Free Agents: Creating Culture Consciously

Last week I was presenting the first of our newly launched Manifast Now webinar series and the topic was “7 Reasons 90% of Strategic Plans Never Get Implemented (And What To Do About It)”.

A really good question was asked about getting people engaged in the business culture when they are not employees.

Real estate agents sold home with keys

Essentially, the question came from a person running a real estate brokerage where the agents are considered “independent”. She wants to build an above average brokerage firm with a strong culture. Some of the issues include getting people to show up for the regular meetings and follow other guidelines when they are not employees; they are independent (or free) agents.

These days, a lot of organizations utilize contractors, outsourcing and groups of relatively independent groups of people who are not under the same type of relationship as employees; so this question is not unique to real estate.

The first thing you have to decide is how important to you building a strong culture is.

The reason I say this is that building a strong culture in the way you want takes a lot of commitment to making potentially hard decisions. If you’re happy where you are it is your choice to stay.

The power of a strong culture aligned with mission and vision is extremely powerful. When it is working very well it translates into a strong brand in the market and can even allow you to rapidly grow or scale your business while maintaining the integrity of that brand. Brands with a strong culture and purpose also outperform their competitors.

So there are good reasons for building a strong culture.

The first thing you need to do is define your values and culture:

  • What is important to you?
  • How would it look like for your customers if you achieved it?
  • What would your team have to look like to deliver the first two?

What would it mean to your business if you could achieve this?

Raising the bar to performance business success

Employees Versus “Free Agents”

Here is the secret.

There is no real difference in the standards for employees versus “free agents” for any single portion of your core business.

Outsourcing your call center? You have to hold them to the same standard as you would your employees.

Sub-contracting your installation services? You have to hold them to the same standards you would your employees.

Independent agents at your brokerage? You have to hold them to the same standards you would if you had them as employees.

Select, train and remove based on your standards.

Be very selective on which parts of your business you can relax your standards on. This does not mean sloppy or shoddy; it just means that the provider can have a different culture and still work with you. But where culture match is critical you must not bend.

Independents and the Carrot or Stick

Compliance Will Never Take You Where Commitment Can Go” ~ Dondi Scumaci

Again, this is the same advice for employees and free agents; you will get better results if you use culture as a tool to align and motivate rather than to punish.

People have a choice where to work and where to associate. So you need to think of them as your clients and attract the ones who fit your culture and not work with those that don’t.

The only real difference is with employees you have more potential control over where their bodies are. In all cases much of the discretionary effort is the mental game and hence the focus on commitment.

Select your free agents well and make sure the obligations are clear on both sides before they start. This includes stating the core value, culture and other “the way things work here” considerations.

If the rewards of working with your organization are higher than the obligations they will see value and commit.

Deliver value.

Remove the free agents that no longer fit your values, culture and mission. Yes. This is why culture is hard. Most companies won’t do this.

If you have built enough value, if there is continuous work on improving as professionals, and if there is enough focus on serving the end clients extremely well; you will attract the right agents and the right clients.

Keep Obligations Reasonable

Agents make their money by being out with clients and selling homes. Brokerages make their money by supporting this activity.

If they are not out selling then they better be doing something so they can perform better in the future.

Don’t have big meetings to repeat information. Don’t have big meetings to pass on information that they could get in an email. Figure out ways to help them make more money. Use technology to make it more efficient.

If you meet as a group be clear what you want to accomplish and make sure they know how it benefits them. Don’t just meet because it is that time.

Looking at it is another way, what if you thought of your employees and free agents as clients? How would that change your game?

Bonus: Culture Building Through Client Selection

And speaking of clients…

Let’s face it. You are interacting with clients and customers all the time. That rubs off.

Select your clients well so you are not ruining your culture. The clients who match your culture well will be much better served and you will be much happier not having to fight the outside influences.

You will attract more of them.

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By | 2017-04-03T11:19:55+00:00 September 9th, 2014|Categories: Business Strategy, Doug's Blog, Dream Teams|

About the Author:

Doug Wagner is an entrepreneur, President and Co-founder of Sunwapta Solutions. Sunwapta's mission is to help businesses transform from surviving to thriving, sustainable growth. From strategy to implementation, this means marketing, sales, managing your brand and delivering consistent value. Get more clients and keep them.