9 Books at the heart of my consulting, coaching and training practice.

September, 2020

In this article I discuss the 9 books that represent some big game changing moments for me in my professional life. These powerful books shaped my thinking in my previous career managing and improving Estate Agency businesses and today they inform how I consult with my clients. I hope that some of these personal recommendations might prove valuable to you too and that if you are considering working with me that you gain some insight in to how I work with clients.  

 

1.     The Fifth Discipline. The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Peter Senge.

I read this book in the early 2000’s, I think it was a required read for the MBA I was studying for at the time and it started my interest in learning organisations and competitive advantage through people which is still at the heart of what I do and believe today. This book introduced me also to “Systems Thinking” and that was the personal equivalent of the moment when Neo first sees the Matrix for what it really is. One of the key ideas is that everything… even taking a glass from a cupboard and filling it with water is a system, and if it’s a system it can be mapped, deconstructed, optimised and put back together. One key system in Estate Agency that can benefit from this approach is to closely examine the customer journey from booking a valuation to point of instruction, I am an advocate of exploding this system in to it’s constituent parts and start thinking about how your agency can outperform it’s competitors in each part. This aggregation of marginal gains is going to make your business a winner, but of course there are hundreds of customer journeys inside of an Estate Agency that could benefit from systems thinking. Changing systems is never plain sailing though, Senge talks about resistance and homeostasis, a systems natural tendency to return to the status quo but for more on effective change management, look out for John Kotters work, Leading Change and the framework he suggests.

2.     The Balanced Scorecard. Translating Strategy into Action. Robert Kaplan and David Norton.
The book opens with a section that still makes me smile! You are asked to imagine the cockpit of a jet plane only having a single instrument and an imaginary conversation where the pilot informs you that the instrument measures airspeed.  He goes on to insist that he is working only on airspeed during this flight and will worry about altitude, fuel etc., on other journeys. Obviously, that’s crazy but it’s a great analogy for how in companies we tend to be obsessed with one measure, often that of financial performance, and sometimes to the exclusion of all others, I’ve definitely been there!. Kaplan and Norton show how we should be equally obsessed with improving our offering to the customer, internal business processes and learning and growth. Whilst it seems like common sense, discussions about how we need to change for our customers or how we can better align internal business processes to deliver efficiencies and better service are in my experience of Estate agency actually quite rare and even where they do happen I’m not convinced these measures have equal importance to finance, a lot of businesses would be in hugely better shape with the balanced scorecard approach.    
3.     Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Simon Sinek.
This is a really popular book and as a TED talk it’s had around 12 million views, and like many other people I was hugely influenced by Simon Sinek’s book when it first came out. Sinek calls the idea that all companies know what they do, some know how they do it but very few know why they do what they do,  The Golden Circle. And of course it’s the why that matters most. People are usually inspired to do something when they understand, and buy in to, the why. For me this is the fundamental truth offered by the book and worth thinking deeply about. So what’s our why? In Estate Agency I believe it’s “moving lives forward” our customers are usually stuck in their life until they complete a property transaction. Connecting with them, at that very level of being genuinely interested in helping them progress in life is much more fulfilling. My view is that “Moving lives forward” as a belief, should apply internally within the organisation as well. Once you have captured your why you can move forward to set the companies values, many of the problems I see in companies are because they lack a clear identity. Success comes from working on the why and values is the bedrock of your company identity.  
4.     The Sales Acceleration Formula. Mark Roberge.
I loved this book, if you read it too it will challenge your thinking around sales in Estate Agency.  The author is an Engineer by trade working for the software marketing company Hubspot; it is a true story of how when he joined the company it had three employees and no income and grew to £100 million dollars per annum. What’s interesting is the systems thinking approach to scaling income, the analytical way he approaches sales hiring, sales training and sales management.  It is packed with great ideas and it will challenge your thinking because it may be that your first thought was the same as mine, that this is great and an entertaining read but it won’t work here or I don’t think I will have the time to build the infrastructure... but stay with it and if you can implement even some of it I feel sure you will see a difference.  
5.     Who. The A Method for Hiring. Randy Street & Geoffrey Smart.
This next book is slightly more controversial, it is a very American book in its outlook and I’m not recommending whole sale adoption of everything contained in it but nonetheless it’s a very thought provoking book and will encourage you to go deeper and be more forensic in your recruiting activities. I have to say it’s my favourite book on recruitment despite its flaws. One thing that I would recommend and I now use all the time after reading about it in this book is a “score card” (I said it was American).  Rather than a job description, the score card encourages you to write the jobs mission i.e. a short summary of the role, then the specific and measurable outcomes (down to the KPI’s) you expect from the job role and then the competencies attached to it. I think that this helps create a better picture of your ideal candidate and you can build up your questions to zero in on whether the candidate has what it takes to be your next hire. My interview approach varies from the “topgrading” style recommended in the book although I borrowed some elements from it. I prefer to use a framework given to me by Jeff Grout a few years ago. In his view most Estate Agency roles are a combination of drive, self management and interpersonal skills and I find that building interview questions around these competencies also very useful.
6.     Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Robert Cialdini.
What I like about this book firstly is that this is not conjecture, Cialdini is a highly regarded academic with a major track record and the book is evidence based research so this is in my view the best guide we have to the principles of influence, or to put it another way, how we get people to say yes. Very useful if your business revolves around getting people to agree to using your services to sell their house. Cialdini shows that the six principles of influence are reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. Both Cialdini and I believe that we have a duty not to misuse these principles simply for our own gain or at the expense of others but it is also worth considering how many of these principles are embedded in our valuers presentations?. This book is a must for anyone looking to improve their performance as a valuer it certainly helped me.   
 
