Keller Williams Realty
THISWEEK: You’ve said before that Keller Williams Realty is in the business of helping people help people.
GK: In the end, why are we in business? To me, the answer would be to help others. Sure, we’re in a business that provides certain products and services. But who will use those products and services? People. So, there’s no escaping the reality that we’re in business to help people. And our job is to help the people who help people.
THISWEEK: Did Keller Williams Realty culture begin with the creation of the WI4C2TS belief system?
GK: Putting it that way gives me too much credit. How our culture evolved happened like this: Back in the late 1980s when we began to license the company, it was literally just me and a small support staff. I would go out and work with our then licensees in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and Dallas. Almost every day of the week I was in a different city. I’d show up, run a sales meeting or speak at a sales meeting, do a couple of interviews, do a training session and then hit the road to do the same thing in another city. In those days, we had little of our system documented. I had it in my head mostly and personally taught and managed in every office we had in Texas.
I did this for about a year and a half to two years. Eventually, I knew I had to pull back. But when I did, those offices stopped growing. They stumbled. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t developing people as much as I was just showing up to help them by doing a job. I wasn’t truly helping them build businesses; I was simply helping them run businesses.
THISWEEK: So, what did you do?
GK: I took a year off and started defining and documenting our models and systems. I also began to study how businesses succeed, how they fail, what they do right and what do they do wrong. I discovered that culture was a huge foundational piece all great companies were built upon. So, I realized I needed to define ours – the challenge was how to do it.
The solution, I discovered, was actually simple. I invited Sharon Gibbons, our first employee ever, and two of our top associates – Gary Gentry and Althea Osborn – who had been with me since the beginning to help me document our culture. I asked them to think about what made our real estate office successful. What did they like about this company and the way it operated? What were we doing well? What were we doing right?
THISWEEK: Was that meeting successful?
GK: Yes. For me, it was a defining moment – learning how to move from doing things naturally to doing things purposefully. On one side, you had the economics, which we had thoroughly researched, developed and documented. But on the other end, there was culture, and I honestly hadn’t thought about that part of the business until I started to see people behaving differently than what I would have done naturally. I realized that without defining our culture, there was no way to establish a culture that would stand tall over time.
So, in 1989, up in that conference room with Sharon, Gary and Althea, we brainstormed all day. We got out the flipchart and we wrote and we wrote. We taped our thoughts all over the walls. That night, I took those pages home and studied them. The next morning, we all met again to pull it all together. We knocked out everything that was a duplicate statement. And with each remaining statement, we asked ourselves how to express it best. What really matters? What’s the 20 percent? And somewhere toward the end of the second day, we ended up with what is now commonly known as WI4C2TS.
THISWEEK: Once you had the belief system defined, where did you go from there?
GK: Once we could define it, two things happened. First, we now had a methodology that helped us to be more often right than wrong about who we were going into business with. It allowed us to go out and align ourselves with people who naturally wanted to behave in alignment with our culture. Single-handedly, that’s what launched the company to a whole new level.
THISWEEK: In the beginning, how did you communicate or reinforce these ideas?
GK: In the mid-90s with the help of Dave Jenks, I started developing a course called Quantum Leap, which basically documented everything I had learned in those previous years about life. I then went out and started teaching it. Also, we took the front-end of that course, the Perspective section – which talked about being accountable, being learning based, being a black belt, focusing on your 20 percent, etcetera – and put it in front of every course we taught. At the same time, we created the six business disciplines and the six sales disciplines. It all became the initial curriculum for what became Keller Williams University, which addresses life, sales and business management – in that order. We started off with the life discussion, and I think that’s another cultural area that separates us from others.
THISWEEK: Why prioritize things that way?
GK: What I noticed as a sales manager when I was just getting started in my 20s was that, many times people had trouble on the field because of things happening off the field. On one side, you’re trying to provide a service to people, but, on the other side, you’re also trying to have a great life – and those two agendas would cross lines. If things are not going well at home or in our personal lives, it crosses over into our ability to focus and build our careers. As a business coach, you’re dealing with those subjects whether you like to or not. So, if you’re in a long-term business relationship, you need to be willing to consider the whole person – not just the salesperson.
So, Quantum Leap and the Perspective section became the foundational methodology for us to communicate these beliefs. We made it very clear what we wanted to accomplish and how we wanted to treat each other. Every time we did a two-day class, the first two hours were nothing but the Perspective section. And what do you think happened? We had this core group of people who were ready to hear this, so they adopted it and it became a natural evolution. People embraced it, put their own unique spin on it and made it their own. The culture became the company and the company became the culture.
THISWEEK: How do you sustain a sense of culture in the third-largest, realestate franchise operation in North America?
GK: Simple: You don’t change it and you protect and defend it at all costs. There’s an old saying that the way you run a great big company is you run a great small company – and you let it get big naturally. You don’t put chains on it. That’s Keller Williams Realty. Our goal is to run a great small company built around an unchangeable culture and then see how far it can evolve.
THISWEEK: But getting big can complicate matters when it comes to sustaining culture, right?
GK: It really has to do with communication and relationships. What getting big can do is remove you from communicating directly with your peers and establishing solid relationships. Back when there were only a few thousand people, it was easier for us to touch everyone. If four of us got on a plane and went to a different city, you could maybe touch 70 percent of the company.
Today, we can’t do that. And it’s one of the reasons why we have put a lot of emphasis on The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and The Millionaire Real Estate Investor seminars, Family Reunion, Mega Camp, Masterminds, KWU and now KWConnect. It was Dave Jenks who came up with the name KWConnect, because it’s all about staying connected and trying to figure out ways to bypass any filters that may misconstrue our original intent or message.
In the end, a company’s size is not the issue. It’s keeping our commitment to communication in the relationship and keeping our commitment to the culture.
THISWEEK: Why should associates care about communicating and educating new associates on the Keller Williams Realty culture?
GK: If the original intent is not communicated or heard, then some people might view a company’s belief system or culture as a sword. In other words, it is the WI4C2TS sword, and if you don’t live up to it, off with your head. A cultural belief system is not something to judge people against. It’s something to aspire to – that we all should aspire to and hold each other accountable to. The belief system enables us to say to one another, “You have the right to expect me to behave this way. And if you see that I’m not, I’m asking you to help me. Don’t point it out in a judgmental way, but in an accountable and helpful way, so I can grow.”
You know, people aren’t successful at Keller Williams Realty because they adhere to our belief system. They are successful because they do the right things to build their careers and businesses. Our belief system and culture simply help make our work-life experience the very, very best possible.