Mentoring for Improved Performance, Engagement and Retention

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Michael Barbolla, COO, Level Group

When I started in the real estate industry 15 years ago, my manager paired me with a more experienced broker who worked closely with me for several months. This high achiever had detailed information on the real estate industry and gave me the “low down” on how to negotiate. I was exposed on a daily basis to what success in my field looked like. That was invaluable and I’ve never forgotten how pivotal it was to my career.

As it happens, my experience parallels the experience of many others. There’s a large body of business and academic research confirming the value of mentoring. A well-known Gartner Group study of mentoring at Sun Microsystems, for example, found higher retention and promotion rates for employees who were mentored than those who were not.

Given the research and my own experience, I was quick to launch a mentoring program when I joined Level Group as its chief operating officer. About a year in, our experience aligns with other businesses’ reports on mentoring. Experts cite many advantages to mentoring, but it seems to me to boil down to two basic factors: 1) mentoring accelerates learning and 2) mentoring increases employee engagement.

Mentoring turns out to be an incredibly efficient means of knowledge transfer for a business. Learning experts estimate that 70 – 80 percent of our learning is informal or on-the-job – and that pretty much characterizes the mentoring process.

Textbooks, videos and other formal training methods only take us so far. After that there are many small details of execution to be learned as well as the way things are done at a particular company. Mentors are in a position to share these details and customs and model successful behavior in relaxed, personalized exchanges.

Our mentoring program at Level Group creates this one-on-one, detailed learning environment. It is intense, boots on the ground training. Mentors walk mentees through all the tasks of being a real estate broker, such as procuring the buyer or seller, and negotiating and closing the deal. In addition, we have the mentees “shadow” their mentors on activities, such as open houses or showings. In all of this, the mentors pass along their real-world experience.

I know from experience that this is a great way to learn. You’re not passively reading or listening. You’re interacting with the mentor and the information has immediate application as you solve the problems in front of you.

There’s also evidence that the personal attention of mentoring more effectively solves performance problems and reduces employee mistakes. A mentor is positioned to notice performance issues quickly and guide a person to more successful practices. The increased productivity and improved outcomes benefits the company, but also the mentee, who gains both skills and confidence.

Mentoring has also been shown to increase employee engagement, or, in our case, agent and broker engagement. It creates personal relationships that might not otherwise have happened, or at least not as quickly. The personal attention signals that the company is invested and cares. That makes for motivated professionals who deliver better customer service and innovate more.

Our mentoring program has enhanced relationships here at Level Group, fostering more of a family environment. The real estate business can be a lonely one and I’m sure that professionals in other industries also experience some isolation, especially if they are struggling. The social connection of mentoring can be a lifeline.

We’re also finding that investing time and energy in our agents earns their loyalty. One of the gratifying aspects of our mentor program is how many of our experienced brokers have been willing to give their time as mentors. That further validates the success of our program.

I believe one of my primary responsibilities as COO is to assist our agents in reaching their highest potential. People who aren’t thriving will be dissatisfied and they’ll start to look for the exits. Across my career I’ve watched talented professionals go from one firm to another, never quite “syncing up” with a company. They appear to be looking for something that’s missing. I believe mentoring can supply the personal attention and skills that can help people put it all together.

About the Author

Michael Barbolla is COO of Level Group, a full-service New York City real estate brokerage. In addition to handling day-to-day operations of Level Group, Barbolla heads up the firm’s residential division and is in charge of the firm’s external relations and recruitment efforts.