Name: George Selix
Title: Chief Learning Officer
Company: Cendant Real Estate Franchise Group
- Launched the award-winning Century 21 Learning System, a learning and development environment that grew to support all real estate brands and more than 250,000 associates. The program now averages more than 30,000 hours of live online student participation each month.
- Developed a conceptual model for blended learning as a framework for building agent productivity courses. The courses increased learner performance by 16 percent and resulted in more than $50 million in increased revenue.
- Created a consolidated learning and development organization that provides development, infrastructure and fulfillment for the Cendant Real Estate Franchise Group and the extended enterprise.
Learning Philosophy: Our goal is to develop and sustain a global learning system that increases our overall profitability by producing and continually developing the world’s best realtors with the industry’s best staff and tools. We believe that learning drives performance, and that in everything we do, we should have a heroic regard for the customer.
Fate has a way of making connections. Paths cross, epiphanies occur at the intersection of here and there, and we often accept serendipitous, yet formerly unfathomable changes, with open arms. George Selix understands this. After more than 20 years of flying helicopters for the U.S. Air Force, Selix found himself at a career crossroads. Always hand-selected to move from one level to the next, he had never been on a job interview. His first was for Century 21 in his hometown of Parsippany, N.J.
“I thought I’d get a chance to see Grandma’s house and the high school, practice interviewing and get a lot of valuable experience, leave, and it would be a win-win,” Selix said. “Three days later I got a phone call that said, ‘It’s between you and another guy.’ I said, ‘Who is this? How did you get my name?’ A week later, they made an offer, and I took the job. That was five years ago. I vowed I’d never come back to New Jersey after leaving here. Now I’m working a mile and a half from the high school I went to.”
After working several years as CLO for Century 21 Real Estate Corp., Selix was promoted to lead the learning function at Cendant Real Estate Franchise Group, the world’s largest real estate brokerage franchisor. He quickly realized that the connection between running a training program to teach pilots how to handle helicopters for combat rescue and special operations and acting as the chief learning officer for Cendant is all about producing results.
“The proof of the training program — the results — was, ‘Could you build a combat-ready guy in a certain number of days?’ Everything else kind of paled in comparison,” Selix said. “Do you give somebody a chance to fly in the airplane before you ever talk about systems, give them a holistic look at it and then break it down into components? Or do you start with components and build up? Do you use simulators first and then trainers, or trainers and then simulators? We had all these parts that we could put together, and we struggled through learning theory, and then the practice of learning in that environment for a number of years to get it right. That’s where I really learned how you build content that drives performance and how you integrate lots of activities to transfer knowledge from an expert to a novice, so the novice can act like an expert the first time out.”
New agent training at Century 21 presented a similar issue: How exactly do you train a new agent to immediately perform? Existing learning initiatives sent instructors into the field to teach agents in four or five days at a hotel. That, Selix said, wasn’t optimal. “It was all knowledge transfer,” he explained. “There was very little hands-on transfer, no practice to proficiency, no homework. We took all of the things that the real estate brokers wanted their agents to be able to do, layered all the requirements for hands-on skills on top of that, put it all into a package and built a blended delivery platform that transferred knowledge. We gave them demonstrations, opportunities to do hands-on practice to proficiency and included pre-work and homework that was really income-producing activities.”
All of those elements are wired together in one curriculum so that when new agents complete the course, they can hit the ground running and make an immediate contribution to the company’s bottom line. Graduates of the CREATE21 new agent program have consistently outperformed non-learners by 16 percent and have elected to stay with the company in larger numbers. “In the training program, you should have them doing the activities, maybe in isolation or maybe in small clusters, that lead them to good performance once they get out in the field,” Selix said. “It’s a different idea, flying a helicopter in a war or being a real estate agent, but both involve breaking down curriculum and building a process to transfer skills and behaviors.”
The technological infrastructure needed to implement other enterprise-wide blended learning solutions was not in place at Cendant when Selix arrived. “Over the course of the first nine months, we put in a learning management system, synchronous classrooms and started building a development team, and you had to have a master’s in instructional design to be on the team,” Selix said. “We really turned the organization 180 degrees.”
