Company Values Matter

by Tami Bonnell, CEO, EXIT Realty Corp. International

Once when I was admitted to the hospital, a janitor asked if he could come into my room.  We started talking and I asked what he did.  He replied, “I keep this hospital safe so people don’t get infections so they can feel secure that they are going to leave here healthy.”  He expressed reverence for what he did.  He noticed people.  He was the kindest person in the hospital.  There was purpose behind his work and I never forgot him.

Now more than ever, people are feeling the need to align themselves in their work with a purpose that resonates with them, and once they find it, there’s no limit to the success they can achieve.  The challenge for us as business leaders is to develop a company culture that acts as a beacon to attract the people whose purpose aligns with ours.

In 2019, Thrive Global Founder & CEO, Arianna Huffington, reported on the Business Roundtable’s release of its Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation, a pledge aimed at shifting the role of business around the world.  The 200 CEO-member group declared, among other things, that the purpose of business shouldn’t be a single-minded focus on profit, but rather it should also work toward investing in its employees and supporting the communities in which it serves.

Fast forward to 2020 when the pledges and mission statements of businesses big and small were put to the test due to the worldwide pandemic. Hardship doesn’t create an organization’s character or culture, it amplifies it.  During a challenge is the time when that cultural beacon shines, good or bad.

The real estate industry, like most, was hard hit at the beginning of 2020, and the impact was swift.  Since our company’s founding in 1996, EXIT Realty has purposefully set out to build a culture that attracts and keeps like-minded people.   For example, most of our executive team are the same people who successfully lead the company through the economic challenges following 9/11 and during the recession.  One of the benefits of working with a group of leaders with more than 460 combined years of experience in the industry and more than 16 years on average with the company is that we instinctively know how each other will react in a crisis.  We know that we will figuratively link arms to form an impenetrable shield against adversity, each of us in our own lane of expertise relying on proven dedication and commitment.

Not only can we count on one another, our people know they can count on us, too.  As soon as the public was mandated to self-isolate, we immediately launched a $50 million corporate stimulus package aimed at investing in the hundreds of brokerages and thousands of agents in our family to fortify their business.  The package included advanced technology to enable them to connect virtually with existing clients and reach out to new ones.  It included education provided by the company’s exclusive trainers and coaches to be delivered over the following months.  And all of it was free.

Behind the scenes, the people in every department in our company from administration to support, technology, marketing, training, and beyond all rolled up their sleeves and asked, What can I do? How can I contribute? and none of them asked about money or what was in it for them.

In the field, our regional and brokerage leaders leapt into action to provide additional support and business tools to our agents who were continuing to transact real estate in a safe and responsible manner.  And for those whose business with the public was halted, systems and education were accelerated so agents could work on their business rather than in it while sheltering in place.

From every corner of the organization across the U.S. and Canada, EXIT Realty executives, staff and associates reached out a virtual helping hand to one another.  I heard repeatedly, We’re all in this together, and I’m all in.  This attitude and commitment didn’t magically materialize because there was a crisis.  It happened because the foundation had already been laid.  In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey writes about the concept of the “emotional bank account” as proactively doing things that build trust in a relationship.  A company’s culture is built the same way, by making countless deposits to its cultural bank account over time so that when a crisis occurs, there are more than enough deposits to fund any withdrawals.

At EXIT Realty, we don’t see ourselves as a company that just sells franchises or real estate.  Make no mistake, we do that and we do it well, but our purpose is to help people fulfill their life’s purpose.  The janitor who visited my hospital room could have told me he cleaned floors, but instead he told me he kept the hospital safe.  He knew his purpose and we know ours.  And because we know and live ours and the beacon of our company culture shines during good times and bad, we attract people from all walks of life who choose to be aligned with a company that actually does what it says its going to do both behind the scenes and in public eye.

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