7.     Mastering the Rockefeller habits: What you must do to increase the value of your growing firm. Verne Harnish.
Verne Harnish dissects the business practices of John D. Rockefeller and distils the learnings in this book. Perhaps I should say that not all the business practices of Rockefeller should be endorsed per se but the book doesn’t dwell on that. There is much to be admired though in the ruthlessly efficient and determined way Rockefeller ran his business and Harnish illustrates the formula as firstly clear priorities.. have 5 key priorities and a top 1 of 5.. data.. having smart numbers and critical numbers and rhythm.. having a set of regular meetings that are not deviated from.. the book expands in much detail how this all should work. Also Harnish explores the concept that businesses have an x factor.. Harnish describes the x factor as the pinch point in a business, for Rockefeller, in the oil business, it was transport costs, the oil had a market price and whether or how much profit was made was dependent on keeping production and transport costs down so he worked really hard to drive down those costs. For Estate Agents I would argue the x factor is market priced instructions, our income is limited only by the number of instructions we can list at market price, can we bring the same enthusiasm, determination and ingenuity for this single activity as Rockefeller displayed for his x factor.
8.     TA Today: A new introduction to transactional analysis. Ian Stewart & Vann Joines
Transactional Analysis is a really easy concept to remember and much more difficult to live, essentially there are three ego states, Parent, Adult and Child, just to complicate things slightly there are two parent states, critical parent and nurturing parent and two child states, free child and adapted child. The most productive relationships are naturally when both parties remain in adult to adult states but there’s a lot of emotional intelligence required in terms of self management and awareness of others if you want to remain in this state and help the person you are interacting with stay there also, especially when dealing with performance or difficult feedback. Over the years I’ve seen so many managers not get the best from their staff by spending a lot of time in a “critical parent” position, this simply invites the person to step down in to “adapted child” where the response is going to be less than helpful in many cases, the person withdraws, rebels or appears on the face of things to accept what the manager has said but has no intention of doing anything about it. I’m far from perfect but after reading this book I’m more aware of which state I’m in and quicker to return to “adult” than I was before.  
9.     Motivational Interviewing. Helping people change. William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick.
Motivational Interviewing is a style of coaching and in my opinion the style most suited to Estate Agency managers who want to coach their staff. Lots has been written on managerial coaching and it would help managers who want to flex their leadership style to search managerial coaching, it’s not the same as pure coaching as at the end of the day we are coaching members of staff in order to raise performance, to help achieve the companies goals and at the same time we are also the staff members manager so there are issues, nonetheless there is a lot to gain out of being a manager with a good coaching style. I prefer the concept that the manager works along a manager/mentor/coach continuum and has to switch roles from time to time. In terms of the actual tool kit that the coach deploys I think that motivational interviewing is a fantastic place to start probably slightly more complicated than GROW but definitely worth the extra effort. This book is written by the founders of motivational interviewing and was born out of their work with alcoholics, they realized that people change when they want to, they’re ready to and believe they can and not because they should, even when their life is at stake. As with everything in coaching, the book will only take you so far, the rest is practice, practice, practice and reflection on practice if you want to be expert at it.
So there it is 9 books that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone in business but especially applicable to Estate Agency. 

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