surveying practices face a problem as the founding partner(s) near retirement. Unfortunately, in many cases succession is not addressed until it is far too late. It needs a long term strategy and early action.
Firms need to have a consultative style of leadership to ensure that all members of staff are involved and empowered from an early stage. This will both encourage the commitment and loyalty of staff as well as ensure that the development of future leaders is built into the fabric of the practice. However, the type of leadership style that encourages a surveyor to set up and grow their own partnership is rarely consultative. So there may need to either be some leadership development training for the founders of the practice or the recruitment of more consultative style seniors from other practices.
Of course, empowering staff means that the owners/founders have to learn how to trust their people and let go of some things. They must have good delegation and coaching skills. They must delegate the outcome rather than micro-managing the process. Many young surveyors who do well under a strong leader may ultimately become frustrated if they are prevented from taking the lead by an over controlling leader. Leaders need to know when to start letting go.
Many surveyors who successfully create and grow a practice have a personality type which is dominant and can deter future leaders. Personality clashes mean that aspiring surveyors leave the practice when they tire of battling the current leaders.
Again, personality tests can help identify and explain differences and help build bridges between different styles. In many property partnerships, there is a duo at the top – one who is relationship driven and the other who is technically/task driven. The relationship personality can take the lead on team building and succession management issues.
It is important that future leaders are given the opportunity to learn how to manage and lead. Clarity the team structure and devolved responsibility can help here. The firm also needs to invest in supervision, management and leadership training as well as technical training.
Some firms operate a “shadow board” where the next generation of leaders works on the same issues and information as the main board. And, with help from an equity partner, operates in a similar way. Other firms invite seniors to attend board meetings on a rota basis. Not only does this involve future leaders in the real issues of the day but it is also a source of inspiration for alternative approaches that might appeal more to the younger generation of employees.
Shoes too big to fill?
Some leaders are truly awesome. They are great at running the firm, leading a department or division, tackling finance, property, technical and other operational matters and also great at winning new work. They fulfil multiple roles will style and panache.
However, it is almost impossible to find future leaders who can complete all those tasks with the same level of expertise and experience. So break down the role. Appoint younger leaders to head of department or office roles. Allocate significant management responsibilities – such as human resources, finance, business development and technology – to them. Perhaps rotate the roles after three to five years so that they extend their experience. Assign special projects to them. And make them accountable.
Structuring the partnership or company to allow senior employees to become shareholders
These days it is inadvisable to leave equity sharing until when a senior surveyor enters the partnership or becomes a director. You need to structure your partnership or company so that shares can be allocated to reward high performance and give a financial and loyalty interest to those you want to ultimately become part of the equity owning leadership.
Merger and acquisition
Alternatively, merging with another practice that has younger leaders may be an option. Or merging with a firm that has a greater track record in managing the business and developing talent. See http://kimtasso.com/merge-not-merge-merging-property-partnerships/
Human Resources Management (HRM) is a large, complex and fast growing discipline. And the employment law issues even more so. Most firms will employ people to manage human resources administration – payroll, holiday leave etc. But most lack access to more strategic HR help. So smaller practices should consider hiring external help in this area. There are plenty of good HR consultants who understand property partnerships.
Related blogs on human resources in property partnerships:
Change management in a surveyors practice – bridging the generation gap http://kimtasso.com/change-management-in-a-surveyors-practice-bridging-the-gap-between-the-old-and-the-new/
Leadership in property practices http://kimtasso.com/leadership-in-property-eight-insights/
People management in a property partnership http://kimtasso.com/people-management-in-a-property-partnership/
Top tips for motivating people http://kimtasso.com/top-tips-for-motivating-people/
Merging property partnerships http://kimtasso.com/merge-not-merge-merging-property-partnerships/
Managing service excellence in a property partnership http://kimtasso.com/managing-client-service-surveying-property-partnerships/
Insights into managing a surveyors’ practice http://kimtasso.com/six-insights-into-managing-a-surveyors-practice-2016/