Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Professional...What does it mean?

Prior to getting into real estate I worked for 6 years as the Manager for the Construction Association in Yellowknife calling on contractors and suppliers. Some of the companies were dilapidated outfits working with a small community mind set where they could never hope to grow their business. I recall saying to the Executive Director that we should not be recruiting members from these hopeless situations because they will not participate in the betterment of the membership or likely keep up with their dues. Not because they were bad people – they weren't, but because they will feed their families first and worry about their corporate responsibilities second. We did it anyway and they did go broke and they did leave debt behind them.

The same holds true of so many real estate Brokers.  Hire as many bodies as possible. If the odd one makes it, good! For the others, too bad! As their pangs of hunger set in, scruples fall by the wayside. Ethics fly out the window. The ethical, competent and altruistic REALTOR®s and our entire industry suffer by association.  I remind our REALTOR®s often – you will be painted with the same brush as your colleagues – so let’s help keep each other in-line.

As agents pre-qualify purchasers, so should Brokers pre-qualify potential new hires. There is more than adequate information available on the Internet and elsewhere about sensible hiring and better employee retention. Take some time to actually research who you are going to meet with.  I’m often shocked at the silence on the other end of the phone when I ask a potential recruit for a current resume prior to our meeting. Until our indifferent hiring practices are eliminated we will struggle to raise the measure of professionalism into our industry.

A recent article in The Canadian Medical Association Journal was brought to my attention.  It asks, “Can professionalism be taught?” to which it answers, “Probably not.” The article says many things that provide advantages in life cannot be taught – competitiveness, intelligence, curiosity, creativity, persistence. 

We would pose the same question to real estate educators, brokers and sales agents. Many of the consequential qualities of professionalism go far beyond practical know-how, listing, selling, leasing and all that goes with it. These virtues cannot be gleaned from books or attending lectures. No instructor can teach altruism. The individual must be a good person of high moral character to start with. It is given that the teaching of ethics starts in the cradle and advances with age – on a continuous path paved with experience and consequence.

The intention of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which is similar in many associations across North America, is intended to ensure that REALTOR®s are treating their clients and their colleagues with respect, fairness and honesty. The codes are enforceable and violation of any of them garners the harshest of consequences...we hope.

The penalties, not only those levied by our own associations but by the courts of the land, don’t have any teeth. The public is seldom advised about the misdeeds of the unethical. REALTOR®s rarely, if ever, squeal on each other, often because nothing happens, it’s just not worth the bother to report a violation or because of the risk of being seen as a squealer. Those caught with their hands in the cookie jar will do it again, but next time will be more careful not to get caught. 

I think we forget that we are members of a self-regulating industry that holds itself out to maintaining high standards and practices of conduct. We set our own standards and define the behavior that defines our professionalism. However, attending an ethics lecture, taking continuing education courses, keeping your license current and paying dues does not make you a professional anything.

What’s the bottom line? Most professional organizations are of the opinion that professionalism can in fact be taught. This is not in a classroom and not by role modeling alone, although both help.  It should be mostly by observation and the example set by Brokers and the industry as a whole following the guideline of  “The Golden Rule” and the example set by their professional and ethical peers.

Ethics will only win out when there is a transition by all REALTOR®s to become active learners and recognize that the actions of any individual REALTOR®, both positive and negative, reflect on the public’s perception of ALL members of the real estate industry.

I think it begins with the hiring practices of so many Brokers, the “fill the desks with breathing bodies” syndrome. As the failures of the new recruits become more evident, professionalism does not play an important role.

Until REALTOR®s choose to trade greed for improved ethics, these problems will never be solved. We must recommit to traditional values.  It will not be by having more classroom exercises or preaching the gospel of ethical behavior, but by upholding the values of a profession and to quote the medical doctors, “Do no harm”.  This will be by not just giving lip service to professionalism but by placing the interests of our clients, and our colleagues’ front and centre. 

This involves having a genuine desire to serve others, an emphasis on values and purpose, a sense of responsibility for long-term consequences and knowledge of both the strengths and weaknesses of being regarded as a professional.  The following characteristics of Professionalism were common to my own opinions and my research from various sources:

The elements of professionalism are:

  • Integrity as illustrated through ethical and professionally responsible practice and conduct, competence and expertise.
  • Pride in your chosen profession and the contribution it makes to society.
  • Spirit and enthusiasm.
  • Civility to clients, prospects, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • The provision of service for the public good through client relationships and responsibilities.
  • Demonstrated leadership and reliability.
  • Commercialism balanced with a livelihood and service.
  • Substantial training and experience buoyed by continuing education.

Where do we go from here? Where will we be in five years, 10, 20?

What will it mean to be a “professional REALTOR®”? You tell me.

When the going gets "Tough"...just call me.
Susan Tough

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