Hitting the right notes

Spring is in the air and the nights are finally getting lighter.  There’s a chance to re-energise and, for many facing a new financial year, a chance to plan how best to grow in the uncertain and possibly rocky times ahead.  Just what that growth looks like will depend on the decisions made by a property firm about its greatest asset – its people.

Consider over the last 12 months how many references to the ‘war for talent’ have featured in the property press? In fact the ‘war for talent’ is somewhat misleading. It suggests that this is a temporary phenomenon, or at least one that is with us for a limited time.  Over the next decade the UK professions (surveying included) are forecasting significant growth in employment opportunities.  Reports such as The Leitch Review suggest that by 2020 40% of jobs in the UK will require graduate qualifications.  There is deep concern that, taking into account current birth rates and education practices, young people’s skills will not be sufficient to match this requirement by then. Property firms are therefore, not only going to be competing with their direct competitors, but also with other professional services and commercial firms to get their share.

So why not use this time to think about your people – your talent base.  Consider how you attract them and, more importantly, how you nurture and secure their loyalty.  Whilst an economic downturn may put off some from ‘jumping ship’ for now, when things improve will they really be so willing to stay?

Consider the ageing population of your department or firm and ask yourself some tough questions.  How many people will you need to sustain current business levels in future years?  How many will you need if you plan to grow the business?  What type of talent will be needed to achieve this performance?  What skills, behaviours and capabilities will your people have to possess? What is currently available (albeit in embryonic stage) and what will need to be brought in?

In search of an ideal

To build and sustain a surveying firm or department you need great people.  Beware though greatness as a label.  We sometimes hear of talented surveyors headhunted by a rival firm only to find that the new firm’s culture and systems are at odds with the very things that made them great at their previous employer.  Great surveyors are created when their values, aims and goals align with those of their firm.  It is why there is always a risk in poaching star performers from one firm to replicate their success in another.

Your future employees will be more discerning and will have a lot of choice.  They will look for firms whose reputations align more with their personal motivations.  Just like clients, people will select those surveying firms that differentiate themselves from the crowd and who have a distinctive employer ‘brand’.


Consider your reputation

To attract the right people for your firm, you need to be clear about your needs.  This isn’t just about the numbers.  This is about defining what ‘great’ people from your firm’s perspective look like.  Start with your current ones.  What do they like about working for you?  What makes them stay?  What would make them more loyal now and in the future?

If you can create a working experience that secures their loyalty, you can also start promoting it externally to attract similar great people.  This isn’t just a case of being in the Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Companies To Work For’ or putting a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) statement on your website.  It’s about considering your plans, realising what people you need (numbers and profile), understanding what you as a surveying employer need to be to attract those people and setting in place plans that will demonstrate you practise what you preach.

Build your web

Some surveying firms are forging links with schools and universities to promote themselves to potential candidates.  You may want to consider setting up an affiliation with a particular academic institution that has provided some of your greatest people.  Consider offering visiting professorships, work placements, ‘guest lectures’, sponsored projects or business simulations.

The property sector is great for setting up referral networks, but all too often the focus is on clients and business projects.  Consider developing a referral network, which brings you great people.  Form even closer links with specific recruitment agents, headhunters, careers departments and other professionals so they bring you the type of people you are really looking for – whether from the UK or overseas.  Talk to your own people and identify ways to make your ‘recommend a friend’ promotions more innovative and more successful.

Think more laterally and creatively

All too often a route is followed because that is the way it has always been done. This applies to surveying career paths.  But what if firms thought more laterally?  What if they considered the skills and capabilities of people in other sectors or at other stages of their life?  If certain elements of roles were tweaked, career-switching training developed, different working models offered and alternative-working environments created, wouldn’t there be an even greater pool of great people to draw from?  People looking to make a career change may consider surveying.  Firms could also make more use of the growing senior and more mature market.  The more creative and the more laterally surveying firms can think, the more chance they’ll have of securing their share of talent.

Securing loyalty

Attracting talent is one thing.  Keeping it is another.  The better a surveying firm is in aligning individual motivations with its corporate goals the more chance it has of securing staff loyalty in the long-term.  This means not assuming that all people are motivated by the same things, or like to work in the same way, or indeed would like to be rewarded with the same things.  It also means recognising that the things that motivate them will change as they move through life.

Your people may have been approached by headhunters already. To secure their loyalty you will need to evolve their experience of working with you as they develop.  This isn’t simply about promoting people, it will require:

  • Keeping in regular contact with them as they develop – to track their performance and development needs
  • Identifying and delivering the specific support or training they require to be more effective
  • Ascertaining whether their working environment, hours etc are still motivational to them
  • Checking whether the right reward mechanism is still in place
  • Fully engaging them with the business

The importance of voice

It’s easy to build a person’s skill-set and capabilities, it’s harder to build their motivation and engage their support.  Like clients, once motivation and trust is gone it is very hard to re-engage.  Motivating great people to stay isn’t about pandering to employees at all costs.  In the long run this strategy won’t work for either party.  Instead it’s about giving people a voice and aligning their career aspirations and motivations to the corporate aspirations of the firm.  People want their firm to be successful, they want to contribute to that success and they want to be recognised for doing so.  The nature of that recognition is however different for different surveyors and their profiles.

The true costs

The time you invest in your staff will soon be recouped in the money you save in recruitment, the productivity you will experience from positive morale, and the business you will not need to turn away because you don’t have enough staff.  So consider your people, now and in the future.