Company policy — those best practices presumably established to support an organization’s goals. It begins as a compilation of a lot of little words and ideas, purely inorganic.

Left unchecked and unquestioned, however, this same policy over time becomes a cancerous death sentence for a company’s relevance and success — an emotionless monologue delivered one too many times.

Considered from the perspective of the individual agent, company policy is synonymous with "the way I’ve always done it," and nothing can kill an otherwise good business faster.

I was recently reminded of the evils of the policy manual. Saturday, I had an hour to kill between appointments so I decided to turn on the multitasking turbo-boosters and squeeze in a critical personal errand. Operation Sheet Replacement was under way, and my trajectory was set on a local bed and bath store.

On the face, my mission was simple enough. Buy sheets. The problem was that I wasn’t looking for just any sheets. The object of my desire was orange sheets, an admittedly rare breed.

Now before you dispatch Martha Stewart to shoot me with her glue gun for committing a designing crime against nature, understand that these were for my daughter who, at 16, has decided that orange best complements her bedroom’s toxic waste motif.

My timing was unfortunately off, and I arrived at the gates of domestic bliss 10 minutes early, where I was soon joined by a dozen other shoppers. We waited, at first patiently but with each passing moment a little less so.

We watched as employees began arriving in succession, greeted by an important key-wielding manager who pretended not to notice us each time she let them in and locked us out.

We were eventually allowed in 10 minutes late, which is not such a big deal in the context of geologic time, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Irritated, yet undaunted by this minor setback, I proceeded to sprint to the ugly sheets aisle. Bingo! Day-glow orange, full-sized, 220 thread count — one remaining! It was checkout time.

At the register, I waited while two clerks argued about who was the least busy and, therefore, who would have to attend to the drudgery of ringing up my purchase. And once we had a winner, the unthinkable happened.

It seems that while my sheets had a price tag clearly indicating that I would soon be $60 poorer (plus tax, which in California is another $60), the all-important SKU number appeared to be printed in the "Wingdings" font, the bar code by all appearances the victim of an unfortunate incident involving motor oil and a weed whacker. …CONTINUED

Keeping in mind that I need glasses to read anything smaller than William Howard Taft, together we attempted unsuccessfully to decipher the tiny, mysterious numbers. Twenty minutes later we thought we had nine of the 10 nailed, but now my assignee had tired of the game and I was out of time.

"I can’t ring these up. Sorry," she yawned.

"Well, we know how much they are," I chirped. "Can’t you just use the number from the green queen set, override the price, and figure it out later?"

"Nope. I need the number for inventory. Company policy."

I suspect someone forgot to update her company policy manual with news of the recession … or the Internet.

The one biggest thing that has kept my own business solvent during the past two fun-filled years of market insanity is both the ability and the willingness to adapt — to change. "How we do things" is being redefined on a daily basis.

If I conducted my business today using the 1999 playbook, I would be working the day shift at Dress Barn. (Note to Dress Barn employees: While I am sure this is a fine job, it is not my chosen profession.)

Last year, I was primarily a listing agent. Due to forces beyond my control, this year the scales have tipped, and we will have represented more buyer clients than sellers.

Last year, our average sale price was higher by about 20 percent and our average client was tucked tidily in a comfortable geographic box that was easy on the gas tank. This year, we are intergalactic. I am currently working with a first-time homebuyer who has now narrowed down their home search to, well, Earth.

Perhaps the biggest change we have seen in our business is that our online presence has kept us in orange sheets. By refocusing early, a few years ago, when we first saw "it" coming, we have been able to continue to develop business in an environment where the traditional business has declined and the number of men and women jockeying for that business has soared off the charts.

Others have reinvented themselves with bank-owned property gigs or by becoming the short-sale experts. Whatever. The point is that they are surviving because they were willing to shred the policy manual.

On my last three trips to the grocery store, the same nice woman rung up my purchases. I have come to learn that she, too, is a licensed agent.

She confessed that she started her real estate career just as the market began to go buggy, and she decided it wasn’t a good time, so she retreated to safer, hourly pay ground. This made me a little sad and a little more curious. …CONTINUED

She seems personable and intelligent. She cared enough to go through the effort of getting her license and selecting a sponsoring broker. What wasn’t good?

Being a successful real estate agent is hard in any market. And, if we are honest, this market is no harder than any other. It is just different. And it is a great market for agents willing to reinvent, think entrepreneurially, and innovate.

Many agents will fail, just as many agents failed in past markets, both good and bad. The best, however, will continue to make a living. This is because the best are — have always been — willing to think like business owners, work their tails off and constantly adapt to changing landscapes.

Remember 2003 and even 2005? Folklore tells us that these were the glory days for the agent, and making an insane living in this business was like finding rocks on the moon.

If I remember correctly, those days were also the days of 27 licensees for every man, woman and child. There were more opportunities, true, but competition for the business was so fierce that — true story — there were actually agents representing clients in our neighborhood for free just to get their signs in the yard.

The good-old days were better in some respects but far worse in others. They were just different. But the thing I love about our current market with fewer sales is that it forces a cleansing process among our ranks.

Only the hearty and committed will survive. I am already seeing signs that the levels of agent competency and professionalism are being raised. It’s a process, admittedly, but it is happening.

To my bed and bath store: I can buy my bedding from someone else, online even, where the thinking is creative and the doors always open on time. Next time I will. I have choices today that I didn’t a decade ago.

As for agents struggling to survive this new frontier of complexity and open source information, your clients have more choices today as well. Clinging to the known, the familiar — the way things have always been done — isn’t going to cut it.

Dare to be better, dare to be different and abandon the traditional definitions of marketing and service which no longer resonate with today’s customer. Do these things, and you will be just fine.

There will be agents who thrive in any market. There is absolutely no reason that, with a little forward thinking and a lot of hard work, you can’t be one of them.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.


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