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PropTech Today: Keller Williams proves transformation comes from the top

Keller Williams continues to drive culture, mentality, and process transformation by partnering with DocuSign to enable electronic signatures.

It’s another lesson in patient digital transformation that all agencies should be mimicking.

Keller Williams is the biggest estate agency in the world, by number of agents, and the biggest in America when judged by number of units and sales volume.


It also has a solid track record of proving that even the biggest institutions, deeply entrenched in real estate tradition, can find great success in digital transformation, becoming, in many ways, a transformation leader.

Founded in 1983 with a single office in Austin, Texas, the company has grown to, as of May 2018, more than 940 offices and 180,000 worldwide associates.

Indeed, I know connections in the UK that are moving into KW to push the UK operations here to continue this growth.

If ever an organisation’s size, reputation, and tradition were going to hinder its attempts to digitally transform, KW was that organisation. And yet, time and time again, its leader, Gary Keller, proves us wrong.

Change coming from the top

Back in my consultancy days, an agenda set by the very top of the operation was key to whether myself and business partner would engage with a firm. If it wasn’t set from the top, we walked away.

Keller seems, at least to the outside world, to be driving change from the top and ensuring it travels all the way down to the bottom.

Who remembers back in early 2018, when Gary Keller jumped on stage and announced, “We are no longer a real estate company”? This was the founder of one of America’s best-known agencies setting the tone for the future of the industry, letting everyone know it’s now a technology company that specialises in real estate.

I use this quote in many speeches, given it sets a very appropriate agenda.

Gary Keller has a reputation for this sort of announcement, and his keynote speeches often generate industry headlines. The way in which he has supervised practical company change, however, is far less in-your-face.

In fact, he’s overseen small, gradual incrementations towards technology adoption and digital innovation, all of which help the firm stay nimble, agile, and constantly disruptive.

His speeches set an agenda and vision. His actions, or those of the company, start those visions to become reality.

This mix of big, showy presentations with sensible, baby-step innovation is what makes Gary Keller so smart: he knows that the internal mentality change required to embrace transformation needs people to first feel inspired and excited for the long-term future of the industry, hence bold statements like “we’re no longer a real estate firm” (announced to a room full of KW agents).

However, he also knows that the actual attempts to move towards innovation must happen gradually as to not scare off or alienate existing clients, team members, or stakeholders.

These small steps towards innovation can be used as proof of concept - ensuring everyone involved that innovation and change can indeed bring positive results.

So much do I admire Gary Keller’s approach to and attitude around transformation and technology, that he has inspired an entire slide in one of my regular presentation decks.

Without wanting to talk about my own presentations, I’m including this slide here to show how influential KW believes technology to be.

With this most recent announcement from KW, we see once again the blend of big picture thinking (demonstrated in this slide above) and practical, levelled engagement with change.

DocuSign offers electronic signatures for KW clients and customers. It’s simple, unexciting, and risk-free, but it is still progress, it is still building a foundation for future transformation.

I would love to ask if you know of anyone in the UK that has a similar approach? Can anyone name one industry leader that creates both industry-defining statements and then backs it up with proven attempts at transformational change (however small they maybe)?

What are they saying and doing? Please tell me. Correct me. I simply don’t see it. 

Neil Dholakia, KW’s Chief Product Officer, says: "The integration of DocuSign’s Rooms for Real Estate into the Keller Cloud is a significant step for us as we continue building an end-to-end platform for our agents, who in turn will create a world-class experience for consumers.”

Georg Gerstenfeld, DocuSign’s Vice President and General Manager of Global Real Estate Solutions, says: “Keller Williams is truly a leader in real estate technology, and we are excited to be working together to help agents run their businesses more efficiently...This partnership reinforces our mutual belief in innovating with technology to empower agents to deliver superior service for buyers and sellers. And it’s just the beginning.”

Lead big, change small

The whole reason for talking about Gary Keller and his firm’s innovation is to share my admiration for his talk big, act small approach.

That makes it sound like a bad thing, but it’s not. Anyone reading this who is tasked with driving innovation through a real estate firm, the best thing to learn from Gary is that inspiration needs to be big and dramatic, painting an exciting picture of tomorrow in which you and all of your colleagues bask in the heady heat of successful transformation.

However, when moving towards this utopian vision, small, practical, affordable, and sensible steps are all you need.

Digital transformation need not be scary or intimidating. For a company the size of KW, digital signatures are child’s play. It’s a tiny, almost imperceptible change.

It is, however, another sensible step towards creating a real estate firm which is unfettered by the traditional inefficiencies of our industry. I think this is a valuable lesson for all of us.

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.

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