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PropTech Today: Creating a tech corporate culture - and a view on Countrywide

There was an excellent article, published last week, based around an interview with Chandra Dhandapani, CBRE’s chief digital and technology officer. 

The interview focuses on the ways in which Dhandapani is helping CBRE to create and maintain ‘a tech-driven culture’. 

It’s a great piece which offers up some strong examples of how the goal can be achieved, but I also believe that there are more angles to this conversation than the article covers. 

To that end, and for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on how property companies can best work to foster a tech-driven culture... 

1. Understand your current problems

First thing’s first, you’ve got to identify and understand what your current problems are. 

This requires a long, hard look at your current staffing, the culture at the heard of your organisation, understanding your data and some good old fashioned soul searching. 

There is, literally, not a single company out there which is running perfectly across the board at all times. We all have areas in need of improvement. Once we identify exactly what they are, we can start researching the appropriate technology solutions that are currently on the market. 

I understand that the results of this soul searching might be pretty daunting, and this is where it’s important to be willing to shoulder some fairly big decisions. 

As an example, I was recently in a meeting with a very large property consultancy company. 

At the end of the meeting, I was leaving the room with the CEO. He turned to me and said: “This whole thing makes me realise that I’m probably going to have to let some of my board members go.”

Why? Because it had dawned on him that some of those currently sitting on the board are not, and probably never will be, the right kind of people required to start fostering a tech-driven culture. 

For the CEO, it was a difficult realisation, but had he not made it, driving a new culture would be almost impossible. 

We might even be watching a real-life example of this happening before our eyes. Now, this is purely conjecture, but a theory which I believe has legs:

Countrywide is losing senior figures seemingly by the week, and it has now been reported their CEO, Alison Platt, has left the company. Could it be that Countrywide has analysed its standing, identified its problem areas and is now cleaning house in order to bring in a team of people more suited to helping foster a tech-driven culture?

If you want to read further about the Countrywide issue, Eddie Holmes wrote a lengthy piece about what the company needs to do in order to find firm footing throughout the Digital Transformation.
  
2. Get some skin in the game

The sense that I get from a lot of the conversations I have around the adoption of technology is that people are overwhelmed by the idea of having to overhaul their business to allow technology in; a sense that it’s a case of all-or-nothing. 

But that needn’t be the case; the first step is to simply get some skin in the game. 

Creating a tech-driven culture does not require you to go big straight away. Instead, it’s more important to gain a good understanding of what’s on the market, and which of the services, software, platforms and products actually relate to you and your business interests. 

You’ll quickly find out that you don’t have to even consider most of them because they don’t offer what you need.

It’s also likely that those which do catch your eye are the ones that offer simple solutions to very specific issues.

To start fostering a tech-driven culture, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or change most of your best practices, you just need to have a working understanding of what’s on offer and why and take that first small step in the right direction. 

For example, if you’re an estate agent, your first step doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing workflow solution, it could be a simple product that streamlines your accounting, or a tool for reporting and overseeing maintenance. 

That one small step is all the footing you need to start making incremental changes over time.

3. Think externally as well as internally

There is a phrase that is increasingly common in property; ‘engaging all stakeholders’. 

It’s basically become shorthand for saying ‘think about everybody who plays a part in your business, not just your own internal operations’. 

As an agent, this means thinking about your landlords, tenants, maintenance staff, accountants etc, as well as the ways in which you and your immediate colleagues in the office operate. 

This is because, to create a tech-driven culture, people need to see that you are doing so in order to know you are doing so. 

So, when you are considering how you’re doing to get some skin in the game, think about adopting technology which directly helps your stakeholders, for that is just as important as that which helps you. 

There is even a school of thought which would say a better first step would be to use tech that helps you offer greater customer service on the ground level, rather than something which makes your day-to-day life in the office easier.

But then one does often lead to the other, so do your research, speak to colleagues and peers, understand what’s available.

4. Talent now comes in all forms from all places

They say it’s always good to practice what you preach so, personally, I’m doing okay on this one. As the world of business has been transformed by technology, a parallel change has also occurred: the skills that are required within your business to promote a tech-driven culture are not necessarily found in the people you would traditionally expect. 

Each member of the team that I have put together at my company, The Digital Marketing Bureau, has been hand-picked because they each have a quality or skill that I have identified as essential for success in this modern world. I have employed each one of them on this basis, regardless of who they are or their corporate background.

Companies need to start learning how to recognise talent when they meet it, because it no longer comes in the packaging that we in the property industry might expect. And it certainly doesn’t come from the same place. 

The ins and outs of an industry can be taught and certain skills can be learnt, but an appreciation and enthusiasm for the how modern business must operate cannot. 

So, in my opinion, a person who has no prior property knowledge yet totally understands the power of, say, the public’s increasingly fervent demand for corporate transparency, is far more valuable to me than a more experienced real estate graduate who believes the best way to do business is still over the course of 9-holes, ‘maybe 18, if the wife doesn’t mind, eh?’

And here’s a word you might not be too familiar with; ‘Intrapreneurs’. You need to be looking for Intrapreneurs to join your company. 

They are people who share the same drive and sensibility of an entrepreneur, but rather than work for themselves, are happier working within an organisation. 

Arguably, you may already have these sorts of characters within your organisation. Look around, ask the questions of your staff. Give them space to breathe or risk losing some incredibly innovative members of staff who may just make the difference in the future of your organisation. 

In their positions, these intrapreneurs are proactive and passionate about driving a tech-focused corporate philosophy that helps rather than hinders, and they understand how to tirelessly keep adapting to the ever-changing face of an industry. 

Find these people, find them, chase them and hire them. You don’t anyone on your team who you can imagine saying, ‘yeah, I get it, but is it really worth the effort?’

*James Dearsley is a partner in PropTech Consult, digital transformation specialists for the real estate sector. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    Nice piece well put James- I would add a couple of points:
    Review- when it comes to reviewing the business and where the friction points are never underestimate talking to your staff. Reviewing results, data and senior staff is all well & good but it is the frontline people that can often give you the most insight. I advise speaking to them both on an individual basis and then as a department/company (depending on the size of the organisation).
    Failure is fine- not every digital product or solution will be right for your company even if it works for someone else- even a competitor. If you try something, commit to it (how else will you know if it really works) but after a year (maximum) then you need to take stock of what you have adopted, decide if it works (or is on its way to working) and if not, drop it and look at other solutions. Big or small those 'just £100 a month' soon add up and, in what is certain to be a tough climate for many agents over the next 2 years, ensuring you are using products that deliver is essential.

  • James Dearsley

    Coudn't agree more with those points Kristjan.....well said.

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