Traditional mentoring in commercial real estate (CRE) emphasizes knowledge transfer from senior executives to
those more junior. But learning throughout any organization should go two
ways. This is particularly true of one key
area of critical strategic and operational
importance where today’s relatively
junior staffers tend to exude a massive
comparative advantage: technology.
Let’s be honest about CRE, we’ve
lagged many other industries in terms
of the pace, scale, and effectiveness of
technology adoption. Certainly, matters
are changing fast today as the industry experiences and is responding to
tech-infused innovation and disruption
on a range of fronts. From social media
to mobile applications and data analytics, willingly or otherwise, many are
doing their best to make up for lost time.
Nonetheless, the industry – its older
leadership in par;cular – s;ll leans more
heavily toward tech-phobic or tech-hope-ful than tech-savvy. By contrast, younger
entrants of today are digital na;ves, having never known anything other than a
digitally-infused existence. My sugges;on
for all of our industry’s execu;ves is that
they take a though;ul inventory of the
skillsets and orienta;ons that reside in
their firms and then ask themselves: do
we have enough of a technological orienta;on to be the disruptors and not the
For many if not most, the answer will be
“no.” And in that vein, one of the key tools
we’re championing internally and with our
members is reverse mentoring.
The Old Ways
Tradi;onal mentoring in CRE means that
a younger trainee, associate, or whatever
;tle denotes “beginner/intermediate”
at a firm, would be adopted by a senior
execu;ve as a sort of squire. By accom-
panying the senior execu;ve, and to be
blunt, by performing countless “coffee
runs” in exchange for occasionally more
meaningful ac;vi;es, said squires slowly
but steadily acquire the skills needed to
become knowledgeable and effec;ve
assets for the firm. The thinking here: CRE
is a complex business requiring the least
experienced workers to simultaneously
pay their dues and learn from the most
Indeed, there remains a great deal of fundamental industry insight that needs to be
shared top-down across the genera;ons.
What are the drivers of value in CRE? What
are the ins and outs of sales, marke;ng,
nego;a;on, and rela;onship building?
What does an execu;ve need to know
about financing, building maintenance,
loca;on, loca;on, and loca;on? The learning curve is steep.
But as challenging as CRE itself may be,
technology presents an equally, if not
even more challenging, learning curve that
too many firms are doing only the bare
minimum to address. This is patently dan-
gerous, as technology today is the driver
of enormous innova;on, and yes, likely
industry disrup;on. Given the relentless
advancement of technology across the
whole of society and commerce and the
resul;ng enormous implica;ons for CRE,
the ques;on arises: how can organiza;ons
accelerate their learning and improve
their tech quo;ent?
Harnessing the Natives
One answer: do more to harness the tech
savvy. Millennials are true digital na;ves.
Technology resides seamlessly within their
lives. They have an innate understanding
of the power in social networking and can
apply these principles not only to their
personal experience but also to the business world. Their rela;onships, learning
approaches, research techniques, and
even their seemingly cavalier a;tudes
toward digital privacy have all been developed in an interconnected context.
In addi;on, perhaps driven by growing up
in an era of con;nuous change, millennials tend to quickly upgrade to the latest
versions of any so;ware or applica;ons,
and in general embrace new technologies.
They have no fear or anxiety surrounding
technology because to them, technology
is and always has been.
By comparison, the most senior of today’s
CRE industry execu;ve class are at best
digital immigrants and in too many cases, rela;ve luddites. Many can s;ll recall
SENIOR EXECUTIVES SHOULD BE PAIRED
WITH MORE JUNIOR STAFFERS WHO NOT
ONLY SHOW PROMISE IN CRE AT-LARGE, BUT
WHO ALSO EXUDE TECH SAVVY SKILLS.