This new way of looking at learning was an abrupt change for Cendant, but the emerging philosophy emphasized the need to be experts on learning and performance. To accomplish this, Selix leveraged real estate agents and brokers as subject-matter experts and hired learning professionals to help pull the threads together. “We were able to execute really well both in the number of students who attended training, and the Level 1 and Level 2 kinds of feedback that you get, that they like the training and they’re passing the tests,” Selix said. “Then over time, we were able to accumulate a lot of information on hard ROI numbers, and the more success we had, the more freedom we got to do more things.”
This included a migration from decentralized to centralized learning, and that’s not just technological implementations. Selix said the technology part proved to be relatively easy. Tougher to execute was the cultural change that had to occur. “If you think about it, inside of our real estate group there are five brands: Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Coldwell Banker Commercial, ERA and Sotheby’s. Each one of those brands has a learning presence,” Selix said. “Go back five years when I first came here. All the learning guys are competitors. Some guys use WebEx, we use Centra. Some guys use this, we use that — it was all diffused. The problem started to arise and it’s really a change management issue — when we said the development part of this probably needs to be centralized. Three-and-a-half years ago, the group CEO took my learning group out of Century 21, moved us under him and said, “You guys have done a great job of building learning that drives performance in Century 21. Now do the same thing for all of the other brands by centralizing a lot of the function and leaving some of the execution to the brands.”
Selix worked to cultivate peer relationships with each brand’s vice president or director of learning and the leaders who teach all of the proprietary courses for each brand, while he performed needs analysis and built learning interventions to accomplish specific goals. “Getting to that point, where they gave up control of everything that they did, there’s three major blocks,” Selix said. “You build stuff, you deliver stuff and you run the infrastructure. We took the building stuff away and the infrastructure away. They are left with the face part of it, which is delivering. The other two parts got centralized. That was a real cultural change, and we’re still struggling through it.”
If you add up the agents and brokers inside all of Cendant’s real estate brands, plus other learning operations in Cendant’s hotel, car rental and travel information businesses, Selix supports nearly a half-million people. Applying metrics to gauge performance for all of those people is difficult, but Selix said that the real evidence of the company’s success is measured in transactions, market share and dollar volume.
“That’s the way it has to be,” Selix said. “I’m going to write a book one day called “Stop Bothering People.” That’s kind of our informal mantra, by the way. The idea behind it is that people have busy lives. They’re busy trying to do a good job for the organization. If you’re going to force them to go through a training intervention, it should make their life better. It can fulfill a legal or a compliance requirement, but by and large, learning should drive performance. The training they go through should help them to perform better, and if it doesn’t help them to perform better, leave them alone.”
However, Cendant does annual and semi-annual studies, and the result of a recently completed two-year study using Century 21 data showed total commission value up 24 percent for brokers and managers. New agent productivity went up 15 percent in dollar volume and 11 percent in transactions, and experienced agent productivity showed average monthly increases from one to four transactions per month.
Next, Selix will explore the world of simulations to help Cendant workers interact better with customers. “The purpose is mostly procedural training,” Selix said. “We want to reinforce in the agents’ mind the multiple-step process they’re supposed to go through when asking questions, resolving conflict, doing a transaction or whatever. One of the easiest ways for us to get that across to them is to use a branching type simulation, so we’re going to build a few of those this year. We’re also looking at building a financial or business model simulation for brokers. That’s probably going to be a next year thing. There’s a lot of dynamics involved with running a real estate brokerage. We want to be able to show brokers how a decision in one area, maybe in recruiting, will affect bottom dollars six months from now. Right now it’s hard to articulate all that, so we want to decompose all of these models we have and then build it into a simulation. We’re also looking at putting content up for our customer base.”
Customers preparing to buy a house could log on and find content on “75 things you need to know before you buy a house,” as well as a class taught by someone from Coldwell Banker, Century 21 or whatever brand they are browsing. “It’s not trying to get you to buy or sell through Century or through any of the brands. It’s to give the consumer more information about the process,” Selix said. “We believe if we can make the process transparent and understandable to the consumers, they’ll be more comfortable when they come in. This will hopefully create shared expectations between the consumer, agents and brokers. Often we have different expectations and different languages, and people make mistakes. Facilitating that common lexicon, common language, common expectations, is valuable for both sides.”
Kellye Whitney, email@example.com