In August Fixflo held a masterclass with Susie Crolla, CEO of the Guild of Letting & Management, and a renowned training consultant in the lettings industry, to help lettings and property management professionals understand the value of training to their business. In times of uncertainty like we’ve had this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, training can be one of the first things that businesses cut back on because it’s deemed unnecessary to current operations. But is this the right approach? And can training be replaced by simply Googling when you have a question?
In a wide-ranging conversation, Susie spoke to us about topics such as the importance of training, how to use search engines in a responsible way, and the best ways to stay up to date with changes in the industry. Here are some of the key takeaways from that discussion.
Why Invest in Training?
It’s an age-old problem. A business invests in a staff member and then that staff member eventually moves on, leaving some to consider - why bother training at all? For a start, training is a good platform for internal progression and can help prepare staff for more challenging roles. This could help them to stay in your business longer and enhance their contribution which can only benefit the organisation. A key part of running a business is maximising potential, and training brings the confidence that staff are able to do this, that they are good at their jobs, and that they can work efficiently and effectively as a team.
The other important aspect to training is staying current. Our industry is continually changing at a very fast rate as new regulations and laws are introduced, and you don’t want to be caught out by a landlord or occupiers knowing more than you. As property professionals, you are specialists who are expected to have a high degree of technical understanding, and this shows when dealing with clients. The Covid-19 lockdown has particularly pushed the levels of communication required with these groups to even higher levels. You don’t want to be caught out by new legislations or updated official advice.
The Risks of Relying on Google
It can be tempting to attempt to answer a question using Google, but you should be aware of the risks. Although a source can seem trustworthy, there’s a simple mistake which is all too easy to make: using information which applies to a different country or jurisdiction. Agents and landlords can be caught out by, for example, web addresses ending in .ni (Northern Ireland) or .ca (Canada). Not only should you make sure your sources are applicable to the United Kingdom, but in many cases, such as housing laws and coronavirus advice, they should refer to the country within the UK in which the property is based.
In situations where a client has quoted or sent incorrect information, it is vital to be diplomatic - no one likes to be told they’re wrong! By showing them what the correct information is and where you sourced it, you will build your credibility and trust without damaging the client relationship.
Finding Credible Sources
If you do want to occasionally use Google to stay up to date, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is vital that your sources are strong and trustworthy. Don’t rely solely on the ads on Google. The promoted links at the top of a search are there because companies pay for them to be there, and this has no bearing on the quality or trustworthiness of the source.
Where possible, stick to government websites which usually have web pages ending in .gov.uk. Credible industry associations tend to have a .org or .org.uk web domain. Our industry is so heavily reliant on legislation that the best source is often straight from those who created it, but bear in mind that the law can be subject to court interpretation. When there’s conflicting views between a piece of legislation and government guidance, the view of the legislation should take precedence over guidance documents. You can also take other sources along with these, such as webinars or blogs by legal practitioners.
Staying Up to Date
With so many changes happening so fast, how can you keep up, especially when they’re not always well publicised? Once again, government publications are the key here. There is a wide range out there, and not all are applicable to your sector, so narrow down what applies to you. You can also attend webinars: these are often led by industry experts and can be a good source of trusted information. The key thing to realise is that in changing times, it is very difficult to do everything yourself and there is nothing wrong with getting external support and talking to an expert whose job it is to digest everything out there.
Virtual Training Considerations
When we think of training, we normally think of face to face meetings, especially in a relationship-led sector like ours. But the pandemic has meant businesses have had to switch to virtual models of training. The topic of virtual training can actually be split into two categories: webinars, that is, seminars which are attended and broadcast over the Internet, and virtual training, specific training courses or programmes where an instructor addresses learners, also over the Internet. It’s important to consider that both have different benefits and approaches.
Webinars are fairly relaxed, suit high volumes of learners and can be a good way to quickly address and give overviews of topics, especially if they are time sensitive. Virtual training is much more structured in its approach, but this formality can be undercut by the environments of learners. An unfortunate part of working from home is the distractions we don’t get in the office - family, pets or the ability to head to the kitchen for a cup of tea or a snack at any time. This means learners may not necessarily be as focused as they would be in a classroom environment. It’s important to establish ‘house rules’ at the beginning of the sessions so that learners know what kind of behaviour is expected.
To answer the original question posed by the webinar, there is nothing wrong with Googling to answer simple questions, but you must ensure the sources you use are trustworthy and current. Googling is also not a substitute for proper training and continuing professional development. The complexity of changes in the industry, coupled with the speed at which they occur, means talking to experts is vital. If the educational needs of your staff require virtual training, consider what may be best - could the information be shared using a webinar or does it require a more formal structure? Ultimately, training - whether it’s self-taught or with an instructor - is essential in helping your staff perform at their best.
This is just a summary of what was discussed in this highly informative webinar. Click here to see the full masterclass with Susie.