Friday morning heresy: The "office manager" is obsolete

I was talking with a really smart broker the other day who explained to me how his firm – an operation with over 2,000 agents – had done away entirely with the office manager/managing broker/office VP position.

An admin staffs each office, but only after it reaches a certain size. The functions typically performed by the office manager are handled in a centralized support center.

It’s working great. His company is profitable.

Real estate at arm’s length

We’ve worked with a lot of brokers over the past couple years, helping them re-create their marketing strategy and revive their brands. Office managers – not agents or corporate staff – are frequently the single biggest obstacle to making that happen.

Executives bemoan their salaries, their hidebound adherence to practices that were dated ten years ago, their obstinacy in the face of the merest change.

They respond with ruefully laughs when it is suggested managers might contribute meaningfully to a new initiative.

Sometimes they live in mortal fear of managers that have taken to mumbling trainer scripts, Kurtz-like, in the shadows of offices turned into encampments for agents loyal only to them them, not the company.

If they rock the boat, a manager may walk – and take agents with them.

Game over.

This unfortunate dependency is, like so many things in real estate, the product of what I call real estate at arm’s length – the loosey-goosey management ethos that still dominates too many companies.

It was a viable and economic model for about thirty years, but has the effect of a straightjacket now. The fat middle of an organization struggling for profitability is rendered untouchable.

Time to get serious

So how did the gentleman above make it happen?

It’s no secret.

If you are an aggressive, charismatic leader who can articulate a vision, you don’t worry about fiefdoms.

If your organization has a unique and compelling value proposition, recruiting becomes much easier.

If you invest in real training and refuse to suffer incompetence, you don’t need babysitters.

If you invest in systems rather than quick-hit vendor deals you build value, not vulnerability.

Bring it

Of course, we see plenty of rock star office managers. People with serious operational skills, a hunger for innovation and an agenda wholly consistent with the brand on their business card.

But unfortunately, they are exceptional. And I am not talking about exceptions. I am talking about an increasingly unsustainable norm.

Anyone wanna make the case for that?