We recently caught up with GRS Group’s Director of Strategic Development, Stephen McNeil, and Business Development Director, Justin Cook, and asked them about what it’s like to work at the CRE services firm.
What makes the culture at GRS Group such as that you are able to retain employees at such a high rate?
Justin Cook: Employees and clients realize very quickly that GRS Group is unparalleled in our industry. The reason being, the foundation of GRS Group is aligned more with an open-minded tech company then a traditional real estate consulting firm. Just like many tech companies, GRS Group has taken a fresh approach to facilitating solutions for our clients and creating a rewarding work culture. This is accomplished by hiring the best talent in the industry, fostering creativity, empowering employees to make their own decisions and providing a voice within the company. GRS Group’s modern business model and culture places extraordinary value on its employees–and the high retention rate is reflective of this experience.
A lot of traditional real estate firms are sometimes looked at as an “old boys network.” Is that something you are consciously trying to steer away from?
Stephen McNeil: When we started GRS Group, we didn’t start with the premise that we wanted to be an engineering and architectural firm only. That was never the plan. Yes, these were some of the services that we were going to provide, but the firm that we wanted to build was one that was fundamentally and functionally different than every other CRE due-diligence firm out there. We wanted to be an extension of our customers’ needs. We wanted to help facilitate their transactions – period. We made it very clear to ourselves, early on, that it was important as a brand to understand our role in a transaction and to truly listen to our customers. We let our competitors worry about tending to the needs of an “old boy network” while we intensely focus on strong process, over the top service, accuracy and building trust.
So do you almost consider yourself a customer-service firm?
McNeil: Yes. Everything we do, every idea, every systemic and non-systemic process change is created working back from the customer’s perspective. Our entire business model hinges on customer needs, whatever that need might be. Sound’s cliché, but it’s true. Every department, vendor, and alliance partner of GRS Group is required to have a Service Level Agreement – our expectations on this concept are non-negotiable.
So being customer-service oriented, how do you deal with situations when they become unhappy?
Cook: Everyone here understands that we are the steward of our clients’ experience–and their trust. With this in mind, the culture of GRS Group is set up for our employees to approach a difficult situation as a challenge rather than a setback. Our employees are able to pull from their vast experience to quickly respond to an issue and provide an effective solution. Great communication with an effective solution always turns a negative into a positive.
McNeil: Employees have to be visible and vigilant. The minute that any project participant inside a transaction uncovers an issue, our people need to stand out as solution facilitators. We want to be right in front of the customer and respond quickly to questions. There is a lot of emphasis at GRS Group on speed of communication. We fully empower employees to make decisions. Our team of professionals has more experience than any other firm in industry. That’s a big part of our hiring strategy; we don’t have a lot of Jr. Staff. Our employees are experts in the truest form, they know when to seek out advice on a tough topic, and when to make a decision and move forward.
So does that make for a pretty strenuous recruiting process?
McNeil: Absolutely. GRS Group maintains the lowest turnover rates in our industry for a reason. What we look for is a specific pedigree and certain credentials. For that, we pay top of market and provide a culture based on freedom not found anywhere else within our industry. Typically our employees have direct congruence with the exact position that we are recruiting for; we think this is an important dynamic. Additionally, we look for our candidates to have tenure, longevity, and progress their previous companies. The ability to stay and advance within an organization for long periods of time tells us something about an employee. We look for a demonstrated level of commitment. Generally, it’s like a math equation. If you have enough variables, we can predict an outcome or at least come very close. Our recruiting process is generally very consistent; the independent variable is always the employee.
But are there intangibles as well that you look for to make sure someone fits in with the GRS Group culture?
McNeil: We have a “no jerks allowed” policy. One of the first traits that we look for is strong communication skills, both written and verbal. Moreover, you have to be a good listener, act fast, respect others and be concise and articulate. The “no jerks allowed” policy falls under the same premise. In the CRE world there is a fair amount of stress attached to every project; our employees must remain calm and poised in stressful situations. One of the recruiting questions that we always ask is: “How do you think your personality changes when you become stressed?” There is no right or wrong answer to this question. We need them to self-reflect. Do we get an honest answer all of the time? We don’t know. Do we have to weed through some of their answers and derive an assumption? Absolutely. Again, we’re not looking for any particular answer, but we do, however, know the answers that we’re not looking for.
Tell us about honesty with the client and how trust plays a strong role in your relationships. If you make a mistake you don’t tend to try to gloss it over…
Cook: Trust is not built on always being right or not making mistakes. Trust in our industry is built by letting the client know we are in it together and we are here to optimize the outcome as a team. GRS Group fosters its employees to practice taking responsibility by being honest, making tough decisions and taking action. This all goes a long way to instilling trust and respect in our clients. With the same goal in mind, GRS Group is able to have candid conversations with its clients and not gloss over difficult circumstances.
McNeil: Honesty, integrity, candor and directness are MUST haves. Integrity, to me, has always been to do the right thing when no one is looking. Our customers TRUST that when they select GRS Group to complete a project on their behalf that we will do so with honesty and integrity. A byproduct of honesty is candor. Our employees have to be candid and direct with their findings and solutions. Glossing over and trying to hide mistakes is a culture that GRS Group does NOT support.