There’s a real advantage to working in smaller organisations. Building a community and implementing cultural change can be a very complicated process across a huge company with lots of different offices and locations. In a more contained environment with fewer people and less bureaucracy, it’s easier for culture to be absorbed and spread. This is increasingly relevant in a post-COVID world, where people expect more equity from the places they work.
Max Webber, Co-host of The Interview, spoke to Sinéad Conlon, Head of Corporate Services, Short Lets, and Client Accounts at John D Wood & Co. about how coming to understand the people you work with can help build a shared culture out of that understanding, particularly in a smaller company.
People often say that you don’t naturally fall into property, property is presented to you, and that’s very true. I’m actually a qualified stage technician. I finished university with a degree that gave me the flexibility to work in London. I got the opportunity to work for the Queen musical We Will Rock You – I was an assistant stage manager at seventeen, which is a very large job at such a young age – fortunately, they liked me and offered me a job when I finished my degree. I took the opportunity, but unfortunately, they couldn’t keep me on long-term due to budget. I really wanted to stay in London though, so I called a few recruitment agencies. One woman called back with a job offer from an estate agency, which I didn’t think I had the right mindset for, but five interviews later, they said, ‘You look like a great candidate,’ and I found myself taking the job, circa 2008.
Not too long afterwards, I went to work for Foxtons, which gave me the armoury I needed to really elevate my career – we got some brilliant training. I was based in the front office and worked my way up to the assistant manager level. Following this, I worked at Knight Frank, working on a commercial, in the international department, and on core modern developments, but changed tack slightly and decided to go into training. I moved to Chesterton’s to head up their training team for a little over four years, which was an incredible opportunity. I’ve now been at John D Wood & Co. for nearly a year and a half.
It’s about trying to put yourself in an individual’s shoes. We all come from so many different experiences. Someone may have just finished university or might be changing roles, maybe even doing something completely different wanting to start afresh. Another thing I have to remember is the core values of a younger individual today may be completely different to mine, or they may come from a different cultural background on top of that. One of the things that attracted me to John D Wood & Co. is that we’re treated as grown-ups. Everybody wants to be treated like someone who knows what they want, even if they need some help getting there. One of our main ethos’ is ‘you’ve made it here for a reason.’ Regardless of your background, your university experience, your previous role or jobs – we want to embrace that! I think that it’s one of the main reasons people are attracted to come to work for John D Wood & Co.
Especially with recent management changes here, I think we’ve really embodied a new culture within the agency. And COVID changed a lot of things, people are embracing a new way of working now. A nice thing about working as an estate agent is that we have the ability to talk to people for long periods of time and build great relationships. By the same token, all of our employees are part of one family. If someone comes to me looking for mentoring – perhaps they need some structure, or want to discuss where they’re going in life – there’s no judgement. People change their minds all the time, but if they know they can get guidance, whatever they need it to be, that creates a really good culture. It’s humbling to have anyone from my team ask me for guidance. It’s really quite lovely.
I think we’re quite fortunate that at John D Wood & Co. we’re a small estate agency, so we have the flexibility to grow, and to test things out, a degree of trial and error, which can be difficult across an enormous company. If something’s growing or working well for us, it usually filters through to the whole business very quickly, and everyone gets a feel for it. We can implement change very quickly without there being a large framework to worry about. There is also room for culture and will always flex and change when needed. When the business senses something needs to change, we assess what needs to be done, decide how we’re going to make it work, and implement it – it’s a really agile environment.
I’ve had a few great ones. My mum used to always say “Don’t let the boss dictate what you want to do in life.” My dad would add, “Become the boss, so you become the best salesperson in life.” Years later, I worked at Costa Coffee and my boss told me, “At Costa, you’re not just selling coffee, you’re selling something else” whether it be that extra marshmallow, that slice of cake, that add-on. People don’t just come to John D Wood & Co. to rent their property or sell their house. They want that extra bit of service, so sell those additional things in a friendly, approachable way.