In Real Estate, Culture Matters More Than Production

I’m often asked what has surprised me the most in my four years leading Compass. My answer is that there’s an often overlooked aspect of the real estate business that has proven as important to Compass’ success as our technology or anything else: Culture. A strong culture is what makes great agents want to come to Compass and culture is what makes our agents want to stay.

One of my favorite books is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by the entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. In the book, Ben quotes a former boss who taught him this lesson:

“We take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.” It’s a simple saying, but it’s deep. “Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far and if you don’t do it, the other two won’t matter.

The wisdom of these words still strikes me today. In all of our offices, we strive to create a collaborative, open and positive environment where agents and staff are excited to come to work. In the few offices where we’ve kept agents for too long who were not collaborative or not fully committed, we caused unnecessary pain that we now know how to avoid.


For the benefit of the industry, I wanted to share some of the specific lessons I’ve learned about building a culture that keeps agents and staff happy and drives the growth of the business.

1. Hire for cultural fit.

Even if an agent’s sales volume is impressive, the agent must be a cultural fit. For Compass, that means the agent must live by our company values of Talent & Agility, Solutions-Driven Thinking, Collaboration & Diversity, and Integrity. And while it’s not officially one of our values, an agent needs to be low ego. If it’s all about you, you, you, we’re not interested.

If you play this scenario out over the long term, it becomes clear why cultural fit is more important than production. A high producer who is not a cultural fit will add to the top-line growth of the company, but will likely drive away other agents and staff and harm the company’s brand. Those are real costs. If you hire a lower producer who is a fantastic cultural fit, that agent will flourish with coaching and support, and will positively contribute to the environment of their peers. Over time, she or he will become a high producer and will elevate everyone around them.

2. Do pulse checks to monitor cultural health.

I spend the majority of my time on the road talking to our agents, and I find there is no substitute for a face-to-face check-in. Agents are quick to share what’s going well and what needs to be improved. To get a more rigorous analysis to supplement the ongoing anecdotal feedback, we’ve recently begun regularly polling our agents and staff to monitor the health of the culture. The qualitative and quantitative insights help us scale what’s working well in one office and bring it to other offices across the country, and also help us quickly identify problems.

3. Act swiftly on issues.

When an issue is raised via formal or informal channels, it’s important that agents see us move quickly to act on their feedback. For example, if agents, sales managers, marketing and agent operations identify someone who makes the experience for other agents and staff unpleasant, that agent will be warned, and if it continues, the agent will be asked to leave. That might sound harsh, but it signals to staff and agents how much I value their feedback and how important culture is to me and the long-term growth of Compass.

4. Set the tone at the top.

Leaders create norms and expectations by the way they act and behave. If they consistently collaborate, others will quickly understand that as an expectation for their own behavior. And if leaders treat someone unfairly or rudely, others will understand that bad behavior is acceptable. One of the things I appreciate most about Leonard Steinberg, the president of Compass, is that he elevates everyone around him and makes us all better. He’s quick to share a contact or advice, to help problem-solve, and motivates everyone around him. Leonard often says we are creating a movement at Compass, and while that encompasses many things, culture is the foundation.

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only community for executives in the real estate industry. Do I qualify?

In the last four years, I’ve learned that building a business for the long-term requires tradeoffs. This is where the rubber meets the road and the truly hard decisions are made. I have passed on working with high-producing agents and those decisions are always difficult, but I sleep better at night knowing that my team loves to walk in the door every day, and the agent on their left and the agent on their right is someone they are proud to work with.

I believe it is possible for the real estate industry to be characterized by a culture of collaboration, integrity, and positivity. As we continue to grow into new markets and expand our agent footprint, we are proud to be driving this belief forward every single day.

Robert is the Founder and CEO of Compass, a technology-driven real estate company.



Compass is a licensed real estate broker (01991628) in the State of California and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity laws. All material presented herein is intended for informational purposes only. Information is compiled from sources deemed reliable but is subject to errors, omissions, changes in price, condition, sale, or withdraw without notice. No statement is made as to accuracy of any description. All measurements and square footages are approximate. Exact dimensions can be obtained by retaining the services of an architect or engineer. This is not intended to solicit property already listed.