Empowered Leadership: Megan Harris

megan-harris-thumbnailCentury 21 Wentworth’s Megan Harris is a property professional who represents a generational shift in the real estate industry. Having started at the age of 19, Megan has purposefully developed into a shining star of the group as department manager of their Frankston office. In a change to the traditional franchise management structure, Megan acts as director for her growing team – without having a financial interest in the business herself.

There are plenty of misconceptions around Gen Y property managers; if you had any, meeting Megan Harris would likely change your mind.

Plain-speaking and friendly, Megan didn’t have a clear career path established upon leaving school. “When I first started working in real estate, I was looking for a receptionist job. The manager rang me back, saying that I was the only person who attended the interview wearing a suit and with brushed hair – so I got the job, which was a winner! I started on reception, as most PMs do, with no experience; I had no idea what ‘property manager’ or ‘investment property’ meant. I continued working there, and I’d occasionally say to my manager, ‘I’m going to be sitting in your chair one of these days!’

Sure enough, Megan’s career goal did come true, but only with a strong commitment to both the business and her own professional development. Megan propelled herself from the position of receptionist to the roles of property manager, BDM and eventually department head. “I really needed to step up and take responsibility for myself. If you want to progress through a business, you need to be consistent, to constantly be pushing yourself.

I wasn’t happy with just plodding along – I made sure that I was always busy, always offering my help to the manager, not shying away from letting her know when I was bored.

I went from working reception to being a trainee, before becoming a property manager and eventually a business development manager. Before long, I was being groomed to be a department manager.”

Despite her loyal years of service and achieving her goal of department manager, Megan eventually hit a wall in growth, ultimately leaving Century 21 Wentworth to work for a competitor. “I didn’t feel like I was being heard, which had much to do with management at the time. I was under a huge amount of pressure to grow the business with few tools – to succeed whilst paying people the minimum wage. I would spend all my time training people, who would develop into great team members before they’d leave to work 10 metres up the road for a more competitive salary. In the end, having to go over the same issues time and again broke me.”

But, she says, leaving wasn’t really what she had hoped for. “When I left – I never thought I’d say this – I instantly regretted it.” Megan laughs. “In hindsight, it was critical to my development and I’m glad I took a break. But after 18 months, I really missed Century 21 Wentworth, I missed the depth of the role and my freedom there. When I was contacted to come back, I jumped at the chance – I knew there was no other business where I could run a team and make decisions as if the agency were my own.”

Whilst some principals might shy away from giving a staff member – no matter how senior – such professional autonomy, Century 21 CEO Charles Tarbey’s decision to rely upon Megan’s talent as department manager improved results. “Frankston is a super-competitive area,” says Megan. “It feels like we have new agencies opening up here every fortnight – it’s intense! However, even in this environment, I’m proud to say that under my management our rent roll has grown to well over 1,200 properties, and our property management team has been stable for 12 months. Once upon a time, the team were overworked and unsupported – but now with a focus on a happy corporate culture backed up by systems and processes, our customer complaints have dwindled to nearly zero and landlord satisfaction is high.”

I’m trusted with one of the biggest property management departments in Century 21 Australia, yet I haven’t any education in management, I’ve no degrees.

It is clear also that Tarbey has been a big influence throughout Megan’s career, as well as his trust in her to deliver. “Charles has always been a really great mentor. You can be so upset about something, and all it takes is one conversation with him for you to think that the world is sunshine and rainbows! He has a real faith in people, which I love about him. He can get you 100 per cent on board with something you don’t even agree with, just by having a chat.

“Coming back to Century 21 Wentworth, I have much more respect for the business – particularly the freedom I have in the management of my team, even though I’m not a director and I don’t have a financial interest in the brand. I’m trusted with one of the biggest property management departments in Century 21 Australia, yet I haven’t any education in management, I’ve no degrees. I’m proud to say that Charles does trust me, even though I left and returned to the business. Leaving made me appreciate everything I had here so much more.”

There’s no magic formula to Megan’s success in building her business, as Frankston is an agent-saturated environment where winning business is never easy. It’s all about good old-fashioned service and care. “We have thrived by treating everyone as though they are a client. Whether they’re a landlord, a tenant, a tradesperson, or a walk-in, we’re respectful and helpful to everyone. I’ve also developed strict procedures for complaints handling; for example, we’re never to raise our voice or act aggressively, no matter how bad the situation.” Refreshingly, Megan also ensures her team know never to say negative things about the competition. “In a listing, I’ll always say something positive about a competitor if they’re brought up – Century 21 Wentworth want to improve the industry with leadership behaviour.”

Megan is an example of a new-generation real estate leader – a decision-maker who is not a principal but has true delegation of authority from the top.

In many ways, Megan is also an example of a new-generation real estate leader – a decision-maker who is not a principal but has true delegation of authority from the top. “If my team need anything, they come to me. Charles trusts and relies on me to tell him what he needs to know, and that the team is working well and being nurtured within their roles. The buck stops here with me.”

There’s another benefit to the unique structure of this principal-lite office, too. “I like that it’s more relaxed because we don’t have a director breathing down our necks,” says Megan. “This sense of calm is reflected in the team: there’s still the same amount of respect and responsibility for their roles, but without the stress of being constantly observed.”

The holiday season is a notoriously busy time for property management teams – but Megan is confident this stress can be alleviated with proper planning. “Experiencing a smooth holiday season in your office is all about being proactive rather than reactive. Pre-empt the problems you might have. For example, tenants might not be paying their rent on time over Christmas. There are lots of things that can happen during this busy period, especially in our sociodemographically disadvantaged area. Consider sending a text, letter or email to your tenants, reminding them to think about both Christmas presents and paying their rent. Take time to warn your landlords about what might happen overthe busy Christmas period, too.

“Also, look carefully at the months of December and January, and spread out your workload evenly, diarising your routine inspections well in advance.”

Megan also suggests implementing a strategy for 2017 now, so that holidays don’t impact negatively on your business. “I’ll be implementing a prospecting plan in my office for 2017; every month we’ll be doing something different. I’m setting a task for my property managers to win new business using fresh prospecting techniques, reviewing our progress as we go. I’m focused on retaining my team, making sure we have happy employees and training them so that ultimately I’m not needed. I aim for everyone to attain a similar level of skill, freeing me up to work on the business and not in it.”

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Iolanthe Gabrie

Iolanthe Gabrie is a Director of Ruby Slipper Consultants, providing written content for the real estate industry. For more information visit rubyslipper.com.au.