A case study in poor management techniques

I recently had a management / training issue come up between an agent and an assistant that I had placed. I think that this is a common enough occurrence that it is worth sharing. For the sake of privacy we will call the agent “Mike” and the assistant “Sara”. Mike is what you would call a “high D” or an “Alpha Male”. He is hard charging, aggressive and successful. Sara has a typical assistant personality; she is organized, systematic, not that assertive and has a servant’s heart. They like each other and for the most part they make a great team. However the trouble began after only 4 or 5 weeks of working together.

The problem arose when responsibility for Mike’s escrows was turned over to Sara. Mike had several checklists from past assistants that all listed different steps for Mike’s escrow process. Sara repeatedly asked for guidance on which list to use and she asked Mike to spend a few minutes with her so that they could come up with a definitive checklist. Mike, being the busy agent that he is told her to “figure it out” after all, “you’ve done this before haven’t you?”  This of course set the stage for disaster.


The next day Sara sent disclosures to a client to be signed, per the most recent version of the checklist. Mike was furious. This was a special client and she should have known that the documents had to be hand delivered and reviewed with the client. Just because the checklist says something doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think about what you are doing!

Then, Mike noticed that the Just Closed postcards for a recent closed sale had not been ordered. He confronted Sara and she pointed out that sending Just Closed postcards was not listed on the last two revisions of the checklist. Mike’s response? “Sending out Just Sold post cards is common sense – do you really need it on a checklist?”

Needless to say the relationship quickly came to an end and Mike is looking for another assistant who, in his words, “gets it”. I want someone with “common sense” he says.

In real estate, the average assistant lasts less than one year in a position. Less than 1 year! Let’s take a minute to look at some of the things Mike could have done differently in this situation in order to train and keep a truly lovely and talented assistant.

1. Respond to your assistant’s requests for help.

Sara raised the red flag and asked for clarification on the escrow checklist. If Mike had taken 10 minutes to review the checklist and edit it with Sara the post cards would not have been an issue.

2. Be 100% clear about what you want and expect.

Just because you think a client is special doesn’t mean you assistant understands that. It is imperative that as a manager you clearly communicate your expectations – especially if they differ from the standard process!

3. Understand that your assistant is not a “mini me”.

No matter how skilled, experienced and absolutely wonderful your assistant is they will never be you. What is common sense to you may not be to them. That doesn’t mean that your assistant is stupid, it means that they are coming from a different place. They are experiencing life from a different perspective. Do you remember the old adage “Inspect what you expect”? This is sage advice when building a successful relationship with your assistant.

4. Remember that every mistake is a teachable moment.

This takes more patience than some people can muster! However, if you want to slow the rotating door of assistants through your office you absolutely must take the time to teach and explain why something is done in a certain way. When you explain the reasoning behind a task or decision you provide a basis of understanding. Once your assistant understands your logic they can do a better job of making independent decisions that you will approve of.

Managing, training and working with an assistant can be challenging but it is so very worth it! The time you put into cultivating a strong relationship with your assistant will pay dividends in the future when you are able to focus on growing your business instead of worrying about what is going on in your office.